SoftRAID Lite 5: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Better RAID Management Than Disk Utility

SoftRAID Lite
SoftRAID interface showing tiles and connections. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The release of OS X El Capitan marked the dumbing down of Disk Utility into a barely usable version of its former self. Gone from Disk Utility are many features long taken for granted, including support for creating and managing RAID-based storage systems.

With the removal of Disk Utility features, I expected utility app developers to step in and provide some of the missing features. That's exactly what happened with SoftRAID, a popular app for creating software-based RAID arrays for OS X.

The folks at SoftRAID have taken their well-respected SoftRAID 5 app and pared it down to the basics needed to replace the lost RAID support in Disk Utility. Along with the new Lite version of SoftRAID came a corresponding reduction in price, making it an economical choice for those who need the basic RAID support that Apple no longer supplies.

Pro

Con

  • Conversion of AppleRAID volumes to SoftRAID not supported till next update.
  • Only RAID 0 and RAID 1 supported.
  • Support is limited to SoftRAID support forums.

Installing SoftRAID Lite

SoftRAID Lite installs as an application in your Mac’s /Applications folder.

The only unusual bit occurs when you launch the app the first time; the SoftRAID driver needs to be installed or updated. Apple has been including the SoftRAID driver ever since OS X Tiger was released in 2005. But although the SoftRAID driver may be present, OS X doesn't use it unless a drive has been formatted or converted by the SoftRAID app.

The SoftRAID driver is 100 percent compatible with the Mac, and provides boot support for all software-based RAID arrays made with the SoftRAID app.

Should you ever wish to stop using SoftRAID, it includes an uninstall function that will remove the app.

Using SoftRAID Lite

SoftRAID Lite, and for that matter, the full version of SoftRAID, uses a tiled interface presented in a window with two panes. The left-hand pane holds tiles representing each physical disk connected to your Mac. Within each tile is information about the disk, including size, model, how it's connected to your Mac, and whether it's using the Apple or SoftRAID driver. The tile also includes information about S.M.A.R.T status, hours of use, and format.

In the right-hand pane, you'll find tiles for each formatted volume, including size, formatting, available space, type (RAID or non-RAID), plus a few bits of additional information.

The most interesting piece of the SoftRAID interface occurs when you click on one tile, either a Volume tile or a Disk tile. In either case, the association between the selected tile and any other tile is displayed with a nifty pipe drawn between associated tiles.

An example of the benefit comes when you select a tile representing a RAID volume.

The resulting pipe shows which disks make up the RAID array.

Creating a RAID Array

RAID arrays you create must start with disks that you initialize (format) with SoftRAID, or convert from previously formatted disks. Initializing a disk will erase all data on the drive, while converting it will keep the data intact. At the time of this SoftRAID review, the conversion feature wasn't yet available; it's scheduled to appear in the next update, sometime in late November.

I’ve used the conversion feature in previous versions of the full version of SoftRAID, and it has performed as expected. Nevertheless, when the feature becomes available, I highly recommend creating a current backup of your data before you perform any conversion from Apple to SoftRAID, or back again.

Once you have two or more disks initialized or converted for SoftRAID uses, you can select the appropriate disk tiles, and then select the option to create a new volume. If two or more disks are selected, you can choose to have SoftRAID create a striped or mirrored array. You can also select the format type (HFS+, Encrypted HFS+, Case Sensitive HFS+, or MS-DOS). You can also specify the size of the volume you wish to create.

SoftRAID Monitor

Once you have at least one RAID array, the SoftRAID Monitor begins to run in the background and watch over the disks used in an array. The SoftRAID Monitor will notify you of any disk errors that occur, including S.M.A.R.T errors, volume failures, predicted failures, or an SSD with high wear rates.

In addition, for mirrored arrays, the monitor will let you know if a mirror needs to be rebuilt, if a disk is missing from a mirror, or if a rebuild process has completed.

Additional SoftRAID Lite Features

SoftRAID Lite includes a number of features that go well beyond what Apple provides in Disk Utility:

Disk Testing: Allows you to test every sector on a disk to ensure that data can be written and read correctly. You can set the test to run from 1 to 8 times through the disk, using a random pattern.

Volume Testing: Lets you non-destructively test a volume by having SoftRAID read every sector to ensure no errors are present.

S.M.A.R.T. Testing: Forces a test using the S.M.A.R.T. technology built into many disks.

Fast Mirror Rebuilding: SoftRAID can manually, or using its monitoring capabilities, automatically rebuild a mirrored array when one of the disks making up the volume has errors. The rebuild time is noticeably faster than Disk Utility, and you can continue to use the mirrored array while the rebuild is in process.

Faster Read Performance on Mirrored Arrays: SoftRAID takes advantage of the redundant data on mirrored arrays and reads data from multiple disks, increasing read performance up to 56 percent over a non-RAID read.

Final Thoughts

I’ve used the full version of SoftRAID in the past on our own office servers, so I'm familiar with the app and how easy it is to use for creating and managing RAID arrays on Macs.

The Lite version is targeted directly at those of us who made use of Disk Utility to handle our software-based RAID needs. With Apple abandoning RAID support in Disk Utility, SoftRAID Lite steps right in, with an easy-to-use interface, and much more advanced RAID monitoring capabilities than were available in Disk Utility, all at a very reasonable price.

If your Mac makes use of RAID arrays that you created with Disk Utility, I highly recommend SoftRAID Lite as a replacement. It will not only take care of your basic RAID creation and management needs, it goes well beyond what Disk Utility could ever do for you.

SoftRAID Lite 5 is $49.00. A demo is available.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.