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REVIEW:
CalDigit SATA 3G Host Adapters
and Dual Bay Enclosure
for Mac Pro and MacBook Pro

Posted November 14th, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

CalDigit has released SATA 3G PCI Express host adapters for both the Mac Pro and Dual-Core G5 Power Macs. They also have an ExpressCard/34 SATA host adapter for the MacBook Pro. We tested the FASTA-4e four port PCIe SATA 3G adapter and S2VR Duo enclosure on our Mac Pro. We also tested the FASTA-1ex ExpressCard/34 SATA adapter and S2VR Duo enclosure on the MacBook Pro C2D.

Both host adapters require a driver to be installed, which loads at boot time. Consequently, you can't boot OS X from any drive connected to the host adapter. But that's true of all SATA PCIe and ExpressCard adapters used on Intel Macs. So the main purpose of adding these adapters to your Mac Pro or MacBook Pro is to increase the "slave" storage capacity and/or speed.

The S2VR Duo enclosure has a single port for the two drives called a "SuperLane" (aka Port Multiplication). It differs from other enclosures we tested in that the trays use a thumb screw to lock the release handle. Also, the trays face the back of the enclosure where the power brick and data cable connect. Or, you can view it as the front of the enclosure with easy access to the power switch, power cable, and data cables.

One useful feature of the S2VR Duo enclosure is the ability to stripe the two drives at the box level (true hardware RAID). Rather than using a physical switch or LCD display, the configuration is controlled via the CalDigit S2VR Manager. You can configure the enclosure to be JBOD, RAID 0 ("Performance") or RAID 1 ("Protected"). In the graphs below we show the speed results for a single Seagate 250GB ES (ST325062NS) drive as well as a "Performance" configured pair.

GRAPH LEGEND
SW RAID 0 pair = Apple's Disk Utility RAID function used to create software RAID 0
HW RAID 0 pair = S2VR Manager used to enable hardware RAID 0 at the box level
DiskTester = a testing tool we often use for RAID sets to simulate the larger transfers typical of audio/video capture/playback. We used the area test and a 4GB test size to sample the beginning and ending of of the volume.

As you can see from the graphs, the speeds attained using the ExpressCard on a MacBook Pro are lower than that of the PCIe host adapter in the Mac Pro. That's as expected since the bandwidth of the PCIe bus is much higher. But as the dual drive RAID 0 volume fills up, the bandwidth advantage goes away.

CONCLUSION
CalDigit's host adapters and enclosures are strong contenders and the company has a strong commitment to meet the needs of "professional grade" Mac users. One recent example of this was their quick action to fix the "2GB+" bug exhibited by all SATA host adapters for the Mac Pro.

MEET THE COMPETITION
Caldigit faces stiff competition in the Mac SATA arena. Examples of some directly competing products include...

FirmTek's two port ExpressCard/34 which pairs up with their dual bay enclosure. Their enclosure features direct connect between the drive and backplane. They also have a two port PCIe SATA host adapter that works on both the Mac Pro and the dual-core G5 Power Macs and supports port-multiplication. Their host adapter also works under Windows when you use Boot Camp to create double boot scenario. The Power Mac versions of their PCIe and PCI-X SATA host adapters can boot OS X -- and industry exclusive.

Wiebetech's line of SilverSATA enclosures include a dual bay unit which does RAID 0 or 1 in the box similar to Caldigit's S2VR Duo, but it's setup using an LCD panel and buttons on the enclosure rather than with a RAID manager utility. It also has an internal power supply (versus the Caldigit's external brick). We haven't tested their host adapters yet but they offer both an ExpressCard/34 host adapter for MacBook Pros and a two port PCIe host adapter for Mac Pros and dual-core G5 Power Macs.

The only other company with a FOUR port PCIe SATA host adapter for the Mac Pro is Sonnet Technology.

WHERE TO BUY
You can purchase the CalDigit's host adapters and enclosures DIRECT or from their authorized resellers.

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