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

Manufacturer LSI Logic Highpoint Areca AMCC/3Ware Broadcom/Raidcore
Product MegaRAID SATA 300-8X RocketRAID 2220 ARC 1220 9550SX BC4852
Firmware H430 1.02 1.36 2.0
Driver 5.49 1.04 1.02 1.42
SATA II ports 8 8 16 (PCI-X version has 24) 8 8
Cache 128 MB DDR333 ECC none 128 MB DDR333 ECC 128 MB DDR2-400 ECC none
Interface 64 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-X 64 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-X PCI Express x8 64 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-X 64 Bit, 133 MHz PCI-X
Optional versions none no 4, 8, 12 ports 4, 8, 16 ports 4 ports (BC4452)
Multiple card support no no yes yes yes (4)
Card Format standard low profile low profile (connectors on the top) low profile low profile
XOR Engine Intel IOP331 none Intel IOP332 PowerPC RISC none
RAID Level Migration yes yes yes yes yes
Online Capacity Expansion yes yes yes yes yes
Multiple RAID arrays yes yes yes yes yes
Staggered spin-up yes yes yes yes yes
Hot Spare Support yes yes yes yes yes
Online Capacity Expansion yes yes yes yes yes
Battery Backup Unit optional no optional optional no
OS support Windows 2000/XP /2003, DOS, FreeBSD, Netware, RedHat, SuSe, SCO, Unixware Windows 2000/XP /2003, Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X 10.x Windows 2000/XP /2003, RedHat, SuSe, FreeBSD Windows 2000/XP /2003, RedHat, SuSe, Fedora, FreeBSD Windows 2000/XP /2003, RedHat, SuSe, Fedora
Other Only 48 Bit LBA (2 TB arrays max), 64 Bit Windows server support command line interface, scheduled tasks, 64 Bit LBA RAID6 support, command line interface, alarm buzzer, SNMP support, drive activity LED, 64 Bit LBA command line interface, SNMP support, emergency flash recovery, drive activity LED, write journaling, 64 Bit LBA, variable stripe size mirror splitting, hide arrays, scheduled consistancy check, dedicated /global
/distributed spare, 64 Bit LBA
Estimated Price (US $) 410 270 630 500 320
Warranty 3 years 3 year unknown 3 years 3 years
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  • nedde the driverd broadcom raidcore