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The problem with almost all raid controllers is that they do not support SMART. So that is out. With software raids you are even more limited.
With hardware raid controllers you have web based interfaces that show some basic information, like this:
but software raids do not. There are two ways to determine possible problems, at least that I know of:
1. Use drive cages with LED's for the individual drives to show activity and inspect them visually.
2. Use old-fashioned manual labour to feel vibrations, temperatures and hear clicks on individual drives.
With only 3 drives in the raid, the chances of guessing correctly are 33.3% to start with and they only increase with manual inspection. A far easier job than in the case of 6 or more disks.
Sorry I can not offer better suggestions.
I guess technically my raid is a firmware raid, so i created another raid using windows 7 (a soft raid) and I got the same numbers. Then i took the raid apart and tested each disk individually only to find that the disk were okay and sometimes faster than the raid speeds. So the lesson is that even with a i7 980x (OC to 3.9), you still need a raid card. This is rather disappointing since soft raids on my macpro run wonderfully. I know you have a high end Areca card. Would the areca arc-1222 pcie x8 SATA raid card work for my simpler needs? Can i create a 2-drive raid 0 (scratch disk) and a 3-drive raid 0 (data disk) on it at the same time? Or would you recommend combining the disk and having a 5-drive raid 5 (that contained both data and scratch) instead?
The Areca card you pointed to is perfectly OK, with the one limitation that is noted in the reviews in terms of non-expandable cache.
You can use both approaches, 2 raid0 arrays or a single raid5 (or raid3). Personally I would probably prefer a 5 disk raid3 over 2 raid0's because of the redundancy. From a performance POV there will not be a significant difference I think.
If you use the onboard raid and the Intel Rapid storage Manager utility you can verify the raid array with the utility. The utility will also sit in your taskbar and let you know if the raid array goes off line. For a 2 drive raid 0 the onboard raid is more than enough. If you go with parity arrays or larger raid 0 arrays then definitely get a raid card.