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REVIEW: Aaxeon's PCI Express FireWire and USB host adapters

Posted February 6th, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

I was surprised when so many of you asked about FireWire and/or USB host adapters for your PCI Express Dual/Quad-Core G5 Power Macs. I would think the built-in ports would suffice.

I was also surprised when, right after the introduction of the PCI Express Macs, I found out that Aaxeon had four PCI Express cards (FW400, FW800, USB 2.0, and Combo) ready to ship. We were able to test the FWB3414 FW800 and UFC2412 FW800/USB2 cards.

In the past, PCI FireWire 800 cards produced lower WRITE speeds than the built-in FireWire 800 port -- something like 45MB/s. And USB 2.0 was slower than FireWire 400 in every test we've run previously. Let's see what the Aaxeon cards did....

MORE SURPRISES
1. The Aaxeon's FireWire 800 sustained and random READ speeds were good but the sustained and random WRITE speeds were surprisingly low (24MB/s) compared to built-in FireWire 800 (50MB/s).

This is especially disapointing when we were hoping it would provide a workaround to the poor performance of built-in FireWire 800 where two or more drives are connected in a RAID set. For example, our early model of GTech G-RAID (two 250G drives in a HW RAID 0 set inside a FW800 enclosure) should be capable of 80+ MB/s on both READ and WRITE. Instead, on the Quad-Core's built-in FW800 drive, it only managed 55MB/s WRITE. The Aaxeon FWB3414 FW800 PCIe card only managed 35MB/s.

2. The Aaxeon's FireWire 400 port surprised us by matching the READ speed of the FireWire 800 port. It was as if it was really a FW800 port with a FW400 connector. However, the WRITE speed, again, was below par, even for FW400 (24MB/s vs 32MB/s).

NOTE: We used the Wiebetech FW800/USB2 SuperDriveDock+ and OWC Mercury Elite FW800/400/USB2 Clear Enclosure when testing with the FW400 port. We no longer have pure FW400 enclosures in the lab. It's possible that if we tested a FW400 "only" enclosure that we would not have seen the higher 58MB/s READ speeds.

3. The Aaxeon USB 2.0 ports surprised us with a READ speed 36% faster than built-in USB 2.0 (15MB/s vs 11MB/s). However, the 480Mbit/s rated USB 2.0 ports were still much slower than 400Mbit/s rated FireWire 400. In fact built-in FireWire 400 was more than twice as fast on READ speed and three times as fast on WRITE speed.

CONCLUSION
Though we were disappointed with the performance of Aaxeon's FireWire 800 host adapter, it's technically not their fault.
The Texas Instruments has admitted that their bridge chip is to blame and has promised a fix in the next release of the chip -- whenever that will be -- hopefully soon.

We hesitate to post reviews on products that are not quite ready for "prime time." We obviously can't fully endorse the FireWire 800 version of Aaxeon's PCI Express adapters (FWB3414) because of the performance issues, but the USB 2.0 ports on the UFC2412 proved to be as fast or faster than the Quad-Core's built-in USB 2.0 ports.

If you feel the Dual-Core or Quad-Core Power Mac's built-in FireWire and USB ports are not sufficient, Aaxeon's PCI Express cards do work and do provide added ports. But if you want "normal" transfer speeds for FireWire 800, stick to the built-in port.

Finally, it's always heartening to see companies like Aaxeon jumping into the Mac fray. They, like others, are realizing that Macs are here to stay and that Mac consumers are worth the investment to pursue.

QUICKBENCH
QuickBench is included in SpeedTools Utilities, a product of Intech Software. They also have ZoneBench which allows you to sample the speed of a various zones in whole volume without filling it with real data.

WHERE TO BUY AAXEON PCI Express HOST ADAPTERS

You can buy the FWB3414 FireWire 800/400 PCI Express host adapter ($159) and UFC2412 FireWire800/400/USB2 PCI Express host adapter ($159) direct from Aaxeon. We didn't test it but they also have a low priced FW800 card and a card with five USB 2.0 ports.

FWDepot offers the same cards as well.

WHERE TO BUY OTHER FIREWIRE and USB PRODUCTS

Granite Digital (enclosures and cables)

MacGurus (bare drives, enclosures)

Other World Computing (enclosures and bare drives)

Small Dog Electronics (enclosures and bare drives)

TransIntl.com (enclosures and bare drives)

Wiebetech.com (enclosures with removable trays and pre-installed drives)

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2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist