bare feats real world speed tests

FWB's FireWire RAID + Granite Digital's "911" FireWire Bridge = Nose Bleed Speed!

March 30th, 2001
Updated July 5th, 2001 with comments on 4 channel, 4 drive RAID
rob ART morgan, mad Mac scientist

As recently as December 2000, I was excited about the advent of FireWire RAID by VST Technologies. A month later, Granite Digital started shipping a FireWire enclosure that posted write speeds almost 3 times faster than VST's fastest drive, thanks to the new Oxford 911 chip set on their bridge board. Now, FWB is on the verge of shipping a version of Hard Disk Toolkit that supports FireWire RAID on ANY FireWire drive. I couldn't wait to try it on the fast Granite Digital enclosures connected to a Dual G4/533.

Extraordinary speed. Thanks to the new faster bridge boards, FireWire is now every bit as fast as Ultra ATA. Yet FireWire drives have the advantage of being EXTERNAL so there's no practical limit to the number of drives. And they are HOT-PLUG-ABLE!

Call them "channels" or "controllers" but if you want maximum speed with your FireWire RAID, you're going to want to use multiple ones to get the most speed. You see, Apple may provide two built-in FireWire ports on the current crop of Power Macs, but they share a single controller chip. By adding one or more FireWire PCI cards, I'm able to dedicate a controller chip to each Granite Digital enclosure/drive.

On July 3rd, I tried 4 IBM 60gxp drives on four FireWire controllers (one built-in, three PCI cards). The sustained READ/WRITE speed was no faster than with three drives/controllers. Using the faster 60 gxp's in a two drive array did increase the READ and WRITE speed to 74MB/sec and 57MB/sec respectively.


When FireWire drives only reached 13MB/sec sustained WRITE speed, this was not an issue. But now that FireWire drives are capable of 30+MB/sec write speeds, it has come to my attention that FireWire PCI cards are slower than built-in FireWire! Not only that, but some PCI cards write faster than others, especially when used in combination with the built-in FireWire port to create a "dual channel" array. But the ultimate multi-channel FireWire solution is coming real soon: a 3 channel FireWire PCI card from Granite Digital.

The purpose of the two graphs above are to show that FWB's Hard Disk Toolkit's FireWire RAID support makes even the VST striped array go faster than when using VST's FireRAID software.



Isn't technology fun? If you aren't satisfied with the features or performance of an given product, just wait a few months and things will improve.

The implications of these FireWire results:

  1. Fast FireWire RAID software is now available for ALL FireWire drives. (Intech and VST's RAID software worked only with certain bridge boards.)
  2. Second generation FireWire drive subsystems now go as fast as their Ultra ATA cousins, thanks to new, improved bridge boards. (And they WRITE 3 times faster than the previous generation of FireWire drives.)
  3. You can "roll" your own blazingly fast FireWire drive for half the cost of premium FireWire drives. The Granite Digital enclosures won't be as compact or as visually stunning as those from VST, but they will go wickedly faster... until VST ships their next generation.
  4. If you dabble with FireWire RAID, make sure you have multiple channels. For every PCI FireWire card you add, you add a channel. Hopefully by the time you read this, there will be multiple channel cards shipping so you won't use up all your slots.



    When I asked SmartDisk/VST to comment on the enclosures sporting the new Oxford 911 based bridge boards, they sent me this statement:

    1. "Engineers at SmartDisk, the makers of the industry-leading VST FireWire hard drives, are testing several new 1394 technologies. The 1394 bridge chip is only one of several factors that create faster data speeds. Circuit designs, drive mechanisms and driver software are equally important.

      SmartDisk takes its responsibility to providing the very best overall solutions to the computing community very seriously. With this in mind, SmartDisk isn't in a race to to be first, but rather is dedicated to be the best.

      SmartDisk expects to be demonstrating breakthrough 1394 solutions at the MacWorld Expo, New York in July."



    Visit Granite Digital's site for enclosures, drives, and PCI controllers. If you a company that sells FireWire enclosures and/or drives, you can buy the Granite Digital FireWire/IDE bridge board. You won't find a faster bridge board anywhere.

    FWB's Hard Disk Toolkit 4.5 is available direct from FWB.

    Don't have FireWire? Get a PCI controller. The fastest PCI FireWire/USB combo card tested was the USB/FireWire PCI card from FWDepot. If you don't need USB and just want to add more FireWire channels, then I suggest you hold out for the Granite Digital 3 Channel PCI controller.

    Need a fast drive to stuff in your FireWire enclosure? The fastest drive available is the IBM 60gxp ATA/100. See the STORAGE section of my HOT DEALS page for prices on these and other FireWire products.


    The sustained read/write benchmark was run using
    ExpressPro-Tools 2.5 (SCSI and Fibre Channel version 2.5 for Mac). When you launch it, it displays all the mounted drives (IDE, SCSI, FireWire). Select the drive you want to test (one click). Then go to the Utilities menu and select Benchmark Volume. A test window will appear. Set Max Transfer Size to 8MB. Then press start. On my graphs I display sustained rate, not peak rate. Peak rate is skewed by the drive cache and doesn't reflect real world performance.



    © 2001 Rob Art Morgan.
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