A number of standard schemes have evolved which are referred to as levels. There were five RAID levels originally conceived, but many more variations have evolved, notably several nested levels and many non-standard levels (mostly proprietary).
Following is a brief summary of the most commonly used RAID levels. Space efficiency is given as amount of storage space available in an array of n disks, in multiples of the capacity of a single drive. For example if an array holds n=5 drives of 250GB and efficiency is n-1 then available space is 4 times 250GB or roughly 1TB.
|Level||Description||Minimum # of disks||Space Efficiency||Fault Tolerance||Image|
|RAID 0||Striped set without parity or mirroring. Provides improved performance and additional storage but no redundancy or fault tolerance. Because there is no redundancy, this level is not actually a Redundant Array of Independent Disks, i.e. not true RAID. However, because of the similarities to RAID (especially the need for a controller to distribute data across multiple disks), simple stripe sets are normally referred to as RAID 0. Any disk failure destroys the array, which has greater consequences with more disks in the array (at a minimum, catastrophic data loss is twice as severe compared to single drives without RAID). A single disk failure destroys the entire array because when data is written to a RAID 0 drive, the data is broken into fragments. The number of fragments is dictated by the number of disks in the array. The fragments are written to their respective disks simultaneously on the same sector. This allows smaller sections of the entire chunk of data to be read off the drive in parallel, increasing bandwidth. RAID 0 does not implement error checking so any error is unrecoverable. More disks in the array means higher bandwidth, but greater risk of data loss.||2||n||0 (none)|
|RAID 1||Mirrored set without parity or striping. Provides fault tolerance from disk errors and failure of all but one of the drives. Increased read performance occurs when using a multi-threaded operating system that supports split seeks, as well as a very small performance reduction when writing. Array continues to operate so long as at least one drive is functioning. Using RAID 1 with a separate controller for each disk is sometimes called duplexing.||2||1 (size of the smallest disk)||n-1 disks|
|RAID 2||Hamming code parity. Disks are synchronized and striped in very small stripes, often in single bytes/words. Hamming codes error correction is calculated across corresponding bits on disks, and is stored on multiple parity disks.||3|
|RAID 3||Striped set with dedicated parity or bit interleaved parity or byte level parity.|
This mechanism provides fault tolerance similar to RAID 5. However, because the stripe across the disks is much smaller than a filesystem block, reads and writes to the array perform like a single drive with a high linear write performance. For this to work properly, the drives must have synchronised rotation. If one drive fails, performance is not affected.
|RAID 4||Block level parity. Identical to RAID 3, but does block-level striping instead of byte-level striping. In this setup, files can be distributed between multiple disks. Each disk operates independently which allows I/O requests to be performed in parallel, though data transfer speeds can suffer due to the type of parity. The error detection is achieved through dedicated parity and is stored in a separate, single disk unit.||3||n-1||1 disk|
|RAID 5||Striped set with distributed parity or interleave parity. Distributed parity requires all drives but one to be present to operate; drive failure requires replacement, but the array is not destroyed by a single drive failure. Upon drive failure, any subsequent reads can be calculated from the distributed parity such that the drive failure is masked from the end user. The array will have data loss in the event of a second drive failure and is vulnerable until the data that was on the failed drive is rebuilt onto a replacement drive. A single drive failure in the set will result in reduced performance of the entire set until the failed drive has been replaced and rebuilt.||3||n-1||1 disk|
|RAID 6||Striped set with dual distributed parity. Provides fault tolerance from two drive failures; array continues to operate with up to two failed drives. This makes larger RAID groups more practical, especially for high availability systems. This becomes increasingly important because large-capacity drives lengthen the time needed to recover from the failure of a single drive. Single parity RAID levels are vulnerable to data loss until the failed drive is rebuilt: the larger the drive, the longer the rebuild will take. Dual parity gives time to rebuild the array without the data being at risk if a (single) additional drive fails before the rebuild is complete.||4||n-2||2 disks|