Shaking it up
In recent weeks and months we've examined a number of network-orientated RAID devices. Today, we're shaking things up a little.
Now it's time to go local and take a look at a RAID add-in board.
Not a great deal has changed on the RAID front since then. There remain, more-or-less, three different types of RAID implementation.
First, you've got budget RAID - the kind you'll find built into an enthusiast motherboard or on a cheap add-in board. These solutions are, essentially, a SATA controller and a BIOS module, with all the work done by the CPU.
Then you've got middle of the road RAID cards. These add features such as enclosure-support, warning buzzers and, often, some more sophisticated management software. However, they're still not likely to do all of the RAID work themselves, even though they may take some of the burden away from the CPU.
Finally, there's the enterprise-class of RAID controller - the canine's cuddle conkers of storage cards. These puppies do the lot and don't give the CPU a look-in. This means they deliver the best performance by far in the majority of situations.
Today, the card on test - the HighPoint RocketRAID 2300 - straddles the first two groups. It's got quite a few features but still relies on the CPU and operating system to do a lot of the work for it.
Help or hindrance? Read on to find out.
HighPoint RocketRAID 2300
At the time of writing, the RocketRAID 2300 was priced at just under £90. That makes it a relatively low-cost offering. Even so, for that price HighPoint is providing a four-port, 3Gbps SATA connection over a one-lane PCIe interface.
A single lane of PCI-Express can signal at 2.5Gbps, full-duplex. That's 2.5Gbps in each direction, simultaneously. Data is 8B/10B encoded, which means only 80 per cent of the bits transmitted are actually data. So in 'real' terms, 1x PCIe works at somewhere below 2Gbps.
When four 3Gbps disks are attached, having just one lane of PCIe might be a limiting factor for the 2300 but we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, here's a rundown of the full spec sheet.
|Bus interface||PCI-Express 1x|
|Disk interface||4x SATA 3Gbps/1.5Gbps|
|RAID support||RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, JBOD
Background/foreground (online/offline) initialisation
|RAID expansion||Online Capacity Expansion (OCE)
Online RAID Level Migration (ORLM)
|Enclosure support||SCSI Accessed Fault Tolerance Enclosures (SAF-TE)|
|Array capacity||Multiple array support
64-bit LBA, >2TB supported
|Array recovery||Auto rebuild option|
Dynamic sector repair and re-mapping
|Disk replacement||Hot-swap and hot-spare support|
|Performance features||Write-back/write-through cache
Native Command Queuing (NCQ)
|Management software||BIOS-level management
Command-line (Linux/FreeBSD only)
|Management features||Activity/failure LEDs
Scheduled disk health checks
|Operating system support||Closed-source driver
Windows 2000 -> Vista, 32-bit/64-bit
Fedora, RedHat Enterprise, CentOS, SuSE, SLES
|Warranty||Three-year limited warranty|
Not a bad features list there, considering the price. What we like the most is the broad support for different operating systems support, including an open-source driver. Other hardware developers take note: this is the way to do things - give users options!
If you care more about throughput than data protection, the RocketRAID 2300 supports RAID-0. If you don't like dead disks, RAID-5 is available. RAID-1 (mirroring), RAID-10 (RAID-1 and RAID-0 combined) and JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) are also supported, though that's true for most RAID cards.
HighPoint has certainly considered user requirements well and come up with a product that holds out a lot of promise - at least according to its spec sheet. Question is, can it deliver?