AHCI vs RAID vs IDE: Is Older Better?

Are you renewing your data systems in your company? Chances are, you’re wondering whether you should move from AHCI to RAID. What if your components are too old and use IDE connections? What do you do then with all the important info on them? 

Image of a close up hard disk.
Hard discs connected with NVMe avoiding the AHCI vs RAID debate.

In short, RAID is often the better option, but that isn’t always true. In this guide, I’ll show you each connection type on its own. First, though, let me show you what you need to think about when choosing your connection.

What to Consider When Choosing Your Storage Interface Connection

When picking the best type for your needs, you’ll want to consider these 4 aspects:

  1. Component Requirements
  2. System Capabilities
  3. Security Requirements
  4. Storage Management Requirements

In some cases, scrapping all old components and buying new ones is the only reasonable solution. That may be true when cybersecurity is of the essence. That said, when you’re using HDDs from the 90s as archive storage, that won’t be a sensible cost.

Even a small storage server costs anywhere between $5000 and $20,000 to operate, so you may not even want to start unless you have the math to justify that cost.

Still, if we include IDE drives in the mix, you should strive to slowly phase out the older components and connections. That way, you can use the advantages and increased speed of the newer ones. Maybe not today, but at one point in the future.

To help you with your choice, let me go through each one in detail. Then, you’ll be able to figure out where you are and what’s the best for you. 

The Case for AHCI

The first AHCI model came out 18 years ago. Back then, it achieved the unimaginable: AHCI could pull out the hard drive while the computer was working! It also made spinning disk hard drives work faster. 

AHCI is limited to Intel chipsets, which are most common in business environments, and act as a bus between controllers on the motherboard. The data is still transferred via SATA, but  more possibilities and options are also open to users and data managers.

The biggest advantage of AHCI is to organize the data queue request (NCQ) and enable faster speeds for Hard Disk Drives. AHCI reduces the time necessary to switch between the read and write positions, making the response time significantly faster, especially on older drives.

Yet, an AHCI connection won’t provide any advantages for an SSD. This is because a Solid State Drive doesn’t have the same requirements, so it changes between read and write positions at the speed of light. AHCI will still try to manage them, but it won’t be any faster than the hardware natively.

Where Are AHCI Connections Used?

New AHCI connections are especially useful with  large database holding centers or smaller enterprises where most of the information is still stored at HDD drives.

In these cases, using an AHCI over a RAID connection will remove the need for backward compatibility and allow an easy connection. It’ll also allow a slow hybridization between HDD and SSD, if you’re playing to exchange the former for the latter at public administration speeds.

The biggest downside of this choice is that you’ll be stuck with Intel motherboards for the perceivable time. This isn’t a massive handicap, though. Most businesses already consider this the best choice regardless. It’ll still remove the option, which makes the possibility of increased amortization costs in the future very real.

Next, I’ll go through the RAID connection. RAID is newer, and  you’ll very likely need it for your system.

Image of an Intel chipset.
AHCI vs RAID doesn’t exist for Intel as it doesn’t support RAID.

The Case for RAID

RAID uses different nodes in the same array to increase data availability and protection. This connection is more than a decade old. RAID is a data manager that increases processing speeds and makes your system more reliable

As is the case with other storage interface devices, it isn’t much of a buffer for data, it’s actually a manager. It allows additional options for how you want to operate your data and increases the processing speed (especially if it has its own processor). It also makes the whole system more reliable.

RAID connections remove the possibility that data will be lost with a power loss or sudden disconnection from the drive. That’s actually RAID’s biggest advantage! It keeps the storage devices running, even after disconnecting from the controller device. That’s enough to save your data.

Additionally, RAID doesn’t have to have physical components to work. A sysadmin can install it as a separate chip and controller or as an internal software application.

The latter option won’t give the benefit of the chip being independent. It also won’t allow it not to use the CPU resources. As a separate component, all tasks for the RAID will be pushed to a dedicated card.

The data transferring rate with the RAID controller on its own won’t be better if you’re using a SATA 3.0 connection and an SSD, but some proprietary RAID solutions make this possible. The transmission rate will still improve in an SSD array, with the capability to draw different information at the same time from multiple disks.

Where Are RAID Connections Used?

All SSD-based storage centers need to use RAID connections. That way, they ensure the availability and endurance of their data, especially when a surge or massive power failure happens. In those cases, the data will be secure and everything will be okay once the system is back online.

Individual users can also benefit from connecting to RAID controllers for the same purposes. This will also be beneficial for users who connect multiple storage disks to the same motherboard and often use multiple data sources at the same time.

Additionally, because RAID devices are aware of the existence of AHCI devices, they can be backward compatible with HDD storage. They can also have the AHCI mode enabled on them. The benefits of SSDs will be non-existent, but some increase in HDD speed will be noticeable. The compatibility will also be there.

Standard RAID modes don’t increase the speed of SSD drives and access. In some cases, you can even notice it being slower than a connection with RAID disabled. This might not be an issue for most users. Yet, you should also consider this if you need the speed.

To increase the speed, you’ll need to use proprietary  third-party software, like the RADI-3D provided by Pure Storage in their flash devices.

Finally, let’s talk about IDE connections. These are very old, but we all know how many people rely on ancient hardware.

Image of an AMD Ryzen chipset.
AMD Ryzen chipsets only work with RAID or NVMe setups!

The Case for IDE

In the context of SATA, and in this case ATA, standards, we’ll frequently mention IDE connections. The IDE connection standard is even older than AHCI, going back to 1986!

At that time, IDE connections for ATA drives were revolutionary. They could transfer 16 bits of information at a time to each of the two devices on every channel! Right now, that doesn’t sound like much, but back then, it was the fastest thing you could use.

Similar to comparing AHCI to modern NVMe PCIe connections, the AHCI vs IDE was never really a question. One was objectively better and faster.

I can’t propose to anyone to plan for IDE devices. They’ve been obsolete for the last decade and a half. Even Western Digital, the original manufacturer, stopped producing them a decade ago.

Still, you may find them stocked somewhere, and you should recognize them. That’s because they can be a resource or a liability. If anything, you can note that those drives should be exchanged at some time.

You can recognize IDE by those wide gray cables running from the motherboard to the HDD. You can also look for the Master/Slave pins that needed to be set up before installing them. They won’t work on newer motherboards that have only SATA connections.

Dialing Down on IDE Components

The switch from AHCI to RAID and vice versa  is rather easy, but it isn’t the same with IDE. Even if the software can adapt to the different transmissions, the SATA and ATA cables aren’t the same.

RAID connections are so far ahead of ATA that they simply don’t recognize each other. That is assuming you made a cable connecting them (you most probably won’t!).

Additionally, the hard drives connected with IDE should be well over their designated expiration date by now. You need to phase these out.

Ideally, if the devices using this are still operational, you should first switch to AHCI. Then, make clones with systems that can use both. This is rather simple. You may also find adapters that would allow old ATA hard drives to connect to newer motherboards, even if to a limited capacity.

Because the storage capacity wasn’t at the same level back then, you’ll probably be able to place dozens of hard drives from two decades ago to a single SSD now. When you do that, contact your local tech-scrap dealer, and see if you can sell off the HDDs pound per pound. That’ll bring out the best price.

AHCI vs RAID: Which One to Choose?

When picking between AHCI or RAID, the decision should be quite simple. If you’re using newer systems and SSDs, you should go toward RAID devices. Yet, if you’re more focused on budget solutions, AHCI will be a better choice due to the storage price.

If you’re an individual user planning for one device or independent personal computers, RAID is the only option. You should be looking towards M2 NVMe communication interfaces that use the PCIe data transport systems.

Yet, if you need to connect multiple storage drives and hold onto them, then spinning HDDs might still be a good option. In those cases, speed and performance might not be as important as price per byte.

AHCI and RAID Side by Side

For a visual breakdown, it might be good to use the newer NVMe transfers as well, simply to see the difference:

Designed forHDDBothSSD
Command queues13264
Commands useHigh CPU cycles or separate deviceModerate CPU cycles or a separate deviceLow CPU cycles always on the main CPU
Latency6 ms1.2 ms2.8 ms
Must communicate withSATA controllerSATA controllerSystem CPU
IOPs~100k~200k~1 million
AHCI, RAID, and NVMe head to head!

As you’ll notice, the AHCI connection is objectively slower, but the difference doesn’t make it obsolete. If your system benefits from  a lot of spinning disk drives, it might be the option for you.

Conversely, if you’re looking for performance, not storage capacity, RAID is a far superior option. You should always focus on future-proof your system as much as possible and predict what will be compatible with future systems.

That brings us to the chipset choice.

Combining With Different Chipsets

I don’t want to enter the whole Intel vs AMD debate, it’s  becoming bothersome in the third decade of the twenty-first century. That said, we still need to mention it in this context. Namely, AHCI connections won’t work with anything but Intel motherboards and CPUs.

In most business settings, that shouldn’t be an issue. Intel dominates that market, partly because of AHCI technology. That said, if you’re planning for a new rig and are looking into making individual computers, then AMD might be a better option because of its CPU.

The AHCI vs RAID SSD debate doesn’t exist, as AHCI doesn’t give any benefits to connecting SSDs. These storage device environments don’t have a disk, so they have nothing to manage.

If you already have AMD chipsets, then AHCI is out of the question as the benefits of choosing RAID would be overwhelming.

Image of a Western Digital spinning disk storage.
Large spinning disk HDD storage options might be better with AHCI!

Pro Tips:

  • Go with RAID if you’re building a new system. Newer is better.
  • Use the BIOS option to connect with legacy if you have older hard drives.
  • Implement AHCI for bulk storage and RAID for the system hard drive if you have an Intel system.
  • Use RAID if you have an AMD system, always.
  • Select software-enabled AHCI or RAID if you have personal computers. For businesses, use a dedicated storage interface device for redundancy.

The Bottom Line

In the end, it’s impossible to honestly represent these two choices as equal. They both serve the same purpose, but one is more modern than the other. RAID is objectively a better choice in 99% of situations.

We should still mention the other 1%, which is building large data centers that don’t need a quick connection. Then, using HDDs over SSDs might be a more financially responsible decision. In turn, that makes AHCI a better option over RAID.

In all other cases, this isn’t mixing apples and oranges. Rather, it’s mixing apples with slightly older, more stale apples. 

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Can I use RAID with SSD and HDD?

Yes. RAID can be installed for both SSD and HDD devices that are connected to a SATA controller. RAID will work better and provide more options to those using an SSD.

How do I update a SATA AHCI controller?

You can update the SATA AHCI controller through the driver. Especially for Windows-operated devices, the best way to update the AHCI controller is to do it through the control panel. First, go to Run, then select Device Manager. There, click on IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers, then Standard SATA AHCI controllers. Finally, right-click and update the driver. You’ve updated your AHCI controller!

How do I enable AHCI in Windows 10?

You’ll need to go to the system registry. To access, click your windows button (WIN) and type sysregedit. Then, find the HKEY_Machine and turn all the hard drive connections (go start on DWORD) to 0 (zero).

The connections you need to change are:

  • iaStorV
  • StartOverride
  • storahci

Then, when you restart your computer and enter BIOS, you can change the hard drive connections to AHCI. For more information, see how Windows describes the process.

How do I configure RAID?

Use the Storage Spaces Manager. Go to your control panel or type out Storage Spaces Manager in your Run box. Then, create a new pool and storage space. Choose RAID and use all the default settings for size. Click create, and once the process is over, you’ll see a new RAID configured storage drive appear.

Can I configure AHCI on AMD chipsets?

It’ll work, but you can’t use a separate device for an AHCI connection to an AMD motherboard. Still, if you’re using software on Windows 10, it’ll be easy to enable an AHCI controller via the operating system. Then, you can make AHCI-enabled drives work.


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