Fast and Inexpensive - Promise's FastTrak66 IDE RAID-Controller

Special Problem - FDISK On Arrays Larger Than 64 GB

Promise does not advise to use any other partitioning software under Win9x than Microsoft's own and super old 'FDISK'. Unfortunately this software reports the drive size of an array modulo 64 GB. This means that FDISK reports arrays larger than 64 GB as the proper size minus 64 GB. However, once you partitioned the array and go into Windows you get the correct size and can fully use it. Thus the only problem is to actually divide such large areas into smaller partitions. With FDISK it's currently impossible to make e.g. two 40 GB partitions out of one 80 GB array. People who want to use the full array as one partition won't have any trouble though. Only FDISK reports the array size wrong. After creating the partition with FDISK you have full access to the complete partition from within Win9x.

Conclusion

FastTrak66 has the following advantages:

  • Easy and very inexpensively 'made' out of an Ultra66 controller from Promise.
  • Offers a lot of different choices of what to do with older hard drives. You can use those drives with FastTrak instead of throwing them away.
  • Superior performance for video and photo editing at a rather low price. Performance freaks should be pleased as well.
  • Interesting alternative to backup if used as inexpensive mirror solution. Today another hard drive costs hardly more than a halfway decent backup device. You save the time of the backup process, but data you accidentally erase will be gone forever.
  • Tidy way of using old hard drives as one partition by spanning them all with FastTrak66. This way you can use e.g. an old 5 GB, two 8 GB and one 13 GB hard drive and get one 31 GB partition that is much easier to maintain than four logical drives of different sizes.
  • It saves one complete interrupt if you use it instead of the onboard IDE-controller.

This is the list of disadvantages:

  • Definitely too expensive if officially purchased as FastTrak66.
  • Not able to supply full performance if 3 or even 4 fast hard drives are used in a stripe set.
  • Mirroring solution not completely convincing. Hot swap is not possible, because the exchanged hard drive does not get rebuilt unless you reboot and wait. If you are using two hard drives for a 1:1 mirror make sure that you always use both channels, since otherwise you might lose all your data if one drive fails. In RAID 0,1 configuration one failing drive leads to two drives that need to be rebuilt, you also don't know which of the two drives at the channel is actually faulty.
  • Common applications do not make much use of the vast data bandwidth supplied by the stripe sets. Only people who move or edit large files can really benefit from FastTrak66.

I personally like the FastTrak66 made out of a Promise Ultra66 controller, because it offers a performance that is very impressive at a rather small price. However, this performance may not be required by you. I'd also like to point out that I don't appreciate the high price of the FastTrak66 if you should be honest enough to buy it as such. Promise cannot possibly tell me that the $50-$80 price difference to the technically identical Ultra66 can be justified by high development costs for the RAID-software. The predecessor 'FastTrak33' was using the same software and is available for a long time already. Promise is trying to make big money with a product that doesn't cost them a penny more to produce than the Ultra66.

I suggest that performance hungry people who've got the right soldering iron and who want top notch hard drive performance cannot go too wrong in buying an Ultra66 and modifying it, as long as they realize that they need at least two identical hard drives to make usage of RAID 0. If you are into digital video or photo editing you get excellent performance without the need for SCSI.

I doubt that FastTrak66 is an alternative for servers, even at entry level. The problem with two failing hard drives if only one is broken in a RAID 0,1 array is too annoying.

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