SATA Spells Trouble for SCSI RAID: Five Controllers Put to the Test

Conclusion: AMCC/Broadcom Head To Head

This was a rather long, but pretty interesting project. The first thing to note is that all five controllers feature a performance level that is at least decent. All offer the basic feature set you would require in setting up a redundant RAID 5 array, including support for a spare drive, nice management software and more or less comfortable options for replacing faulty drives.

Please do note that setups with more than three or four drives should always be operated in hot-swap enclosures, either inside a server case or operated externally. They should be set up carefully in order to make maintenance as smooth as possible.

Those who are on a tight budget will probably be interested in HighPoint's RocketRAID 2220, which is the most affordable product. Users with requirements for maximum array safety will want to go for RAID 6, which means going for Areca. For everybody else we can make the following recommendations.

If you're about to select a SATA RAID controller for a multi-purpose server that does more than just servicing storage, you might want to avoid getting a software solution as offered from Broadcom/Raidcore or HighPoint. These require the system processor(s) to do most of the parity calculations. However, Broadcom still is the one with the broadest feature set available in the mid-range Serial ATA RAID arena. If you can allow yourself the luxury of running dedicated storage servers, this will most likely be the one to go after. That's especially the case since you have the option to purchase an entry-level model and upgrade your features later online.

When talking about features, we need to mention the battery backup option that is offered only by AMCC/3Ware, Areca and LSI Logic. The last of these is your best choice if you require extensive operating system support, and nice bang for the buck for arrays up to 2 TB. AMCC and Areca are more expensive, but will provide even more performance and sport a feature set that comes close to Broadcom's BC4000 series.

Features Table

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ManufacturerLSI LogicHighpointArecaAMCC/3WareBroadcom/Raidcore
ProductMegaRAID SATA 300-8XRocketRAID 2220ARC 12209550SXBC4852
SATA II ports8816 (PCI-X version has 24)88
Cache128 MB DDR333 ECCnone128 MB DDR333 ECC128 MB DDR2-400 ECCnone
Interface64 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-X64 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-XPCI Express x864 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-X64 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-X
Optional versionsnoneno4, 8, 12 ports4, 8, 16 ports4 ports (BC4452)
Multiple card supportnonoyesyesyes (4)
Card Formatstandardlow profilelow profile (connectors on the top)low profilelow profile
XOR EngineIntel IOP331noneIntel IOP332PowerPC RISCnone
RAID Level Migrationyesyesyesyesyes
Online Capacity Expansionyesyesyesyesyes
Multiple RAID arraysyesyesyesyesyes
Staggered spin-upyesyesyesyesyes
Hot Spare Supportyesyesyesyesyes
Online Capacity Expansionyesyesyesyesyes
Battery Backup Unitoptionalnooptionaloptionalno
OS supportWindows 2000/XP /2003, DOS, FreeBSD, Netware, RedHat, SuSe, SCO, UnixwareWindows 2000/XP /2003, Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X 10.xWindows 2000/XP /2003, RedHat, SuSe, FreeBSDWindows 2000/XP /2003, RedHat, SuSe, Fedora, FreeBSDWindows 2000/XP /2003, RedHat, SuSe, Fedora
OtherOnly 48 Bit LBA (2 TB arrays max), 64 Bit Windows server supportcommand line interface, scheduled tasks, 64 Bit LBARAID6 support, command line interface, alarm buzzer, SNMP support, drive activity LED, 64 Bit LBAcommand line interface, SNMP support, emergency flash recovery, drive activity LED, write journaling, 64 Bit LBA, variable stripe sizemirror splitting, hide arrays, scheduled consistancy check, dedicated /global/distributed spare, 64 Bit LBA
Estimated Price (US $)410270630500320
Warranty3 years3 yearunknown3 years3 years