American Megatrends (AMI) is best known for its BIOS, motherboards and SCSI RAID products. The MegaRAID IDE100 ($89.95) is the company’s second foray into IDE RAID, following its IDE66 controller. It is a cost-effective way to interface to a tremendous amount of storage capacity in a Windows-based environment with the huge, inexpensive ATA/100 hard drives now on the market. Up to four drives can be configured either to improve reliability via redundancy, or to maximize storage capacity and speed.
Product PointsApplications: Digital audio/video production
Key Features: ATA/100 RAID 0/1 capabilities; simple, comprehensive utilities
Contact: American Megatrends Inc. (AMI) at Web Site 800-828-9264
The MegaRAID IDE100 is a small PCI card with connectors for two IDE channels. Each channel can support a master and slave drive through a standard 80 conductor, 40-pin Ultra ATA ribbon cable. Several jumper settings are possible on the card, but the factory presets are the only options documented.
Different setup possibilities are addressed in the configuration utility that can be loaded as the computer reads the card’s BIOS while booting. Once this storage system is up and running with an operating system loaded, included software utilities can monitor and adjust the mirroring features in multiple-drive systems.
The next step was prepping a pair of Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 60 7,200 RPM ATA/100 drives. The Maxtor drives exemplify the state-of-the-art for ATA/100. The card’s BIOS correctly identified them, but the usual automatic setup of the Win2000 operating system failed to see the drives.
I partitioned each drive individually, attaching them to the MegaRAID IDE100 one at a time. Once prepped with the Windows FDISK utility, Win2000 could be loaded as with any other drive. The RAID configuration desired must be chosen before loading the OS. Setup can be done manually or with handy automated presets that handle the task with one click. Several different configurations can de defined and stored for future use.
Incidentally, the PC identifies the MegaRAID IDE100 configuration as a SCSI device. This is key with audio production software that requires SCSI storage.
For benchmarking purposes, the first tests were run on a single drive. Here, the MegaRAID IDE100 served as a basic ATA/100 adapter to go beyond the test PC’s motherboard’s ATA/33 support. With a single drive, BIOS options are limited to RAID 0 (striping).
After loading Win2000, drive performance was measured by running Innovative Quality Software’s 32-Bit Hard Disk Speed Test on a variety of sample audio files ranging from 1 MB to 100 MB in size. I had expected drive performance to be much higher with small files. ATA/100 burst rates are supposedly much higher than sustained rates.
The benchmarks were consistent whether the audio files were just a few seconds long or lasted over five minutes. Read speeds with the single DiamondMax Plus 60 were remarkably good – averaging about 36 MBps. This is a match for the latest Ultra160 SCSI drives! Write speeds were significantly lower – just in the 9 MBps range. Here, Ultra160 SCSI still holds a considerable edge with write speeds in the 25 MBps range.
Next, testing the pair of DiamondMax Plus 60s in a RAID 1 redundant configuration showed a slight reduction from the single drive’s performance. The system mirrors the data so even if one drive fails, nothing is lost. There are two 60 GB drives, but the system only sees one 60 GB partition. The performance hit, of course comes from having to duplicate data across the drives.
Read speeds dropped to 31 MBps – a decrease of about 14 percent. Write speeds remained about the same. The tradeoff is the tremendous reliability. The odds of a dual failure caused by anything short of the physical destruction of the computer are infinitesimal.
For pure performance, setting the two drives to interleave as a single partition in RAID 0 made for record setting read speeds. After reconfiguring the setup in BIOS and reinstalling Win2000, the 120 GB behemoth showed a 55 MBps read speed through the dual IDE channels. Write speeds inched up a bit, but were still rather slow at 12 MBps. Of course, such high-speed thrills can be risky. While mirroring multiplies reliability, striping drives in RAID 0 multiplies both speed and risk. If either drive fails, everything is lost. Still, the only way to surpass these read speeds is with a SCSI RAID array – a far costlier proposition.
The MegaRAID IDE100 upholds AMI’s reputation for engineering some of the best PC equipment around. Once past the minor installation issues, the card was a model for ease of use and appeared to be built to last.
When matched with top-notch drives like Maxtor’s DiamondMax Plus 60, ATA/100 RAID becomes a real price/performance option to SCSI. Be aware that the limits to ATA/100 – particularly the write speeds of the drives – make it more suited to post production. If you are recording a whole lot of tracks simultaneously in the studio, this may not be able to keep up. But as far as playback is concerned, this is a champ.