Iwill SIDE RAID 100

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SUMMARY: With the right drives, Iwill’s SIDE RAID 100 card can make disk-intensive apps fly.

Iwill was nice enough to send us a sample of their new SIDE RAID 100 card to try out. This card accommodates ATA100 drives and is backward compatible to other formats, so if you don’t have 100s now, you can “grow” into it.

RAID is now becoming much more popular as new motherboards build it in. The legitimate question to ask is “Do I need it?”. Here’s my take on it:

  • No question that for folks who can’t afford or tolerate down time due to a drive crash, MIRRORING drives makes absolute sense. I do it because, after three successive HD crashes, I vowed never to go through the agony again.
  • For anyone who uses video or sound editing or routinely manipulates large files, STRIPING is a real time saver.
  • If you have a bunch of smaller drives, SPANNING makes sense as it allows the OS to read these drives as one drive. This is a “nice-to-have”, not a necessity.

In addition, let’s say you have something like a SOYO 6BA+IV or ABIT BX6-2; these are great boards that continue to deliver top BX performance today (I have each one). You can extend the life of older boards by using a RAID card to bring drive performance up to snuff, even if you don’t use RAID features. Take my word for it – you will feel the performance difference.

OK – so how does this card stack up? The card itself looks pretty spare – basically two chips, two connectors, 5 capacitors and that’s it:

RAID

It says “ATA66” on the connector but it’s a RAID 100 card.

INSTALLING RAID

The one pain in setting up RAID STRIPING is that you have to reinstall the OS – not so with MIRRORING. You have to do this because when you set up a STRIPE, two drives act as one; when you PARTITION and FORMAT the STRIPED drives, the OS looks at them as one drive. Everything written to the two drives are now spread across both. The drawback is that if one drive fails, everything fails. You can STRIPE+MIRROR, but you need four drives to do this.

Anyhow, I thought “Why not use GHOST?” Should work – right? Well, it can be done for W98, but it’s not exactly straight forward. In fact, I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly how I did it! I will do it again and take scrupulous notes, but one thing you CAN NOT do is use the ATA 100 slots on the motherboard – they are read as SCSI devices as is the Iwill card.

Two SCSI devices just don’t like each other, so I used the IDE slot for the single drive and ghosted to the RAID card. It took a number of boots into W98, but finally it took.

If you have W2000, forget about it. GHOST is supposed to work with it, but we could not get it to do its thing, so we reinstalled both W98 and W2000.

Bottom line: Expect to do a reinstall.

THE TEST

For this test, I used the ASUS A7V with a DURON 650 running at 935 (8.5×110); I must say that we banged on this combo for two days without a hiccup. I used the new Leadtek GeForce 2MX (courtesy of NATA Computers) with two sets of drives – IBM 7200 rpm ATA100s and Western Digital 5400 rpm ATA 66s – I wanted to see how much of a difference ATA100 would make. I also ran benches for a single IBM ATA100 drive to see how much of a performance difference RAID STRIPING makes:

Setup

Content Creation

Bus Disk

Hi End Disk

SiSoft Disk

Quake

Stripe 2 WD/66s W98

30.8

4,580

10,300

7,723

127.4/126.3

1 IBM W98

32.6

5,720

13,500

15,531

127.4/126.5

Stripe 2 IBM/100S W98

35.4

8,090

26,000

15,549

127.9/126.2

1 IBM/100 W2000

39.7

10,900

25,100

16,093

102.6/98.8

Stripe 2 IBM/100s W2000

46.4

12,500

31,000

34,411

102.6/98.6

Iwill SIDE RAID 100, 64kb stripe (Options: 4 to 64 kb); WinBench Business and High End Disk.

Observations

  • Does the drive make a difference? Damn right! The WD 8.4G/ATA66s, even striped, do not do as well as a single IBM ATA100 (307015).
  • Does the OS make a difference? Damn right! Switching to W2000 results in a significant performance gains.

  • Does STRIPING help gaming performance? Quake benches indicate No – unless the game uses the drives intensively, RAID is a non-issue.
CONCLUSIONS

Anyone in the business of video or sound editing should invest in a RAID solution – it will make a difference. The Iwill SIDE RAID 100 is a good solution. If you need to just MIRROR drives for safety, almost any RAID card will do, although a RAID 100 will be faster overall.

For absolute top drive performance, RAID STRIPING with W2000 is a no-brainer. But if gaming is your thing, until we get solid W2000 drivers, stick to W98.

Thanks again to Iwill for sending this sample our way.

Additional Notes:

  • The documentation is very clear – the Manual is supplemented by a second pamphlet with very clear instructions; it really is a no-brainer.
  • The on-screen instructions are very well laid out and easy to follow.
  • The Iwill RAID card comes with two very nice ATA100 cables – they have pull-tabs on it so it is easy to remove the drive cables without stressing the connector.
  • If you are not familiar with RAID, the Manual does a nice job of explaining what RAID is and does.
  • It is also possible, in MIRRORING, to have a third drive as a spare – great for absolute worry-free backups; don’t you love overkill?

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