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

RAID 0 - What Performance Gain Can We Expect?

Before I will supply you with the benchmark results of FastTrack66, I would like to take the time and consider our expectations. Even though this RAID-controller might offer high performance, there's always the question if one will benefit from it.

RAID 0 is able to supply a very high data bandwidth. This doesn't have to speed up all of your applications though. The software that benefits most from that is video and photo editing software. Large and highly detailed pictures will load much faster and you can much better tape and edit videos if your mass storage device can handle large data streams. Office applications will only run faster if you are actually using very large files, data base software that accesses smaller portions of data all over the drive will not go much faster. 3D games don't care much about hard drive performance altogether, except for the moments when you store or load large amounts of gaming data, as e.g. when you are loading a new level. This can be important if you are playing a multiplayer game and you want to be the first one in a new level.

Hard drive performance depends on a few things and data bandwidth is only one of them. Seek time and access time is very important as well, particularly when software requires smaller chunks of data spread all over the drive. Under certain conditions a large on-drive cache can improve both, access time as well as data bandwidth.

Benchmarking The FastTrack66

Benchmarking hard drives and producing meaningful results is not that easy. The best example is the comparison of the latest ATA drives from Seagate and IBM. The Barracuda ATA drive can supply up to 28 MB/s while IBM's Deskstar DPTA can't transfer data at a higher speed than 24 MB/s. The access time of both is almost identical. Now most of you would expect that the Barracuda outruns the Deskstar. However, a system with the Deskstar scores 4 points (!!) higher than one with the Barracuda in Sysmark2000.

We used the today most common benchmark for data transfer speed and access time, Winbench99 from Ziff-Davis. The Business and High end Disk Winmarks were used as well, although I have my doubts about their meaningfulness. Then we ran Sysmark2000 to simulate some real world conditions as well.

This article is meant to look at the usefulness of the FastTrak66 as an inexpensive solution of enhancing performance or data security in an average system. That's why I decided to only benchmark under Windows98 for the time being. Windows NT or Windows 2000 offer a built-in software RAID solution, which I consider as just as good but cheaper than the FastTrak. Promise just added a beta Linux driver for FastTrak66 as well and we will have a look at that in the near future.