An Array of Tiny Drives

 
 
By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2004-09-14 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Six hard drives in a RAID array: It sounds like it would be noisy, clunky, and hot. But as JMR's new SATAStor shows, a RAID array can be compact and quiet.

Imagine a six-drive array of 80GB hard drives that fits entirely in a single 5.25-inch, 1/2 height drive bay. This is made possible by using 2.5-inch drives primarily targeted for laptop systems. We originally saw this JMR SATAStor at the Intel Developer Forum a year ago. Of course, you cant just drop a six-drive array of SATA (Serial ATA) drives into your typical desktop system and expect it to work. So 3Ware shipped us an Escalade 9500S-12. This PCI-based RAID controller supports up to twelve SATA drives in a variety of RAID configurations (and in a JBOD—"just a bunch of drives" setup, if thats what you want). The controller offers flexible support for RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 and 50, giving you a choice for the right mix of performance and data integrity.
If youre thinking that the combination of the Escalade and six-drive array isnt really a great fit for a desktop PC, then your guess is correct. Its really well-suited to small servers that need to be compact and exist in low-noise environments. Alternatively, it could be used in a workstation for video or audio editing.
Were going to plow right ahead and test it in a standard desktop system anyway—partly just to show we can do it, and partly to see how it compares with internal SATA arrays. We stuck with just a RAID 0 configuration for this article, but well be investigating performance in other configurations in the future. This particular hardware setup is somewhat hobbled by the use of 32-bit PCI slots, though the Escalade 9500S is a fully PCI-X-compliant part. It can run in a 32-bit environment, but its real comfort zone is in a system with a 64-bit PCI-X subsystem. The majority of desktop PCs, of course, lack PCI-X capability (not to be confused with PCI Express, which is a completely different beast). At one point, Gigabyte was offering a variant of their 8KNXP motherboard, the GA-8KNXP Ultra 64, with an Intel 875P chip set and a pair of PCI-X slots. But trying to locate one of these is an exercise in frustration. Another possibility is the SuperMicro P4SCT, which seems to be readily available. Both are socket 478 solutions, though, and dont support more recent LGA775 processors. Alternatively, you could always go for a workstation configuration. A variety of socket 603 (Xeon) and socket 940 (Opteron/socket 940 Athlon 64 FX series) motherboards are available. Theyre typically pricier (and often larger) than normal ATX boards, which means youll need a workstation-class chassis. But we digress. The Escalade controller does work in a 32-bit PCI slot, so we popped it into our storage test bed and took the SATAStor for a spin.
Click here to read the full review at ExtremeTech. Check out eWEEK.coms Storage Center at http://storage.eweek.com for the latest news, reviews and analysis on enterprise and business storage hardware and software.

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Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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