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Thread: What do you recommend for the best hardware RAID controller?

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    What do you recommend for the best hardware RAID controller?

    Heya guys,

    I know you guys will have good oppinions on this: I'm looking for the best kind of hardware RAID controller...

    To my understanding, a *true* hardware controller will be OS & BIOS independant, and have it's own RAM and CPU. I'm looking for something with four SATA I / II / 2.5 / 3.0 ports and it should support NCQ and S.M.A.R.T.

    I was looking at the 3ware ones, but even though they *say* they are hardware controllers, they list compatable OS's and they don't have a onboard fan or heatsink, so I don't think they have a CPU... they are probably "fake" hardware controllers.

    Any advice is appreciated. Thanks

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    Nox
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    areca

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    Hi,

    I haven't used them but I read and hear good things about the XFX Revo64 controllers.

    They use RAID3 which is basically a RAID0 striped pair but with a third disk containing parity information. Thus the fault tolerance is the same as RAID5 (you can lose up to one disk from three) and the performance is the same as a good hardware-controlled RAID0 pair. There is a 5 port version as well. I'm not sure what other RAID levels they can run, 0,1 and 3 and possible hybrid levels like 0+1 and 1+0.

    As for what makes a true hardware RAID controller, that depends on the RAID level you're talking about. A dedicated controller wouldn't be using anything you won't find in a motherboard integrated one for RAID0 or RAID1 but if you want RAID5 that requires a hardware XOR gate which is one of the components in the RAID processor on the card. Enterprise SCSI RAID controllers like the Dell PERC's in our servers at work have a hardware controller and cache RAM onboard but the cache RAM tends only to be found on high-end server products like them.

    Last I looked was at SATA hardware RAID controllers from the likes of Adaptec, for a hardware controller capable of RAID5 with no on-board cache RAM I was looking at a shade under £200 just for the card. Then if you're using a card like that there's no point using cheapo disks or you'll waste any benefit from the card.

    If I had a few hundred quid to blow just on data storage I'd probably get a Revo64 and 3 of those new 150Gb WD Raptors. Both only support SATA150 just now but I'd reckon that would still blow any integrated RAID0 SATA300 array out the water. The Revo is under £100 for the 3 port version if memory serves correctly.

    Just out of interest, what do you use the machine for? Different RAID levels suit different applications to greater or lesser degrees, it's possible you might be as well off sticking to your onboard controller.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Nox
    areca

    Nox
    just had a look at their website - some impressive kit there. Any idea on pricing?


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    Thanks for you guys' help so far Those Areca ones look pretty neat. I wonder if they are "fake" hardware controllers or "true" hardware controllers. Directhex pointed out that there is a difference, but I'm not able to distinguish it.

    I basically want to make an array of four 300GB, 7200RPM Maxtor MaxLine III drives (I've already got two) in RAID-5.

    I've had trouble with onboard RAID and personally know two other people who have had the same trouble as me on their own completely different motherboards (Asus: AMD, Gigabyte: AMD, and Intel: Intel). The trouble is, after a power surge or blackout, if the disks were being written to at the time, the onboard RAID controllers tend to screw up the Master Boot Record of the disks, AND lock themselves so the RAID setup cannot be entered during bootup.

    I've had it with the instability of onboard RAID, and they have caused me to lose tons of time, money, and data so far. I want to try some fully hardware controllers and see if they are any more stable.

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    Not Very Senior Member RavenNight's Avatar
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    I run a motherboard RAID on my semi-server/gaming rig. I also help maintain a couple of servers, we used to have the same problem, one little spike while its in use and it causes massive problems. What we ended up doing was buying a decent board (Asus A8N-SLi Deluxe) and then using some decent power protection. WE actually discoverd that a high quality multi-tap did the job but we also got our hands on a very nice UPS which solved all the problems and added security to it.
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    3ware and LSI are the only way to go if you want true hardware controllers.

    Onboard/BIOS/fake RAID controllers are nothing more than an IDE or SATA controller with a RAID BIOS planeted on it, all RAID processing calculations are carried out by the drivers of the card (and therefore the CPU), and there's platform issues, Linux only supports the controller chips but not RAID operation, support for BSD is few and far between. In short, avoid fake raid controllers like the plauge even if you're just running windows, they sucketh big time. How can you tell the difference between hardware and BIOS RAID controllers?.. Simple, look at the price tag, if its under £60 or so, its bound to be an el cheapo BIOS RAID card.

    If in doubt, ask.
    Quote Originally Posted by Agent View Post
    ...every time Creative bring out a new card range their advertising makes it sound like they have discovered a way to insert a thousand Chuck Norris super dwarfs in your ears...

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    The Revo64 is a true hardware RAID controller, it has an onboard Storage Processor made by NetCell and doesn't require any drivers. The machine just sees it as a bootable PCI device so it's plug and play.

    If you're looking to do RAID5, be aware that the write performance of RAID5 is relatively poor, even compared with a single disk a RAID5 array using the same types of disks will only give a marginal write performance boost. Depending on the type and size of files you deal with, you may even find it slower. Read performance will also be determined by the types of files in question. If you regularly deal with large files you'll see a difference but if you're mostly dealing with small files then you won't see much difference.

    The other factor to consider is what type of connector you're going to be attaching it to. If your motherboard only has regular PCI slots then that's going to seriously limit the performance of your array. You really need a PCI-X slot or PCIe 8x and a controller to match to get a big increase in performance.

    If you've got money to burn and just want to be able to say you run hardware RAID5 then go ahead but my suspicion is you won't be as overwhelmed at the performance increase as you think you will. RAID5 is designed for resilance in a server environment. The performance boost there is due to the fact that on a server you'll likely be using Ultra320 SCSI disks at 15,000rpm, not Maxtor's at 7,200.

    If it's power spikes you're worried about, why aren't you protecting your machine with (at the very least) a good surge protecting mains extension? If you put a hardware RAID card in there and don't put any sort of surge protection or line cleaning in you're putting even more complex, brittle and expensive hardware at risk. There's just as much chance a RAID card in a PCI slot could get fried by a spike as an onboard controller on a motherboard.

    I'm not saying don't go for a hardware RAID solution if you really feel you need it but I'd take a step back and think about why you're doing it in the first place and is it really worth spending a couple of hundred quid on a card and some more on more disks.

    Sorry I don't mean to sound patrionising but I build machines for people as a sideline business. The number of times I've had clients demand a RAID array (some onboard, some with additional controllers) then when they see the actual performance gain they're more often than not less impressed than they thought they'd be. Also you said you're fed up losing money on losing data due to onboard RAID - what are you doing about backing up that data? If it's worth money to you then you should have some data backup solution.

    My point is that RAID is not the be-all and end-all of data integrity and high storage performance. There's several other things worth looking at beforehand IMO.


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  9. #9
    Nox
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    My advice is don't bother, no really. I've been running raid on various computers for atleast 5 years, and still have a ridiculously old promise controller that I use in a data backup machine, otherwise you are better spending cash elsewhere.

    Firstly, what are you expecting from your purchase? If you are after mirrored data redundancy, then I take back my comment about not bothering But most people want performance. RAID will look great, absolutely fabulous when you run your HDtach and other benchmark progs, you will see double data transfer rates and you'll be happy. Very happy. About 2 months later you'll realise that your machine doesn't feel much faster and gradually you'll think about the money you spent... I went from twin 36GB raptors to a single T7K250, yes it was slower, but it wasn't very noticable, and I certainly loved the extra capacity. I don't really notice the difference between that and my 150GB raptor either, and they are faster than a RAID 0 7k solution, apparently...

    Now, back onto raid controllers. You are going to get what you pay for. Assuming you are looking at pci express, (there is little point in putting one on pci and only workstation or server class boards have pci-x) the areca IS the best on the market, simple as that. its a x8 controller. LSI megaraid, I had one, it was terrible. It got sold that was used with 2 15k scsi drives... was the pci-x model, but I would imagine the slowness of that card is also on the pcie version. LSI said it was because it only had two drives, unfortunately, the data xfer was lower than when I had them plugged in JBOD... 3Ware are good, promise have got a good value card too. XFX? erm, well for the money I imagine they aren't bad, but if you are serious, get a good card. Areca 1220 8 sata ports. Otherwise stick with your onboard, cheap cards will give you just as much grief.

    Nox

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    Does he need a reason? Funkstar's Avatar
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    3Ware cards are hardware based. I can't be sure, but their OS compatability may be for their management software instead of for drivers.

    As Nox asked, what are you wanting from RAID?

    Personally i really need a RAID setup, but i don't need performance, i just need huge amounts of space. I'm going to get a 4 drive NAS solution and will probably go with RAID 5 on it for the balance of integrity and space. As long as i can get about a gig and hour for streamed video i'll be happy at the performance

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    YUKIKAZE arthurleung's Avatar
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    High End:
    Areca is the best, also the most expensive one.
    3Ware's 9550 is pretty decent too.
    LSI Megaraid 300-8x, or even try their SAS solution?

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    You need to first think about if you really need high-end raid (Raid5/6). To be cost effective you need to use at least 8x300G HDDs. If you really want the performance, go back to RAID0+1 with Raptors (or even just RAID0), and the onboard raid will be good enough for that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Funkstar
    3Ware cards are hardware based. I can't be sure, but their OS compatability may be for their management software instead of for drivers.
    Its the other way around, 3Ware drivers are opensource, there is drivers available for Windows, Linux 2.4 and 2.6 (built into the offical kernel tree), and BSD AFAIK, and the RAID management utility is only available on Windows and Linux.
    Quote Originally Posted by Agent View Post
    ...every time Creative bring out a new card range their advertising makes it sound like they have discovered a way to insert a thousand Chuck Norris super dwarfs in your ears...

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    Nox
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    I take back my previous comment. Two 150GB raptors on an areca are noticable lol. Not much in games, but around windows, it feels snappier.

    Nox

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nox
    I take back my previous comment. Two 150GB raptors on an areca are noticable lol. Not much in games, but around windows, it feels snappier.

    Nox
    Thanks for the update. I got one for a server that i serup and it's fast as hell. It's not a gaming computer, but other than that, the system is ripped!

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