I have a general question regarding setting up RAID on a new build. I would like to setup RAID 5 using 3x 1TB HDD's and have a 3TB HDD acting as a cache for them as well as use a 256 GB SSD for a Boot drive. I have no experience doing any of this so I am seeking guidance as well as tutorials. My next concern is the partitioning of the HDD's. Do I use GPT or MBR? Do I need a RAID controller or should I just use the software RAID 5 that is support by the MOBO and Windows 7? Finally, is this an efficient use of the hardware that I have assembled for this build?
I don't understand the purpose of using the 3 TB drive as a cache? Do you mean as a backup?
You didn't say what HW you are using, so it's hard to comment on what it might be good for.
I have had good experience with RAID 5 on Intel's chipset platforms (ICH7R, ICH10R), provided that the BIOS and driver software were in sync and compatible. I have had mediocre experience with RAID 5 on AMD's SB850 though that might have been due to the drives themselves. I have also had mediocre experience with RAID 5 as supported by the O/S - and am not sure you can do it with Windows 7 at all.
Intel's drivers and infrastructure make it pretty easy. With just a 2 TB array (1 TB + 1 TB), you can use either MBR or GPT at your discretion, but be aware that some software (WHS client computer backups, for example) has problems with GPT so that might be a decision factor.
What are you using the RAID array to store? And what is that 3 TB cache drive for? A well-implemented RAID array running on e.g. Z77 should give very good streaming R/W performance (especially if you enable WBC), but will have slower IOPS. Since you are using an SSD for the O/S, programs, and presumably work space, though, that shouldn't be an issue.
As everyone always likes to say, RAID is not a backup. You will need a separate solution for that (your 3 TB drive, possibly?).
I would advise against using Mobo or SW RAID 5 if the data is mission-critical because a power failure or crash will corrupt anything that was in the process of being written and require a rebuild as a minimum. However, with a good UPS I have had excellent experience using ICHxR-based RAID 5 for WORM-like storage such as for image, audio and video files. Setup during boot is fairly easy and painless. Just read the MoBo manual, and have your driver disks ready on USB keys.
Windows RAID 5 probably doesn't have the notification infrastructure you would need. You might not even know about a disk failure for days, putting all of your data in jeopardy.