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REVIEW: Sonnet's PCI Express SATA Host Adapter with Port Multiplication

Posted April 26th, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

Sonnet has come up with a great product for Dual-Core and Quad-Core G5 Power Macs. It's their Tempo SATA E4P PCI Express host adapter with four external eSATA ports, each of which can be used with enclosures that support Port Multiplication or with conventional enclosures that require one port per drive.

We've been a fan of Port Multiplication (PM) since we first heard about it. We felt that the 300MB/s Serial ATA bandwidth was wasted when dedicated to a single drive that could go no faster than 65-70MB/s. And dedicating one drive per port in a multi-drive array produced a tangled mess of cables on the outside of our Power Mac.

Port Multiplication requires that both the host adapter and the enclosure to be "PM aware." Sonnet has a snazzy new 5 bay enclosure, the Fusion 500P, that makes a great companion product to the E4P card.

For this round, we set up an 8 and 12 drive RAID 0 set using Hitachi 7K500s with the help of three different Port Multiplier enclosures:
Sonnet Technology's Fusion 500P
LaCie's Biggest S2S
Wiebetech's SilverSATA V

In the graphs, we included the Target speed for Uncompressed 10 bit RGB (4:4:4) 1920x1080/60i which is 237MB/s.

The "empty" speeds are impressive but we always want to know what they drop to when the RAID set is nearing capacity...

All we needed for the 8 drive set was two ports, two eSATA cables, and two enclosures. As you can see, that setup exceeds the target speed comfortably. Though we didn't try it, you can have up to 20 drives using only 4 cables.

One last test is our Finder Duplicate. This time we duplicated four 1GB documents then calculated the combined read/write rate.

CONCLUSION
We think the Sonnet Tempo SATA E4P is a welcome addition to the PCI Express "club." Thanks to Port Multiplication support, it makes efficient use of drive resources while providing the speed needed for the most demanding applications.

At the same time, it works well with non-PM enclosures, though you are limited to only 4 drives. If you have more than 4 external drives to connect to your Dual-Core or Quad-Core Power Mac, you will need a second E4P. Thankfully there is a second 4 lane PCI-Express slot you can use -- unless it's blocked by a "fat" graphics card.

SUMMARY OF KEY FEATURES
SATA II compliant, 1.5Gb/s and 3Gb/s auto-negotiation
FIS-based Port Multiplier-aware to support up to 20 disk drives*
Native PCI Express (PCIe) x4 host bus interface for high-performance applications
Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC) support for compatibility with all SATA drives
Hot-swap drive support
Supports Mac OS® X and Windows® XP (including RAID)

QUIET ENCLOSURE
We couldn't help but notice how quiet the Fusion 500P's fan was compared to those of the competing PM boxes. The Fusion 500P registered 47 decibels six inches from the back (no louder than our Quadro G5 at "rest") while the LaCie and WiebeTech boxes put out 57 decibels (noticibly noisy in our quiet lab).

OTHER SONNET SATA PM ADAPTERS
If you want a PCI Express SATA host adapter with internal ports, Sonnet offers you the Tempo SATA E4i with four internal ports. If you are mounting extra drives inside your G5, they have a special kit called G5 Jive that mounts up to three drives in the CPU bay.

For those of you with PCI-X slots in your single-core G5 Power Mac, there's a new Tempo SATA X4P with four external ports with Port Multiplication support just like the E4P.

TEST SOFTWARE - DISKTESTER 2.0 beta
Lloyd Chambers is about to release version 2.0 of his useful DiskTester utility. Though it runs from within the Terminal app, we like the flexibility of defining the size of the test file, the size of the transfer or 'chunk,' and the area of the volume to be tested.

RELATED ARTICLES
AMUG has done a great article on the Sonnet Tempo SATA E4P.

AMUG also looked at the Addonics Port Multiplier Upgrade.

WHERE TO BUY THE SONNET TEMPO E4P and other SONNET PRODUCTS

WHERE TO BUY OTHER SATA ADAPTERS, SATA DRIVES AND SATA ENCLOSURES

PC-Pitstop (enclosures, host adapters)

FirmTek (host adapters, enclosures)

Granite Digital (adapters, enclosures, drives, cables)

MacGurus (adapters, enclosures, drives, cables)

MaxUpgrades (adapters, enclosures, internal mounting kits)

Other World Computing (adapters, enclosures, drives)

Small Dog Electronics (adapters, enclosures, drives)

TransIntl.com (enclosures, drives, internal mounting kits)

Wiebetech.com (adapters, enclosures, pre-installed drives, internal mounting kits)

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© 2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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