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Which is the hot Ultra ATA PCI controller setup: The Sonnet Tempo ATA100 or the Acard 6280 ATA-133?

And how do both compare to the Acard 6880M ATA-133 True Hardware RAID card?

Original Posting Date: 11/9/01
by
rob ART morgan, Bare Feats Mad Scientist

WHY DO YOU NEED AN ULTRA ATA PCI CARD?

If you want to add more than two drives inside of a G3 or G4 tower, you'll need a PCI controller card.

If you have a G3 Beige DT/MT, G3 Blue'n'White "Yosemite" or G4 Graphite "Yikes", you might want a faster interface than the built-in ATA/33 for running the new ATA/100 and ATA/133 drives. In previous tests, moving the drive from the internal bus of a Beige DT to a PCI ATA/66 card more than doubled the sustained data transfer rates.

If you want to create a striped or mirrored RAID array (or combination of the two), these cards combined with low cost Ultra ATA drives can do so at a fraction of the cost of an Ultra160 SCSI RAID. And the resulting array would be just as fast as the Ultra160 striped pair.

 

HOW FAST DO THE ATA/100 AND HW RAID ATA/133 GO WITH TWO DRIVES IN A STRIPED RAID ARRAY? And which is better, Hardware RAID or Software RAID?

(NOTE: To emphasize the fact that I'm comparing "apples" to "oranges," I've color coded the Ultra ATA cards using software RAID in RED and the cards using Hardware RAID in ORANGE.)

 

 

 

PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS

The Sonnet Tempo ATA100 was much faster than the Acard 6280M ATA-133 when used to create a striped RAID array. Both rely on software for RAID function.

And as for Hardware RAID, Acard 6880M ATA-133 showed a significant advantage over the Tempo ATA100 (Software RAID) in only 3 of the RAID speed tests. In other words, you can't assume that hardware RAID is always superior to software RAID.

NOTE: In case you are wondering, the Miglia Alchemy ATA-133 PCI cards are just relabeled Acards for Europeon distribution. So what is true about Acard ATA-133 is also true of the Alchemy.

The Acard AEC-6860M ATA-66 did very well, considering it is last year's technology.

 

WHAT ABOUT USING THE CARDS WITH SINGLE DRIVES INSTEAD OF ARRAYS? DO ATA/100 and ATA/133 CARDS MAKE SINGLE DRIVES GO ANY FASTER THAN WITH ATA/66 OR FIREWIRE?

The fastest drives available top out at 41MB/sec. ATA/66 is rated at 66MB/sec. So switching to an ATA/100 or ATA/133 card won't make the drive go faster.

As for FireWire, all current FireWire drives use a bridge board to convert the Ultra ATA drive's interface to FireWire. The overhead for such a conversion causes the drive to run slower than if it were on a pure Ultra ATA controller. And, of course, the 41MB/sec drive itself is slower than the theoretical 50MB/sec speed of FireWire.

In the two graphs below, I tested the same single Seagate Barracuda ATA 4 7200rpm drive using 4 different interfaces:

As you can see, getting an Ultra "anything" card won't speed up a single drive. And sticking it in the fastest "Oxford 911" based FireWire case makes it go slower, not faster.

 

FEATURE COMPARISON CHART

 

Sonnet Tempo ATA100
Acard
AEC-6280M
ATA-133
Acard
AEC-6880M
True Hardware RAID
ATA-133

Boot OS 9 from solo drive

Yes
Yes
Yes

Boot OS 9 from RAID

No
No
Yes

Boot OS X from solo drives

Yes
Yes
Yes

Boot OS X from RAID

No
No
Yes

RAID preserved between OS 9 and X

No (1)
No (1)
Yes

RAID 0 (striping)

Yes (2)
Yes (2)
Yes

RAID 1 (mirroring)

Yes (2)
Yes (2)
No (4)

RAID 0,1 (striped and mirrored)

Yes (2)
Yes (2)
No (4)

AV optimizer for older Macs

Yes (3)
Yes (3)
Yes (3)

Deep Sleep Support?

Yes (OS 9)
Yes (OS 9)
Yes (OS 9)

Full ATAPI support

Yes
No
No

LEGEND
(1) = Currently, software based RAID only works in either OS 9 or OS X but not both. RAID array must be reformatted when switching to different system.
(2) = Requires RAID software ranging in price from $50 to $150. (See Where to Buy)
(3) = Card maker provides a firmware tweaker to slow the card down.
(4) = Only striping (RAID 0) is supported in hardware. For mirroring (RAID 1), you must disable hardware RAID and use software RAID.

 

CAN YOU BOOT FROM THEM?

The AEC-6880M ATA-133 can boot from a single drive and from a two drive hardware RAID array configuration in both OS 9 and OS X.

The Tempo ATA100 and AEC-6280M ATA-133 will boot from a single drive in both OS 9 and OS X, but NOT from a software based RAID.

 

DO THEY SUPPORT BOTH RAID 0 (striping) and RAID 1 (mirroring)?

In "hardware RAID" mode (flip the micro switch on the card), the AEC-6880M ATA-133 only supports striping.

If you use software RAID on either card to create a RAID array, you can do striped and mirrored.

 

WHICH RAID SOFTWARE IS BEST?

I don't know. I'm in the process of comparing them. Stay tuned.

For this test, I used SoftRAID with the Tempo ATA100 and AEC-6280M ATA-133.

 

ARE THEY OS X COMPATIBLE?

When running single drives on either of these PCI controllers, they are recognized under OS X as well as OS 9.

The hardware RAID created by the AEC-6880M ATA-133 remains intact when you switch back and forth between OS 9 and OS X.

The Tempo ATA100 and AEC-6280M ATA-133 both require software to set up the RAID. But the array set up under OS 9 using third party RAID software will not be recognized under OS X. You can create a RAID array under OS X using Apple's Disk Utility but if you switch back to OS 9, the array won't be recognized. I'm sure this problem will be solved by third party RAID software makers... eventually.

 

DO THEY DROP VIDEO FRAMES OR LOSE AUDIO SYNC?

Frame dropping and loss of audio sync was a problem with some earlier ATA/33 and ATA/66 PCI controllers, especially when used on older Power Macs (7500, 8500, etc.)

The Tempo ATA100 comes with a Tempo AV Firmware Flasher (technologies provided by FirmTek, LLC) that includes options to tweak the firmware settings to optimize it for Video or Audio applications. Reports are already coming in from consumers that purchased the Tempo ATA100 testifying that, with the help of the tweaks, their frame dropping and audio sync problems went away.

The Acard folks have their own "tweaker" to deal with "stutter" which they call "AV Optimizer." It works with the 6260M, 6280M, 6860M, and 6880M.

 

DO THEY SUPPORT DEEP SLEEP?

Assuming your Mac system is the model with the firmware that supports deep sleep, all three new cards support deep sleep under OS 9 but NOT under OS X.

 

CAN I HOOK UP A CD-ROM or other ATAPI device to these cards?

The Tempo ATA100 supports a wide range of ATAPI devices under both OS 9 and OS X with direct support for Apple's native ATA capabilities under OS X.

The AEC-6880M and AEC-6280M emulate SCSI under both OS 9 and OS 10 which precludes ATAPI support.

 

WHICH CARD DO YOU RECOMMEND?

It depends on your needs and how you plan to use them. Read carefully on all Q&A on this page and look at the feature chart.

If you are just going to add more single drives to your tower, I recommend the Tempo ATA100.

If you are planning to create a striped ARRAY of two drives and are going to want to jump back and forth between OS 9 and OS X plus boot from both OS 9 and OS X, the AEC-6880M ATA-133 is the best option.

If you want to mirror AND/OR stripe more than two drives, I suggest the Tempo ATA100 (along with some good RAID software). In a future report, I hope to create a four drive array using two Tempo ATA100 cards.

 

WHAT DO THEY COST AND WHERE DO I BUY THEM?

If you are not creating RAID arrays, then the Tempo ATA100 is a bargain. But if you plan to create a RAID array with two or more drives, you'll need to factor in the cost of RAID software when comparing the price with the Acard AEC-6880M hardware RAID card.

The Sonnet Technologies Tempo ATA100 has an MSRP of $99.95 and is available from SmallDog.com and OtherWorldComputing. (RAID software NOT included.)

The Acard AEC-6880M is selling at Other World Computing for $157. And the 6280M is going for $97.

An alert reader found a SIIG ATA-133 RAID card at Fry's Electronics. It's an Acard 6880M ATA-133 RAID card in disguise. You can order it online at OutPost.com for $150. And in case you are wondering, the Miglia Alchemy ATA-133 PCI cards are just relabeled Acards for Europeon distribution. So what is true about Acard ATA-133 cards are also true of the Alchemy.

None of the cards comes with RAID SOFTWARE but the software is available for purchase direct from the publishers:

Charismac Engineering sells Charismac RAID (with support for FireWire) for $99.95.

FWB Software sells HD Toolkit 4.5 (with RAID support including FireWire) for $129.95 (minus 10% for first time site visitors).

Intech Software sells HD Speed Tools 3.4 (with RAID support including FireWire, RAID limited to two drives) for $49.95.

SoftRAID, LLC sells SoftRAID for $149. (No FireWire support.)

Which is fastest? Charismac RAID and softRAID produced the fastest speeds in a recent test using the Sonnet Tempo ATA100 and two Maxtor D740X 80GB drives. FWB's HDT is the most versatile as it can create RAID arrays using more than two drives on any Ultra ATA or FireWire interfaces. I'll be publishing a special report on these RAID software packages real soon now.

 

TEST NOTES

The test "mule" was an Apple Power Mac G4/800MP with disk cache set to 512K (to diminish effect of system caching), AppleTalk OFF, Virtual Memory OFF, and Extensions set to minimal (BASE).

TESTED DRIVES:
Two
Seagate Barracuda ATA IV (ST380021A) 80GB 7200rpm ATA/100

TESTED PCI Ultra/ATA controller CARDS:
Sonnet Technologies Tempo ATA100

NOTE: The Tempo ATA100 is not in any way similar to the Tempo ATA-66, so whatever you know or have experienced with the ATA-66 card does NOT apply to the ATA100 model. Different hardware. Different firmware.

However, the Sonnet Tempo Hardware RAID66 card is identical to the Acard 6860M "AHARD" hardware RAID ATA-66.

Acard True Hardware RAID ATA-133 (AEC-6880M)

Acard AEC-6280M ATA-133 (ROM version 2.01)

Acard AHARD RAID 66 (AEC-6860M) (ROM version 1.39)

An alert reader found a SIIG ATA-133 RAID card at Fry's Electronics. It's an Acard 6880M ATA-133 RAID card in disguise. You can order it online at OutPost.com for $149.99. The test results I got for Acard apply to this card. And in case you are wondering, the Miglia Alchemy ATA-133 PCI cards are just relabeled Acards for Europeon distribution. So what is true about Acard ATA-133 is also true of the Alchemy.

 

 

 


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© 2001 Rob Art Morgan.
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