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Highpoint Takes On Adaptec's SAS Controller

Highpoint Takes On Adaptec's SAS Controller
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Highpoint was one of the first companies to offer capable and flexible storage controllers for mainstream markets. These components found their way onto enthusiast class motherboards, which had lacked storage features until a few years ago. Or, they were sold on controller cards to enable professional RAID capabilities at an affordable cost. However, the consolidation of the storage market resulted in ample availability of storage connectivity, from Serial ATA (SATA) for the mainstream to Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) for servers and workstations. Storage vendors such as Highpoint now focus on offering a better value for business customers than the more entrenched companies like Adaptec. We analyze two entry-level SAS RAID controllers to see how they compared.

RAID Controller Options

It has become tough for storage vendors to come up with controller or host bus adapters that can offer significantly better features than those of existing products. Host-based RAID controllers such as the RAIDCore controllers offer maximum flexibility, but they depend on the performance of their host systems. The software layer called VST Pro has been available for use with 3rd party storage controller such as Intel on-board controllers for a while. Most mainstream on-board RAID solutions are considered host-based RAID as well, by the way. Software RAID, which is entirely executed on a host operating system, is not always the best choice, as the storage array’s performance depends on its host.

Hardware RAID

Many people consider hardware-assisted RAID controllers the only real option if you take your storage seriously. So-called hardware RAID utilizes a dedicated controller card, which often comes with its own firmware and management tools, an accelerator chip for parity operation (XOR engine) and a dedicated cache memory. These controllers work on most operating systems (with drivers required), but they don’t require a lot of resources, unlike the solutions mentioned above.

Is Budget RAID Good Enough?

Highpoint has been coming up with all sorts of unusual solutions, from small form factor host adapters (the Rocket RAID 2680 is only 3. 3 inches long) or SAS RAID controllers at SATA pricing. We decided to have a look at the Rocket RAID 2640X4, which is a sub-$150 4-port SAS controller with standard RAID capabilities for the PCI Express bus. Can it beat Adaptec’s entry-level 4-port SAS model RAID 5405, which costs roughly $350?

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  • 2 Hide
    theDudeAbides , December 19, 2008 11:16 AM
    Could you please also benchmark software RAID solutions? I believe that these are more relevant to home/small business users who would rather spend their $350 on hard drives and use existing controller ports. Perhaps a simple Linux MDADM setup vs. Windows 2008 software RAID and compare each when used as a NAS device? I believe that you can get very good results.
    Whatsmore I personally use a Linux MDADM array in conjunction with the IETD software iSCSI target to boot my Vista gaming machine (with a cheap Intel Pro/1000 PCIe adapter and Intel's iSCSI boot firmware). Could you please investigate this and compare this approach to other RAID and diskless scenarios? I have written an article on MDADM and would be happy to help you.

    regards
    TheDudeAbides
  • 3 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 19, 2008 11:44 AM
    So how does each solution compares with ICH10R in regard to performance?
  • 2 Hide
    brianbed , December 19, 2008 12:04 PM
    I would like to see some CPU utilization numbers. I don't see anything on the Highpoint card that resembles and currently made XOR processors. This would likely explain the degraded RAID 5 performance (most XOR processors cannot compare to a modern CPU).

    I somewhat agree with theDudeAbides, but I think he knows as well as I that Linux software RAID will blow Windows out of the water. In addition, Windows failure recovery is abysmal if even possible (Windows RAID = data loss).

    Speaking of failure recovery, how well did the controllers handle it? I know the initial string of LSi SAS cards drove me nuts. Adaptec has tended to be the misunderstood child on the block. Its lower level functions can be confusing to many SA's, but they are darn good. How does the Highpoint stack-up? Thanks guys for the good read.
  • 0 Hide
    kschoche , December 19, 2008 12:13 PM
    Seriously? More 1 inch graphs, come on.........
  • 0 Hide
    issa2000 , December 19, 2008 12:33 PM
    i have the hp x4 card.. it sucks as a sata setup.

    it will not go past 250mb/sec read..

    4x 1.5 tb seagates or 4x300g vraptors.

    iv had it for 6 months, its now also having overheating problems, iv put a fan on the side(which has fix the problem) i think it needs a heatsink? pcb gets to 50 + chip 55 rebuilding r5 4x 1,5tb setup..
  • 0 Hide
    issa2000 , December 19, 2008 12:38 PM
    im goint to test raid 5 recovery + r0 using vvs 4k sizing for xp *6tb size, to see if recovery of vvs made hdd can be done?

    using file scavanger pro 3.xx (tested 2tb r0 recovery (2hdd) from this card to sil 3132.. now will try vss 3g partition setup r0 (2hdd) data recovery?

    the sil 3132 does not support vss(i think) so can the software recover from the hookup as normal hdd on the sil 3132?
  • 2 Hide
    SoylentGreen , December 19, 2008 12:50 PM
    Where can I find a comparison between add-in RAID cards and built-in motherboard RAID?
  • -1 Hide
    malveaux , December 19, 2008 1:07 PM
    Heya,

    Software RAID solutions are much slower in the numbers than these. You can look at Tom's forums in the storage board for examples. There are ways to fine tune software RAID to be much faster though (manually setup the stripe size, cluster, sector, etc). And software RAID5 is abysmally slow even with tweaks, for someone needing performance (it's ok for serving media at home though).

    As the article pointed out, these are targeted as businesses. Not home users. Why would a home user need SAS? Why would a home user be purchasing a couple hundred dollar raid controller and then put some cheap ass HDD's on there? Makes no sense.

    The only reason to really get one of these, for home, would be the hardware RAID5. But unfortunately, the Highpoint card only has 4 ports, which makes RAID5 kind of stupid, as you would want 3 drives or 5 drives for optimal levels of performance (in terms of the stripe/sector/cluster; it divides into 3 and 5 drive setups just right, but not on 4 drive setups). If that Highpoint had a 5th port, I'd totally buy one for 5 tb drives in RAID5 to serve up the DVDs/Blurays camping there.

    Cheers,
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 19, 2008 2:00 PM
    Personally I am also interested in the numbers if for a small home office small business set up how well the raids woirked with mainstream hard drives in the sata protacol the controler works but where does it fail in the numbers? that would be way more informative to a home office small office looking at an inexpensive raided solution also allows those juice jumbo drives you mentioned.;-)
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 19, 2008 3:35 PM
    CPU Utilization would be something interesting here as well...
  • 0 Hide
    Qwakrz , December 19, 2008 4:21 PM
    Can someone fix the links please...

    Some have http://http://www.tomshardware...... in them, others have the correct address but random spaces have been added.
  • 0 Hide
    Alexdi , December 19, 2008 5:26 PM
    > Software RAID solutions are much slower in the numbers than these.

    Not my RAIDCore array. 5 x 1 TB WD Greenpower drives in RAID-5 (TLER enabled) on an RC5252, 250 MB sustained, reading and writing. 8.5% CPU utilization for reads, 45% for writes at that speed. This is on a 2.2 GHz Athlon X2. You'd get similar numbers with VST Pro combined with Intel's ICHxR.

    The RAIDCore driver software is rock-solid, which is exactly what I want for a storage system. Highpoint drivers are garbage. Other bonuses: no heat problems, no fans, lower power use.

    What's this RAIDCore missing? A few things. It doesn't have RAID-6, which is helpful when you start stacking more than 5 or 6 drives. Write cache for RAID-5 is the system RAM, which has a couple of implications:

    1) You need more of it than you otherwise would.
    2) The cache size is limited only by the amount of memory you have.
    3) There's no battery-backup, so you'd better have the system on a UPS.

    RAIDCore also isn't the best solution in the world for servers that are required to do more than just serve files. Write speeds in RAID-5 are limited only by CPU power, the speed of the drives, and the PCIe interface. If I was striping SSDs instead of these 5400 RPM GP drives, I've no doubt I could have maxed out my CPU use at 100%.

    What about Intel's ICHxR RAID? That's the only decent integrated RAID solution available, but it doesn't support online capacity expansion, background array scans, or anything else I'd consider essential. Nor does have monitoring tools anywhere near the capability of the RAIDCore setup. It's also not as fast as RAIDCore. But, relative to all the other integrated RAID solutions, it's the only one that's stable. Even so, if I wanted to run RAID-5 on an Intel board, I'd still pay $50 for the VST Pro software.

    What about Windows RAID? It's even more bare of features than Intel RAID. It also requires Windows Server, which costs as much as a decent RAID card. There's a hack to enable it in Windows XP, but if you're willing to trust your data to a hack that could be "fixed" with Windows update, you don't care about that data.

    Linux RAID? Fast, but not as fast as RAIDCore. Expandable, yes. But administration is largely by command line. If you're a Linux person, go for it. For everyone else, there's a learning curve.
  • 1 Hide
    onesloth , December 19, 2008 8:57 PM
    Unfortunately, Ciprico (the maker of RAIDcore and VST Pro) are bankrupt and have sold RAIDcore to Dot Hill. The link to purchase VST Pro from Ciprico's website has been dead for some time.
  • 1 Hide
    Alexdi , December 19, 2008 9:45 PM
    This is true, though Ciprico's bankruptcy is more indicative of a lack of business savvy than of anything wrong with the product. The 8-port PCIe RC5252 occasionally pops up online for $150 to $200. That's the only way to try RAIDCore at this point.

    http://www.nowdirect.com/exec/search.tsb?sp_q=ciprico

    The non-RAID-5 version is the least expensive 8-port PCIe controller available from anyone. It's a great alternative to the Supermicro PCI-X board that's popular, but bandwidth-limited in PCI systems.
  • 1 Hide
    daft , December 19, 2008 9:56 PM
    ok, enough with all these NAS stories, how about a comparison of your top 3 NAS with a single low power HTPC and run some benchies!
  • -1 Hide
    daft , December 19, 2008 9:57 PM
    sorry, my bad, i looked to quickly at the title of the article and only so the AS and thought another NAS.
  • 1 Hide
    pcwlai , December 20, 2008 12:01 AM
    Would there be any CPU utilitization rate charts with both cards?
  • -1 Hide
    issa2000 , December 20, 2008 3:39 AM
    I got this card hp 2640x4 i thaugh it would not have a bottle neck,- would be better than the onboard raid..would do me 500+mb/sec transfer (higher than my setup)... but it wont go past 250mb/sec on a setup than can get 440 usint the onboar raid..(web site says it can get much faster speed) (when i was looking to buy it.)

    it seams most main chipset raids arw just as fast (r0)r5) (but not rebuilds) mas many 8x raid cards.. but have no battery backup + additional cache ram.

    as a bonus, i (in future) could hook up sas hdd..

  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , December 22, 2008 8:08 AM
    SoylentGreenWhere can I find a comparison between add-in RAID cards and built-in motherboard RAID?

    That's what I'm missing too. I'm running a raid 5 on my ich9r controller, and gigabyte tells me that it varies between 70 and 260MB/sec because it's an onboard controller.

    So a sandra xp startup bench might've been appropriate so we could compare with onboard stuff.
  • 0 Hide
    theDudeAbides , December 22, 2008 12:04 PM
    Is 450MB/s+ slow? I know the chunk size is whacky but this is the only benchmark I can see published.

    http://home.comcast.net/~jpiszcz/20080607/raid5-benchmarks-3to10-veliciraptors/veliciraptor-raid.html

    The only reason that a hardware RAID card would be faster is if you have a faster XOR engine or faster bus connects for your HDD. If you have a modern mobo or PCIe SATA controller then software RAID can be fantastic. I'm running 6xWD Green Edition 1TB drives here in the office and they hit 250MB/s on old PCI/PCIx controllers using MDADM software RAID. At home I have shitty cheap Sil3114 controllers on PCI and it saturates the bus at ~100MB/s. This isn't slow at all and people who say hardware RAID is faster are merely repeating what they've been told without experimenting with both. This is a guy who has an EMC Clarion CX3-40 sitting here and a bunch of other RAID systems so I can assure you this is not bul***t! The speed of software RAID is at least comparable to Dell's cheaper offerings such as the MD3000 eSAS disk shelf which does it's own RAID. That tops out at ~380MB/s. Ultimately it ain't about the controller, it's about the bus technology used to connect drive A to computer C with controller B, your speed is dictated by the smallest bottleneck. Go PCIe and you should have no reason to worry about slow speeds. CPU hit is around 10-20% on a dual-core old Opteron, less than Samba by quite a wide margin.

    Plus, you can migrate between RAID levels and carry out online capacity expansion really easily. If you *must* have a GUI then Openfiler (www.openfiler.com) is a simple distro with web management for all this.

    Can we see a comparison please? ICH10R and others already do software RAID5 fakeraid without their own XOR engine and it would be interesting to compare these to more universal solutions like MDADM that allow portability between controllers and very very easy data recovery.

    malveauxHeya,Software RAID solutions are much slower in the numbers than these. You can look at Tom's forums in the storage board for examples. There are ways to fine tune software RAID to be much faster though (manually setup the stripe size, cluster, sector, etc). And software RAID5 is abysmally slow even with tweaks, for someone needing performance (it's ok for serving media at home though).As the article pointed out, these are targeted as businesses. Not home users. Why would a home user need SAS? Why would a home user be purchasing a couple hundred dollar raid controller and then put some cheap ass HDD's on there? Makes no sense.The only reason to really get one of these, for home, would be the hardware RAID5. But unfortunately, the Highpoint card only has 4 ports, which makes RAID5 kind of stupid, as you would want 3 drives or 5 drives for optimal levels of performance (in terms of the stripe/sector/cluster; it divides into 3 and 5 drive setups just right, but not on 4 drive setups). If that Highpoint had a 5th port, I'd totally buy one for 5 tb drives in RAID5 to serve up the DVDs/Blurays camping there.Cheers,

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