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Which RAID card? (video & 3D - experienced)

Last response: in Storage
February 2, 2004 5:13:48 PM

Ok, simple question - which Raid card should I buy, assuming a really bad experience with Promise cards, and the need for 8 channels of parallel ATA raid? I already know what kinds of Raid I want, what I need to know is what brands you have had good or bad experiences with, so I can choose a card that will stop all these problems I'm having.

<b>Here's what I currently have:</b>
1x Promise SX4000 w/ 256MB (returning)
1x Promise TX2000, corrupts data (throwing away)
3x 60GB hard drives, to be Raid-0
3x 200GB hard drives (identical), to be Raid-5
Buying a new motherboard and processor, will have 64-bit PCI slots for raid. Haven't chosen this yet either.

So, I'm looking at a 3Ware 7506-8, <A HREF="" target="_new">(see here)</A>, so far it's the only alternative I've found. Anybody have some good options to consider? My price range is under $500 for the card itself. (unless the new one takes Kingston PC133 sdram, this includes the cost of any memory sticks I'd need.)

<b>* Here are the details of my current config, and why I need to expand:</b>
I edit video, and keep lots of files that MUST remain intact. I currently have those files on a Promise SX4000, in Raid-5 (3-drive 200GB) configuration, and stable. But the card is very slow and not sufficient for video editing. It also boots and loads programs very slowly. SiSoft Sandra rates its random read and write performance below 7MB/sec. A Bios flash on the card also made it incompatible with my current motherboard, and I almost lost everything just because I tried to get new drivers. So keeping data on this card is not an option, because I consider it risky. The Promise cards also cannot be combined with anything else - having both the SX4000 and TX2000 in causes them to not post. I assume that's true of other raid cards as well.
I used to run a 3-60GB-drive Raid-0 on a Promise TX2000, but whenever that card transferred to/from network, it would corrupt data and create "weird files" that if opened by the Windows kernel for reading, would instantly hard-lock the system with no error messages.

<i>Because I've tried two Promise Raid cards and had severe problems with both of them, actually lost lots of data simply because I used them instead of single hard drives, I'm letting you know straight away I won't consider Promise cards anymore.</i>

I see lots of people here with great know-how. Great thanks to anyone who can suggest me something good. :cool:
February 2, 2004 7:44:26 PM

My advice is steer clear of Promise. They do produce cards that work and in many cases you'll have no problems. But as soon as you start to do anything more complex they get screwed up.

Multiple RAID cards is not necessarily impossible in one system, it just isn't possible with Promise.

I don't know if you are going to be able to ever use a RAID5 array for video editing. Writes really do suck to RAID5, you need a lot of drives and a good controller to get it fast. If you put 8 drives in a RAID5 array and put it on that 3ware controller you'll still only get around 70MB/s which should be enough, but very expensive.

Just a note. Cache is a BAD thing in secure RAID controllers unless you have a UPS capable of maintaining your system for a good few minutes after power failure.

You could consider a NetCell card. These are much cheaper and faster RAID5 on a 3ware, come in 3 or 5 port versions and support RAID3 (striping with parity). They're totally new so I have no idea about reliability, drivers or compatibility. Here's Tom's <A HREF="" target="_new">review</A> on it and comparison with the 3ware card.

For your RAID0 you could simply use a PCI card from Highpoint, they have good compatibility and drivers. Something like the RocketRAID 404 or 454 should be fine.

<A HREF="" target="_new">My PCs</A> :cool:
February 2, 2004 9:34:21 PM

Thanks for the input! Yes, I'm hearing this more and more about Promise. I've yet to meet someone who has had a Promise card and has had a good experience. Granted you're number three or so, but still... (anybody who has had a good, crash-free Promise RAID, feel free to refute me, you'll be the first...)

I think I read the NetCell review. It's interesting, but I think I'm going to stick with Raid-5 because it seems to be more mainstream and more market-tested.

So, so far, good Raid brands are 3Ware and Highpoint, and possibly NetCell. <font color=blue><b>So, if I were to say, "3Ware makes the best IDE Raid cards hands down", would anybody argue the point with me?</b></font color=blue>

I do have a good UPS on the system, good for a solid 8 to 15 minutes of power, depending if I keep dual-screen or not when the power goes out. Interesting point about cache.

My software rated sequential write on my 3-disk Raid-5 at about 35MB/sec. 99% of what I do is render a 3D animation to files and then read it in Premiere, so writes are not big on the Raid-5, though they do hurt Premiere's speed when I render previews or final cuts. I want Raid-5 for the drive security, because that 100 gig drive of mine that failed during a backup-format-restore operation almost prevented me from being able to apply for jobs for a year.

My plan for an 8-channel is to avoid by default any dual-raid issues that might happen, and have both a Raid-0 and a Raid-5 in the system, covering both performance bases. That way I never have to format the Raid-5 drive, never have to delete an OS manually from it, etc. - it just holds my important data, and the Raid-0 is completely temporary, used for program installs and OS and preview renders.

Promise tech support has also made such a big deal out of the IRQ sharing issue that I like the idea of having only one card and one IRQ. (it's already impossible to prevent anything from sharing IRQ's in my current system, because I have three PCI cards and three free IRQ wires, and one card uses two IRQ wires. So I arrange the sound board to share with the NIC.)
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February 2, 2004 11:23:18 PM

If you have the $$$ buy the 3ware card by all means. Xbitlabs certainly rates them as the best IDE RAID cards available.

In principle there is no reason why IRQ sharing should be a problem in WinXP. Of course, if companies don't bother to develop drivers capable of handling IRQ sharing that's another matter entirely.

<A HREF="" target="_new">My PCs</A> :cool:
February 3, 2004 10:47:37 AM

Would it be possible for you to buy another 200Gb drive and then a cheap RAID controller and use RAID 10 rather than RAID 5? Then you would get both speed and security.

[Insert witty comment here]
February 3, 2004 5:22:02 PM

In principle there is no reason why IRQ sharing should be a problem in WinXP. Of course, if companies don't bother to develop drivers capable of handling IRQ sharing that's another matter entirely.

This seems to be the case with Promise. Their newest drivers are incompatible with any but the newest card Bios, which forces you to flash the card if you want the update. The update claims to give better performance, so it's a good thing to have, but according to them the Bios flash "changes the address space of the card" which apparently caused an incompatibility for me. If I had not been on the ball and noticed the Bios requirement when I installed windows drivers, I could very well have ended up with a completely unbootable install of windows, with the drivers unable to use the old bios and the new bios unable to post. All this speaks to me that Promise does not put enough thought into the drivers / Bios to make the card useful for its intended purpose: secure, reliable, fast access to data. It's more like a toy that lets you discover Raid before buying a real card. So, it would not surprise me if their drivers did not handle IRQ sharing well, and that is pretty much exactly what their tech support line has told me every time I've called - check for IRQ sharing and eliminate it. After that was out of the way, they moved on to other possible sources of the problem.

Would it be possible for you to buy another 200Gb drive and then a cheap RAID controller and use RAID 10 rather than RAID 5? Then you would get both speed and security.

If I were building a new array, I would definitely use that idea. It does give a very good combination of features. But, I already have those three 60gig drives, so I may as well stick them in a Raid-0 and have a second, slightly slower, high capacity secure drive. Besides, reading and writing are still about 40% to 60% of the delay working with Premiere, so I think I would benefit from a 3- or 4-stripe raid-0.