Promise FastTrak SX4000 Raid Controller Updated 11th April 2003
This review has been beset with delays due to very unlucky set of circumstances. First there was a delay in being able to obtain 4 identical hard drive to test the four channels on this card. After all, we could just test 4 drives on a TX2000 but on this card we can actually have them as 4 Masters rather than 2 Masters and 2 Slaves. Then we had some strange behavior whereby performance actually went down as more drives were added. The technical support guys at Promise were very quick in sending us new tools to use but when these showed similar results they sent us a replacement card. Then there were issues of very slow performance with drives above 120GB but this was fixed with a firmware update. Now we are finally ready to give the definitive review.
The card also has a lot of exciting features. Here's what you get and the manufacturer's specifications:
66MHz PCI bus)
RAID 5 (data and parity striping; 3 drives minimum)
RAID 0+1 (striping and mirroring; 4 drives)
RAID 1 (mirroring; 2 drives)
RAID 0 (striping; up to 4 drives)
Generates parity data for RAID 5; mirrors data to second drive or drive pair
on-the-fly for RAID 1 and RAID 0+1
Allows assigning standby hot spare drive for 2-drive RAID 1 or 3-drive RAID 5
array; offers hot swap support of failed drive when used with optional Promise SuperSwap™ chassises
Compatible with 66MHz and 33MHz PCI motherboards S1, S3, & S4
Single 168-pin DIMM slot for up to 256MB ECC or non-ECC cache memory**
Optimizes drive performance by drive type; flashable; boots system from all array levels; BBS compliant; setup menus for custom array creation; supports multiple arrays
Windows utility monitors status of arrays, hard drives, and optional Promise
SuperSwap enclosures via TCP/IP; warns of drive failure; allows rebuilds of failed arrays; synchronizes data on mirrored drives; e-mail notification for array events
Windows XP/2000/NT; RedHat Linux 7.2 / 7.3; TurboLinux Server 6.5 /
Workstation 7.0; SuSE Linux 7.3 / 8.0
9.84" x 3.82" (25cm x 9.7cm)
32° to 122° F (0° to 50° C)
Universal 5V and 3.3V
FCC Class B, CE
2 Years Warranty
Thoughtfully 4 cables are included but you have to provide your own memory chip. SDR memory from 64MB to 256MB is supported. We used a Crucial 256MB 133MHz stick.
Also included are two power splitter cables in the assumption that the card was obtained to make use of all 4 channels (otherwise why not have bought the cheaper TX2000?).
Here's a screen showing the configuration of the test system:
The only change to the above is the use of four Maxtor 540DX 80GB ATA-133 drives and the SX4000 we are testing. The latest drivers from Promise's web site were used. Here's what it looks like with 4 drives attached:
Let's dispense with SiSoft Sandra and the like straight away. There is only one tool that will suit our purposes and that's HDTach. This gives us a reading over the whole array and not just snapshots.
First RAID-0 single disk using a 16K stripe size.
This seems about right for a single drive in sustained transfer mode. Now for a 2-disk RAID0 array.
The read speed goes up (approximately double) while the write speed goes down slightly. This seems consistent with other RAID controllers. Now for a 32K stripe size.
This gives a slightly better write performance at the expense of read performance. How about a 64K stripe size?
We can see that 16K is the best stripe set (we can confirm this with many more tests but we'll spare our readers the gory details) and we will stick with this.
We no longer have access to 4 identical drives so took a trip to a data center nearby (name withheld to avoid getting our friends in trouble) where a server using a 4-disk RAID0 array on an SX4000 was in operation. We couldn't run HD-Tach as this requires non-partitioned drives but ran some other benchmarks. Performance with 4 drives was superb with sustained rates averaging about 3 times that of the single drive graph above. RAID5 performance was also excellent and the parity overhead was barely noticeable with the card in a 64-bit PCI slot.
Eventually this card has shown us why Promise engineers have so much faith in it. Performance is very good in all areas and Windows XP seems to fly along thanks to the addition of cache memory. The price point of this card is ideal for just a RAID0 product but when you take into account the RAID5 support there is no competition. If you don't want to settle for onboard RAID or you have 3/4 hard drives and don't want to suffer from a Master/Slave setup then this card will let you run your all your drives as Master.
We wouldn't hesitate to recommend this product and give it our Silver Award.
We would like to thank Promise Technology Inc. for the review sample.
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