macOS, Reviews

SoftRAID 5.6 delivers fast RAID 0, 1, 1+0 and 5 and SMART monitoring on USB drives

The last version of SoftRAID that I looked at was version 3. The latest version of the software that delivers RAID 0, 1, 4, 5 and 1+0 without you ever having to buy a RAID box has been fitted out with a new RAID Engine. The result is that you come very close to the performance you can squeeze out of dedicated hardware RAID controllers. I tried SoftRAID 5.6 using two and four bare disks I use as spare drives. I tested the solution with RAID 0, 1 and 5.

SoftRAID used to be a small company but is now part of OWC Holdings, the company that also owns OWC Digital. We just reviewed a couple of their products — their Thunderbolt 3 dock and their Thunderbolt 2 Drive Dock. Being part of OWC Holdings has given SoftRAID developers access to more resources, which has resulted in better and more powerful software. SoftRAID 3 was pretty good — SoftRAID 5.6 is in a different league.

First things first: performance is excellent. I used two WD disks to create a RAID 0 volume (striped). On the bare disks, BlackMagic Design’s Speed Test reported a Read speed of 180MB/sec and an identical Write speed. With SoftRAID version 5.6’s RAID 0, the speed graph went to 260MB/sec. With four disks connected via three different interfaces — internal SATA and two Thunderbolt 1 and 2 — the Read/Write speed rose to 350MB/sec. These figures were obtained with two older disk drives and two more recent ones. The AJA System Test revealed even higher numbers. You can expect the same — relative to the RAID type you’re using — performance throughout.

It also doesn’t matter if you hook up the disks to one or several ports. The performance I recorded was no different. Even more interesting is that SoftRAID is certainly no memory hog. The highest load rose to 6% CPU power with less than 60 MB of RAM used throughout my testing1.

It means that running SoftRAID does not make you suffer any sort of penalty in terms of memory or CPU usage. But there’s more.

SMART monitoring on USB drives

A good example of the high standards of development that SoftRAID engineers abide by is that a 5-second pause has been added at shutdown and restart to help prevent corrupted volumes caused by bugs in macOS.

Furthermore, SoftRAID supports TRIM commands for SSDs with all RAID levels. Mac users can use any SoftRAID volume as a startup volume. You can convert AppleRAID stripe (RAID 0) and mirror (RAID 1) volumes to SoftRAID. A volume validation will optionally fix parity or mirror data during the validation operation. There’s excellent error reporting and a brilliant predicted disk failure feature to provide more detailed information about how a disk is failing.

Very interesting is the addition of support for SMART reporting on USB disks. I tested both and they worked on SoftRAID-managed disks as well as on Apple-managed disks. This allows SoftRAID to monitor the health of these disks and predict the failure of them too. As far as I know, there is no other app on the market that supports this sort of SMART monitoring and it’s a boon to have it.

A SoftRAID Easy Setup application makes creating your first RAID volume quick and easy. It guides you through the entire process. It’s great to have, but if you’re a bit familiar with the Mac’s inner workings, you’ll probably use the main app regardless.

There is, however, one thing you need to be careful with. It’s when you want to revert your SoftRAID volumes back to Apple managed ones. I first tried this by simply removing the volume data from the disks within the SoftRAID app and then initialise them in Apple’s Disk Utility. This caused very alarming errors that made me worry I had fried my disks. It turned out I didn’t. All you need to do in order not to nearly suffer heart failure is convert the volumes to Apple-managed ones within the SoftRAID app. You can easily do that using the context menu.

Once you’ve done that, the disk drive will work fine without the SoftRAID driver installed. Even if something should go wrong with your disk drives, support is excellent. Mark James, who has been busy developing and tuning SoftRAID since the 1980s was with me within a quarter of an hour after I had emailed him.

SoftRAID 5.x is definitely worth the money. The full featured version, supporting all RAID versions costs $179, but you can also buy a Lite version that only does RAID 0 and 1 for $49.

  1. Tests were performed with a mid-2011 iMac i5/3.2GHz with 16 GB of RAM, a RocketStor and an OWC Drive Dock and a Wiebetech Ultradock connected via USB 3.