Adventures in SCSI Land

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Many thanks to Hyper Microsystems for allowing us to test these products.

My setup:

  • CASE: I have an EAGLE tooless case, with TWO 80MM INTAKE FANS at the bottom, TWO 80MM EXHAUST FANS at the top.
  • POWER SUPPLY: 450 WATT SERVER, (the better to run Peltiers with my friend…..) It has TWO 80MM FANS of its own- one sucking heat from just above my Intel 500 E chip (overclocked to 750 Mhz and 1.60 V-Core), and one expelling it outside my case.
  • MOTHERBOARD: My current foundation is an ASUS P3V4X.
  • PROCESSOR: I use a ALPHA HEAT SINK AND FAN on my 500E CHIP which runs at 43 C under 100% CPU load.
  • HARD DRIVES: I use 2 WESTERN DIGITAL EXPRESS 9.1 GIG hard drives currently running in RAID (0), striped formation.
  • MEMORY: I employ a single stick of MUSHKIN PC 133 HSDRAM.
  • GRAPHICS CARD: I’m currently using an ASUS DDR GEFORCE with my
  • INTEL HEAT SINK AND FAN attached to it’s Graphics processing unit.
  • SOUND CARD: Music arrives to my ears from a SoundBlaster Live! Platinum sound card attached to 4 CAMBRIDGE SATELLITES AND SUBWOOFER.

A while back, (as part of my self-administered therapy, to curb a rather messy and deeply rooted disorder I’ve termed “overclocking”) I wrote an article trying to explain away my newly realized need of a RAID setup. For me it went pretty well. It was a least a month before I convulsed my way toward a new piece of hardware. Unfortunately it had the unexpected (but in hindsight completely predictable) effect of awakening similar disturbances in those who read of my affliction. They too, “had to have it”.

But there emerged a small but extremely persistent group of patients..errr..people who had what was obviously a related but much more severe disorder. Over the next days and weeks I came to think of these as THE SCSI PEOPLE. They had a different point of view. SCSI people looked upon me as pneumonia must look upon the common cold.

They pitied me the remnants of my shattered fiscal heath. They taunted me and ridiculed my seek and access times. They poisoned my mind with thoughts of up to 15 devices in a single array. They actually boasted of the thousands they’d spent to alleviate their symptoms…errr..hardware needs. So as it sometimes happens, the cure I sought became the disease I courted.

But wait I’m broke. So being the man I am, I went whining to Joe. “Somebody needs to cover this JOE! People need to be warned! I know how busy you, Skip and Ed are…Don’t fret Joe, I’m here. I’ll do it. I’ll find a way.”

The path to healing led straight to Hyper Microsystems. HMS is a wonderful site specializing in all things Hard Drive and anything SCSI. But hey, could I trust them in my current state of mind? I did a web crawl over to Reseller Ratings where I found that with a hundred and two respondents they have an astonishing 6.7 (of a possible 7.0) rating. What could I say? WOW my kind of vendor!

I contacted them. Joe, sensing my delirium, said I could use – but not tarnish – www.overclockers.com’s good name. It’s spooky how fast one can go downhill in the climb toward hardware perfection! Michael at Hyper Microsystems answered my e-mail:

“Come” he said, “pick anything you would like to review and just let me know” The man had no decency……OR……I’ve at last learned to conceal my affliction.
Yes, the parts do have to go back. But that’s a week or two away.

SCSI , or Small Computer System Interface. Servers and mission critical systems have been using these for years. Why? Dependability, speed, hot swapping of hard drives, speed, up to 128 megs of Cache memory, speed, up to 15 devices daisy-chained, speed, 5ns access time – that IS fast! And improved multitasking!

“But Mike”, I said. “I don’t know a single thing about SCSI”.
“That’s alright”, he said. “I do”.
My kind of guy!
“Well look” I said, “What do you recommend?”

“I’d go with a DTP PM1564U3 SmartRAID VI controller card. We just got the new Seagate Cheetah 18XL’s in yesterday, they have a 10,000 RPM rating, why not give them a try?” Why not indeed?!!

A week or so later they arrived Thank God they were wrapped in a plain brown box; hey I got neighbors! They were beautiful!

The DPT Ultra 160 controller card was something else as well. It supports RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 and it can do a two-step with RAID 0+1 and RAID 0+5. It’s ten inches long and four inches high!

You like add-ons? You can get Bus expansion modules for one or two extra RAID channels, a fiber channel arbitrated loop(?) and up to 128 MEGS of cache. All this is of course ROM flashable to keep you current. Did I mention that you can get 2 SCSI channels with an add-on? Or that it comes with internal and external connectors? It even came with a Ribbon cable to hook up with.

Right off, the manual starts talking about things like “line termination” and “device selection”. It obviously thought I understood SCSI speak. I don’t.

“Well hello Mike, how you doing?” It took Mike about five minutes to straighten me out and get me going. I partitioned and formatted my/their new drives and loaded Windows.

Now here’s where I have to ask the SCSI people to remain calm. Remember, we are all nerds here. We have to learn to agree to disagree…yes? Windows was noticeably SLOWER than my Promise RAID set up. I’m soooo sorry!

I loaded all my utilities, updated Windows, defragged and launched SiSoft Sandra. Hey what do you expect? I’m not really a SCSI person, just a simple overclocker. I ran three hard drive benches, throwing out the high and the low. The following is what lay in the middle:

A quote from Storage Review from their article “Some thoughts on IOMeter Results”:

“Judging from the above examples, it should be clear that random access time is vastly more important than sequential transfer rate when it comes to typical disk performance. Thus, the re-ordered “hierarchy” of important quantifiable specs would read:

  • Seek Time
  • Spindle Speed
  • Buffer Size
  • Data Density.”

I include this to guide the reader in interpreting my SiSoft Sandra results. Also to give the reader access to far more comprehensive benchmarks than this poor reviewer possibly know what to do with. All drives are approximately 9 GB.

And now in this corner:

Seagate Cheetah 18XL, 9.2 GB, Ultra160 Wide LVD SCSI-3, 10,000 RPM, 5.2 ms access, 4 MB (4096 KB) cache, A/V rated, 3.5″ LP, 68 pin interface, 5-year warranty.

DPT PM1564U3 SmartRAID VI Decade, single channel Ultra160 LVD SCSI-3, QLogic ISP12160A, chipset, 32-bit PCI PnP, busmastering transfer protocol, up to 15 targets.

  • RAID levels 0, 1, 0/1, 5, 0/5 w/ parity, hot-swap, hot-spare and remote management
  • Intel i960RP 33MHz processor
  • 4 MB of RAM expandable to 128 MB (RA4060/EDO SIMMs)
  • Up to 160 MB/s synchronous transfer rate
  • Internal Connector: Mini DB68(F) SE/LVD U160, external connector: VHDCI DB68(F) SE/LVD U160
  • Retail kit includes: 5-position Mini DB68(M) TPE insulated flat ribbon cable, internal SE/LVD Mini DB68(F) terminator, manuals, driver diskettes & management software, 5-year warranty.

And in the opposite corner:

Western Digital Expert 7200 RPM with Promise FastTrack66 RAID card.

Drive

Seagate Cheetah

Western Digital

Benchmark

17,473

19,332

Disk Cache – MB

75

47

Max Disk Cache – MB

120

119

Buffered Read – MB

263

343

Sequential Read – MB

25

30

Buffered Write – MB

293

259

Sequential Write – MB

12

15

Random Write – MB

7

7

Average Access Time – ns

5

8

In conclusion, I would hardly be the one to interpret these results. Yet some things are obvious even to someone like myself. The first of which is that ATA IDE drives are rapidly closing the gap. But in some areas SCSI remains King. While the Western Digital and promise RAID set up were clearly faster overall, one cannot ignore SCSI’s faster access times, higher RPMs and lower CPU usage.

The promise RAID card seemed to load noticeably faster in Real Tournament. Also booted in Windows 98 SE noticeably faster. I cannot honestly say that I noticed the difference in either system when generally messing about. But there remains another far greater difference between them: PRICE. If you’re a regular reader of overclocker’s.com, then you know that the Promise FastTrack66 RAID card can be had for about $30, +$1 for the resistor and some solder. Just buy a Promise Ultra66 card you can work your magic upon. Read Joe’s article on converting an Ultra66 card into a RAID card!

Whereas I spent $159.95 on each of my Western Digital hard drives, the Cheetah drives go for $355.00 EACH! The DPT (Distributed Processing Technology) goes for a modest $419.

So we are looking at a significant price to performance ratio here. But you’d be making a big mistake to think that a strict apples to apples comparison can be made here. The DTP and its Cheetah companions offer a host of options not available with the FastTrack card.: A 128MB cache, the ability to run CDs and other peripherals besides hard drives and the possibility of the 15 device daisy chain. There this a ton of stuff I have never even heard of, nor have the slightest idea what it does, but I am quite confident that Webmasters everywhere, go to sleep dreaming of this stuff.

If you sleep the sleep of the innocent, and have no wish to change this, stay away from SCSI. But, say you’re not so innocent and your finances are built upon something more substantial than dreams. Then call Mike at Hyper Microsystems. Think of it is a wake-up call. Mike wanted you know that as a favor to Overclockers.com readers, for purchases over $100, Hyper Microsystems will ship free in the continental United States via UPS ground.

Email Dan


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