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EVGA nForce 680i
This motherboard, chosen for the 2007 Maximum PC Dream Machine, comes with support for up to six SATA devices. But it’s not just the potential size of the RAID that gets us going. The motherboard also provides a decent list of configurations to choose from: RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5, and JBOD (just a bunch of disks). It’s a surprisingly generous offering, given the fact that some of the add-in cards we’re testing lack such variety.
Setting up the RAID itself is a breeze—you switch the SATA ports to RAID in the BIOS and then use a handy utility to select the drives, array type, and configuration options you want.
MSI P35 Neo2-FR
MSI’s P35 Neo2-FR is a respectable midrange motherboard that sports the flashin’ new Intel P35 chipset with an ICH9R south bridge. We expect RAID performance with this chipset to rival that of EVGA’s nForce platform, which is an older chipset stuffed onto a more high-end motherboard.
You get only five SATA ports on the P35 Neo2-FR: Four operate under the ICH9R chipset, with one running on an integrated Marvell 88SE6111 controller. This could have some bearing on performance when compared to the EVGA nForce 680i, which uses the south bridge for all six SATA ports.
HighPoint RocketRAID 2300
HighPoint’s entry-level RAID controller card is but a mere PCI Express x1 model—though in many ways, this makes it ideal for a typical motherboard setup. If you have the available connector on your motherboard, you won’t have to burn one of your x8 or x16 slots for the card.
The host-based controller supports five different RAID levels: 0, 1, 5, 1+0, and JBOD. The controller features four ports, allowing you to connect up to four SATA drives using standard SATA cables.
We’re mildly concerned that the controller’s lack of any onboard memory might hurt the card’s performance. But that’s more an issue of the card’s price point—you aren’t going to see memory packed onto entry-level products.
HighPoint RocketRAID 3510
One of the most expensive cards in HighPoint’s line of RAID controllers, the RocketRAID 3510 trumps its lesser cousin, the RocketRAID 2300, with a few key features. You’ll also find a multilane connector on the 3510 rather than a four-port SATA connector, although you get the same effect: The included breakaway cable supports the same number of drives—four.
More importantly, the 3510 controller comes with a built-in Intel IOP 81341 processor. The 800MHz proc pulls RAID actions off your rig’s CPU. We expect this critical difference to shine in our more taxing RAID benchmarks, as we’ll want every bit of our CPU’s power going to the rendering test, not the RAID functionality.
The card also comes with 256MB of onboard DDR2 memory and is fashioned for a PCI Express x8 connection.
Adaptec’s entry-level 1430SA card supports only four RAID levels: 0, 1, 1+0, and JBOD. Critically missing is any support for a RAID 5 configuration—something all the other entry-level cards we’re testing support. While this automatically disqualifies Adaptec’s card from the RAID 5 portion of our comparative benchmarks, it doesn’t necessarily bump the card to last place. The 1430SA might very well offer the best performance for its price in a RAID 0 configuration—which could be fine for folks interested in only RAID 0, or one of this card’s other configs.
The PCI Express x4-based card comes with no extra frills. There’s no onboard memory, nor is there a dedicated processor on the card to handle RAID requests. You can connect up to four SATA drives to the array via four standard SATA ports.
If RAID controllers were cars, you’d find Adaptec’s 5405 on a luxury lot. This little device comes packed with every feature, accessory, and upgrade an enthusiast could ask for.
The 5405 sports an onboard 1.2GHz dual-core processor to handle RAID functionality—that’s more CPU than this article’s author has on his laptop. We’re expecting this, as well as the card’s 256MB DDR2 cache, to spit out massive performance. But we’re also curious to see how a card this stacked will benchmark
The 5405 supports an obscene number of RAID levels (0, 1, 1E, 5, 5EE, 6, 1+0, 50, and 60), making it the clear winner in the options category. The card uses a PCI Express x8 interface for the connection mechanism and a multilane port for SATA connections via a breakaway cable.