BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS


Small Dog is giving away a G5 has refurbished towers, laptops, displays, etc., with 12 month warranty.


FireWire 800 RAID
versus FW400, ATA, SCSI


Originally posted 05/16/03 by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated 5/27/03 with
comment on 32 bit PCI bus vs 64 bit PCI bus

For benchmarking a drive, it's hard to beat Intech's QuickBench X. For sustained test, I use 100MB block size so drive cache isn't a factor. For the random test, I average the 128K, 256K, 512K, and 1024K random transfers.









1. If you're going to get the most out of your FireWire 800 RAID, you'll want to give each drive its own channel by dedicating a PCI or built-in controller to each drive.

One reader wanted to know how fast a 4 drive FW800 RAID would run if daisy chained on a the 17" PowerBook's single Fw800 port. It reads the same speed as a dual drive single channel RAID. It writes slower than a single drive, which tells me there's some major "head bumping" in the crowded single channel. If you're going to try a FW800 RAID array on a 17" PowerBook, you might want to add another channel by way of a CardBus FW800 adapter once they become available.

Some companies have been offering FireWire 400 RAID boxes with multiple drives in one case. I'm sure FireWire 800 RAID boxes will soon appear, but in either case, you'll still need multiple controllers to get the speeds published above... no matter what you're told.

2. To attain the impressive speeds, I had to use up to three FW800 PCI cards in addition to the built-in FireWire 800 controller. Not everyone has that many PCI slots to "burn." A better solution is a multi-channel FW800 card.

There is such a thing. Indigita makes it. But it only works in PCI-X slots... like the ones on the new G5 and some Wintel machines.

6/27/03 -- I tested the Indigita FireWire 800 four channel PCI board this week. The test mule was an Xserve and the results were abysmal. (41MB/s with four striped drives.) Indigita assured me, however, that the problem lies with the Intel PCI bridge used in the Xserve. They got the same low numbers in their lab. Apple's answer? It's Intel's fault.

Indigita assures me they got 300MB/s with 8 drives on a Wintel test unit that, by the way, uses a ServerWorks PCI bridge. I will be testing on a Xeon this weekend to see if I get my predicted 200MB/s with 4 drives. Hopefully, when I test on the G5 Power Mac, I will get better performance than experienced on the Xserve. Stay tuned...

3. I included Ultra ATA-133 and Ultra320 SCSI dual drive striped pairs for comparison purposes.

In all but one test, the dual drive/channel FW800 RAID keeps up with its Ultra ATA cousin.

It took a triple drive/channel FW800 RAID to meet or exceed the speed of the dual drive/channel Ultra320 SCSI. Of course, the Ultra320 SCSI setup featured much faster drives (Cheetah 15,000 rpm with 3.4 ms average seek) and controller (ATTO UL4D), but from a cost and convenience standpoint, FW800 RAID deserves serious consideration as an alternative to Ultra SCSI (and Ultra ATA).

4. A shootout between different brands of FireWire 800 enclosures will come next week. For now, let me offer two important factoids:

a. The best performing drive for FireWire 800 enclosures is the Hitachi/IBM 180GXP. (The 120GB or 180GB version with 8MB buffer beats the Western Digital 1800JB and 2000BB hands down.)

b. Not all Macs will run the FireWire 800 drives at the same speeds published above. For example, when I ran a LaCie FW800 drive on a 17" PowerBook, it ran my real world tests 12% slower.

I commented in an earlier version of this article that "older" Power Macs with 32 bit PCI bus would probably run FW800 PCI cards slower than Power Macs with 64 bit PCI bus. However, when I checked the Apple technical documents, I discovered Apple has been using 64 bit PCI slots since the advent of the Blue and White G3 Power Macs.

Some of you have asked about FW800 CardBus on a PowerBook. Since CardBus is only 32 bits "wide," there's some skepticism as to whether FW800 CardBus will go as fast as a FW800 PCI card on a 64 bit bus. I'm withholding my opinion until I can actually test one. After all, Ultra SCSI supported up to 80MB/s per channel on a 32 bit PCI bus.





All the currently shipping FireWire 800 products are based on the Oxford 922 chip set. Read more about their bridge chip and bridge board at Oxford's website.

XLR8YourMac has also tested FireWire 800 products.

Check out Bare Feats' articles on FireWire 800 vs USB 2.0 vs Ultra ATA vs Ultra SCSI, multi-brand FireWire 800 enclosure shootout, and FW 800 optimizations.

Storage Technology tested the newest Hitachi-IBM, Maxtor, Seagate, and Western Digital Ultra ATA drives. Although they test on Windows systems using Ultra ATA controllers, the results are instructive, since those are the Hitachi-IBM and Western Digital drives are being shipped in the new FireWire 800 case kits from OWC and LaCie. Be aware that putting the same drives in FireWire 800 cases may produce a different results from Ultra ATA controllers. In my tests, the Hitachi-IBM drive out performed the Western Digital drive.



The test computer was our trusty Apple Power Mac G4/1.42GHz Power Mac running OS X (10.2.6).

The FireWire 800 RAID tests were done using various combinations of the FWDepot IceCube800 Enclosure and/or Other World Computing's Mercury Elite FireWire 800 Enclosure, each with a Hitachi-IBM 180GXP drive.

The multiple FireWire 800 PCI cards were from FWDepot and Other World Computing. They were used in combination with the Power Mac's built-in FW800 port.

Ultra ATA-133 PCI card was the Acard 6880M HW RAID card.

The 15,000rpm Ultra320 SCSI drive tested was the Seagate Cheetah 15K.3 drive with 3.6 avg seek time. It's available in 37GB (ST336753LW) and 73GB (ST373453LW) capacities. We tested the 73GB version.

The Ultra320 SCSI controller was the UL4D from ATTO Technology.

SEE "HOW WE TEST" for details on the tests reflected in the graphs. One new variation. For RANDOM READ/WRITE, I averaged the 128K, 256K, 512K, and 1024K random read/writes from Intech's QuickBenchX. I feel they best reflect typical random access block sizes used by the OS and most applications.



The FWDepot IceCube800 Enclosure (no drive) and FW800 PCI Card is in stock and can be ordered direct from FWDepot. They also have FW800 cables.

Other World Computing's Mercury Elite FireWire 800 Enclosure and PCI card come from the same original manufacturer as FWDepot's. The distinction is that you can order OWC's enclosure with a pre-installed 180GXP hard drive. They also include a copy of Intech's SpeedTools.

LaCie's FireWire 800 enclosure comes in 200 to 500GB versions. Sounds like they are targeting digital video developers. They have their own FireWire 800 PCI card. LaCie products can be purchased through Other World Computing and Small Dog Electronics.

Wiebetech let me test their prototype FW800 bridgeboard and PCI card back in January following MacWorld. Their production unit will probably be shipping by the time you read this. Order direct from them. has the Hitachi-IBM 180GXP drive which is the fastest drive you can put in a FireWire 800 case. These drives also scream when used in an Ultra ATA setup.

Long, flexible, white FireWire 800 cables are available from the Apple online store. (Drive enclosures ship with one medium length FW800 cable.)



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