You didn't say what kind of games you're using. A lot of games really don't use the hard drive much at all after they load, so the speed of the hard drive may not make much of a difference.
I've heard that online multiplayer games are more sensitive to hard drive speeds because they may need to load new objects and textures at randoms times. But individual games played on your machine are more likely to preload everything that's needed so they don't depend much on the hard drive during play.
You might want to have a look at your disk statistics during gameplay to see if it looks like the disk is being accessed very much. If not, then a faster drive probably isn't going to help.
Your best option depends on the kind of I/O the games are doing. If they're loading a few large files, then you want the highest possible transfer rates, and that means RAID 0. But if they're loading a lot of little files, then you want fast access times, and that means a Velociraptor or, to a much lesser degree, short stroking.
Alright, hopefully this will clear things up. Please keep any replies from here on to voting for one of the options below and providing an explanation as to why you voted the way you did. In this thread, I'm looking for the most replies possible and see what the majority of people think is best.
For me, HDD performance is only an issue for online gaming (and not for singleplayer games). As many of you know, those who spawn the quickest in an online game get a small advantage...especially in games like COD:MW2. So, to address the questions above I am mostly concerned about access time and small file transfer (as with most online fps games). Of course, overall drive space is an issue too, since HDDs tend to follow the law of diminishing return... the more space you use on a HDD, the larger the decrease in performance.
With all that cleared up, I'll restate my original post:
Option 1 - $150 + SSD, buy two Samsung F3 1tb drives and run them in raid 0 for games and some media and use my maxtor as backup.
Pros: Huge volume of space, fast transfer ratings.
Cons: Increased rate of failure, little to no increase in access times
Option 2 - $150 + SSD, buy two Samsung F3 1tb drives, use one as media and data storage and short-stroke the other to 200gb for gaming, and use my maxtor as extra storage.
Pros: Short stroke helps access times, lots of storage on 2nd F3.
Cons: Increase in access times may be negligible compared to nonshort-stroked drive
Option 3 - $189 + SSD, buy one WD Velociraptor 300gb for gaming and use my maxtor for media and data
Pros: Fastest option for small file access times
Cons: Very little space for my gaming drive, almost no increase in storage capacity compared to current system, most expensive option
Option 4 - $184 + SSD, buy two Samsung F3 500gb drives to put in raid 0 w/ short-stroke, buy one Samsung F3 1tb for media and storage, use my maxtor 500gb for raid drive backup
Pros: Increased transfer rates on raid 0, increased access time with short-stroke, huge amount of storage
Cons: Risk w/ raid 0
If access times are important to you then the best option performance-wise will be the Velociraptor. Short-stroking the slower drives can't compete the with higher spin rate of the VR. So my vote is "Option 3".
But you've already acknowledged that in your comments - you're the one who's going to have to actually make the decision as to whether the faster access time is really worth the reduced storage space.