Should I Choose RAID 5 or RAID 6?

RAID 5 offers one drive of redundancy in exchange for a small amount of drive storage. RAID 6 – or double parity – offers stronger safeguards against failure over RAID 5. But that doesn’t mean RAID 6 is immune from failure.

Offering one drive of redundancy, RAID 5 is one of the most common RAID levels used. RAID 5 requires at least three hard disk drives, but it isn’t unheard of to see arrays with as many as eight hard drives. Like RAID 0, RAID 5 stripes data across all drives in the array. But it also stores parity information across them too, helping to rebuild the data in the event of a failure. About one third of the drives’ storage capacity is taken up by the parity data. RAID 5 offers the user increased speed as well as redundancy, due to the parity data. But RAID 5 isn’t a logical backup – if all drives in the array are damaged, the chances of seeing your data again are slim. There is also a chance the data on the array could be lost in a malware infection or simply by human error. For this reason, we see a lot of RAID 5 arrays in the data recovery lab.

RAID 6 is essentially RAID 5 but with added parity. RAID 6 arrays have double the amount of parity as RAID 5, offering very high fault-tolerance. For this reason, RAID 6 is frequently used in environments that have high data retention periods, like archives. Due to having double the amount of parity, RAID 6 is tolerant of up to two hard drive failures. In exchange for this extra redundancy, RAID 6 does have slower write speeds than RAID 5, due to the extra parities that need to be calculated. The downsides to RAID 5 are essentially the same as RAID 5 – the added parity doesn’t protect against data loss from a virus or human error.

When one of the hard disk drives in a RAID 5 or RAID 6 array fails, it can easily be replaced. Using the parity data, the RAID controller turns the new hard drive into an exact replica of the old one. RAID 5 can only rebuild if one drive in the array fails, while RAID 6 can withstand two drives in the array failing. Despite offering protection against data loss, RAID 5 and RAID 6 arrays are at their most vulnerable during the rebuild process due to the added strain on the drives. This is the most common reason our RAID data recovery technicians see RAID 5 and RAID 6 arrays in the lab.

RAID 5 is fine for most home users, as it offers increased speed and one drive of redundancy that will be fine for most people. However, for scenarios that require that little bit more parity – like a business environment - we’d recommend opting for RAID 6.

RAID Data Recovery