The 9650SE is the first native PCI Express controller card from AMCC/3Ware tested in our labs. 3Ware once became popular by providing RAID controller cards for IDE and Serial ATA consumer-type hard drives, combining an almost professional-level feature set with attractive price points. 3Ware also was one of the first controller manufacturers that designed its RAID/XOR hardware in-house. Today, 3Ware is part of AMCC.
The 9650SE uses AMCC’s own XOR ASIC design (eighth-generation StorSwitch) - all other card manufacturers use host-based RAID or purchase XOR accelerators from Intel. Again, this decision seems to be a good one, as the 9650SE is a great and consistent performer. This product comes with 256 MB built-in DDR2 buffer memory, requires a x4 PCI Express port and supports all RAID levels up to RAID 5 and RAID 6 with dual redundancy. 3Ware also offers an optional battery backup unit (BBU), which helps to buffer cached data in case of a system-wide power failure. We also liked how this solution doesn’t carry an active fan, which makes it quiet and suitable for any type of workstation PC as well.
The card uses a so-called multi-lane connector, which basically is a physical connector that hosts four Serial ATA drive uplinks. AMCC also provides the necessary multi-lane cable to attach up to four drives. The multi-lane approach has the advantage that controller cards can be relatively small. In case of the 9650SE, AMCC created a low-profile board, which will fit into 2U rackmount servers as well as standard PC cases. All you need to do is exchange the slot cover with a small one.
3Ware’s software solution is called 3DM2, and is very intuitive. It is well structured and offers monitoring and maintenance features, such as the ability to migrate from one RAID-level to another, expand capacity on the fly or configure the staggered spin-up of hard drives.