I currently have one Hitachi 7K500 320 gig drive. At $80 from newegg, it is really cheap, and fast according to Storagereview's leaderboard. $1.25 per DVD-R worth of storage : so cheap that I am considering relying on an array of these instead of shuffling DVD-Rs all the time.
But I want more speed, so I was going to purchase a RAID card. I even managed to snag a 3ware 9500S 8 port from ebay for $104.
BUT : I think software RAID will be cheaper and faster. Here's why :
Veritas makes a windows (and other OS) RAID driver that is, according to their whitepapers, quicker than or equivalent to the best hardware RAID solutions. While this is hotly debated elsewhere, I fully believe it.
Hardware RAID cards, such as 3ware, have a powerPC chip on them running at a few hundred MHZ. This is NOT specialized hardware, and so is roughly equivalent to 5-10% of one core of my Core 2 Duo @3.2 GHZ main CPU. Tops.
Whatever advanced algorithm is needed to manage a RAID array to get every last drop of performance from it is just a piece of software. 3ware, High Point, all the other guys have written a powerPC version of that software and sell a computer on a card to run it.
That computer works, and has a few advantages. It doesn't leech performance from the host CPU, and runs firmware that is independent of Windows. It can keep a RAID alive if host computer is KO.
So, for a grand total cost of $160, I will have 2 Hitachi disks with RAID 0 partitions run by Veritas volume manager. Windows will be kept on a non-RAID partition, and a backup image of the windows partition kept on the other drive. A full backup image of Windows, taken after all my favorite games and applications are installed and everything is working perfectly, will let me instantly reset everything if M$ fucks up or I catch malware.
I'll post benchmarks, especially of seek times and game load times, comparing stuff installed on the RAID 0 partition with the same game on just one disk, later.
Software RAID cannot possibly match a "good" hardware solution without affecting overall system performance. If you try to run software RAID on your gaming rig you will most likely see a performance hit that you would not with a Hardware solution.
That being said, I haven't looked at software RAID in ages. I personal use an Infrant ReadyNAS NV with 4x500gb drives in XRAID configuration.
And if I need more space, I'll find a barebones PC and build it out with a Hardware RAID card.
Yes, there is a performance hit to the CPU. What I guess I am saying is : for the $200-$300 a hardware RAID card can cost on newegg (yes, it is that expensive : only PCIe RAID cards are going to be even as fast as onboard raid) you can upgrade your CPU a LOT more than any performance saved with hardware RAID.
$200-$300 more spent on a CPU than you were going to already is enough to get quad core, or to seriously overclock this generation of CPU (by buying the water or thermoelectric cooler you'd need)
So overall software RAID is MUCH higher performance for the same cost.
Interesting thread IF your results show something 'interesting'!
I'm very interested in your motherboard configuration, it's chipset, and if the onboard SATA is driven by the chipset (i.e. nForce4) or a third party chip.
As for the 3ware board I'm very interested in it's motherboard slot interface (i.e. 32bit PCI, 64 bit PCI-X, etc.). Lot's of limitations to consider.
As a side note, I have a Tyan server, dual Opterons, with a 3ware board stuffed into a 133mhz PCI-X slot, with three WD250gb SATA drives (150mbps), RAID 0, and see throughput on sustained reads at about 1.44gb per minute (24mb per second). They're certainly not the fastest drives in the world, but I'm very interested in what you see.