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Today, we have a product from a company typically associated with the server and business market, HighPoint Technologies, Inc. HighPoint has been around since 1995, so they have been in the storage segment for around 17 years. I’d say they are most well known for their RAID host bus adapters (HBA), but they also make storage enclosures, various expansion devices, and storage management solutions. What we’ll be taking a look at in this article is HighPoint’s RocketCache 3240X8; a product for combining multiple SSDs and HDDs into high performance, high capacity storage solutions.
Specifications & Features
(Courtesy of HighPoint Technologies, Inc.)
|HighPoint RocketCache 3240X8 Specifications|
|Controller Specs||PCI-Express 2.0 x8|
4 SATA 6 Gb/s Channels
1 x SFF-8087 Port
Supports up to 4 SATA SSD’s/HDD’s
4 Cache Modes
Backwards compatible with PCI-E 1.0
Driver support for Microsoft Windows 7, 2008, Vista, Linux, and Mac OS X
|Dimensions||3.79″ x 2.25″ x 0.06″ (L x W x H)|
96.27 x 57.15 x 1.52 mm (L x W x H)
|Kit contents||RocketCache 3240×8 HBA|
1x SFF-8087 Cable
Quick Installation Guide
HighPoint’s latest SSD caching solution Will Revolutionize High-Performance Storage for Desktop PC’s and Workstations.
Combine multiple hard disk drives and SSD’s into high-performance storage solution. Unlike conventional caching products,RocketCache HBA’s allow you to link multiple SSD’s to a single hard drives for maximum performance, or double up for an ideal balance between Speed and Security.
RocketCache Means Extreme Performance
Capitalizing on HighPoint’s industry-proven RAID technology, RocketCache HBA’s can aggregate multiple SSD’s and hard disks into single storage units, in order to maximize transfer speeds or data security.
Easy to use, Web-based interface works with any Web Browser. Configuring Customized Cache configurations has never been easier.
HighPoint’s RocketCache HBA combines high-value and high performance into a solution that appeals to a wide array of clients-types, ranging from the home PC enthusiast to Media Professionals, Graphic Artists and Photographers.
Packaging & Accessories
The packaging is pretty straight forward showing the product and detailing what it is exactly. Nothing flashy, just all the information a possible buyer would want to know.
The back of the box goes into more detail on the product, listing the caching modes, showing a visual configuration, and mentioning the lower performing onboard caching option of some current motherboards.
The contents are all in bags protected by foam and the thick cardboard of the box. Included with the package is a Quick Installation Guide, Software/Driver CD, half-height slot bracket, SAS-to-SATA SFF-8087 cable, and of course the RocketCache 3240×8 HBA.
HighPoint RocketCache 3240X8
As you can can see from the print on the PCB, it’s pretty obvious that HighPoint’s RocketCache uses the same PCB as their RocketRAID 2720/2710 cards. Particularly, the 2710 since there is only one SAS port on this card. In fact, the only difference in the two is their firmware.
After looking at the PCB, I’m sure a few of you are looking at the empty SAS port spot and wondering. Before you start thinking to much about soldering another connector onto the PCB, let me go ahead and tell you that it won’t work with the firmware installed on the card. So, it won’t be that easy to get four more drives connected to the RocketCache.
Installation & Setup
Physical installation of the RocketCache was very easy; it’s installed just like a typical GPU or other PCIe card. Once it’s in the system, a RocketCache BIOS splash screen will appear during boot to let you know that it’s installed correctly and being recognized by the system. When the OS loads, the drivers and software can be installed from the included driver CD.
1+ HDDs and 1+ SSDs
This caching mode optimizes the SSD and HDD devices for maximum read and write performance.
When using more than one SSD in this mode, they are set up similar to a RAID0 as far as performance goes. Multiple HDDs are combined for more storage space and they’re reliant on one another for data access. So, if one of the hard drives dies, then all data will be lost.
High Performance with Cache Protection
1+ HDDs and 1+ SSDs
This caching mode combines ultra-fast data access with write protection. Your cache files are written directly to disk.
Multiple HDDs are combined for more storage space and they’re reliant on one another for data access. So, if one of the hard drives dies, then all data will be lost.
High Protection and Cache Performance
2+ HDDs and 1+ SSDs
This mode provides high-level of data protection with improved access speeds. Multiple copies of each file are permanently stored on the hard disks.
Data is written to the SSD cache, then moved to the hard drives when the system is idle. Hard drives are mirrored in this configuration, and SSDs are used as general cache.
2+ HDDs and 1+ SSDs
This caching mode provides the maximum data protection. Multiple copies of each file are written directly to disk.
Data is written directly to the hard drives, then frequently used data is moved to the SSD cache. Hard drives are mirrored in this configuration, either 2-way or 3-way mirroring.
Web-based Management Software
When you install the management software from the CD, it places a “RC” shortcut on the desktop that opens up a web browser taking you to http://localhost:7402.
The first thing to do when in the web-management software is to initialize the drives connected to the RocketCache. This can be done on the Overview Tab by clicking on Initialize Devices. Once the drives have been initialized they can be combined into a single drive.
To create a RocketCache drive go to the Build RocketCache tab, select the caching mode desired, choose which drives to be used, and then click Create to create the drive. A popup should appear to that says the drive has been created, or it will show an error if the selected cache mode and number of drives selected are incompatible. The newly created RocketCache drive will appear at top of the Overview tab as well. The More Information button shows the RocketCache drive’s name, cache mode, capacity, cache policy, cache size, and status.
In the management tab, there are quite a few things that can be done. Remove Cache will remove the SSD cache relationship from the RocketCache drive. The Maintenance link allows the RocketCache to be deleted or unplugged. If the RocketCache is configured in a mirroring mode, then there will be an option to rebuild.
If something happens to the system during SSD caching that causes it not to finish, then the Status will read Disabled instead of Normal. then, as long as the RocketCache is not configured as Max/High Performance, the cache data can be recovered by using the Recover option in the Maintenance link.
Before the newly created drive can be used, it needs to be formatted like any other partition by going to Disk Management in Windows. You can also see the SSD space left over from creating the cache for the RocketCache drive, which can be used as storage so it’s not wasted space. One downside would be if the cache and SSD storage are being accessed simultaneously, then the performance of both would be affected.
The on-board speaker does its job well. I was unfortunate enough to be able to experience it unintentionally when one of my three hard drives decided to bite the dust during testing. I was across the house when I noticed a constant, high-pitch ring and it turned out to be one of my drives. My test setup is on an open bench, which definitely helped me hear the alarm.
The heatsink on the RocketCache definitely gets hot around 58-59 °C, so I’m sure it wouldn’t mind some airflow. I kept a Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-15 pointed in its direction throughout testing which kept it around 37-38 °C.
Highpoint’s RocketCache was easy to setup and configure, but there are a few things I noticed that were odd or annoying:
- When using one or two 256 GB Vertex 4 drives, the cache created by the RocketCache will be 68 GB and it’s not configurable, whereas cache size is configurable with Intel Smart Response Technology. Highpoint responded saying “A cache size beyond this limit offers no performance benefit. Future versions may provide additional options/settings for larger SSD’s.” However, as I mentioned earlier, the leftover SSD space can be used as storage, so it’s not wasted.
- The RocketCache is not a bootable device, so no running an OS off the RocketCache drive. However, Intel’s Smart Response Technology can be used on the system drive.
- Only one RocketCache drive can be created at a time, so having two separate 1 SSD + 1 HDD configurations is not an option.
- Whenever a RocketCache drive is accessed after waking the PC from Sleep/Hibernation the driver (rc32xx) crashes, causes a BSoD, and the PC reboots.
Test System & Methodology
|CPU||Intel i7 3770K|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus V Gene|
|RAM||4x 2 GB Corsair Dominator GT DDR3-1600 6-6-6-20|
|Graphics Card||EVGA GTX 670 SC|
|Stand-Alone SSD||50 GB OCZ Vertex 2|
|RocketCache HDDs||2x 1 TB Samsung Spinpoint F3|
|RocketCache SSDs||2x 256 GB OCZ Vertex 4|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional x64 SP1|
OCZ Vertex 4
The two Vertex 4 SSDs were kindly provided by OCZ for the testing of the RocketCache 3240X8. Something to keep in mind when looking through the RocketCache results are the rated specifications of the 256 GB Vertex 4: 560 MB/s sequential reads and 510 MB/s sequential writes. I’ll be supplying Vertex 4 results for this article, but be sure to check out our 256 GB OCZ Vertex 4 Review by hokiealumnus for a much more thorough look at the Vertex 4 itself.
Since I have two OCZ Vertex 4 drives and two Samsung Spinpoint F3 drives for testing, that leaves me with the following configurations to test. I had three hard drives initially, but one of them died during testing so I can’t provide 1 SSD + 3 HDD results, unfortunately. Two of the modes require at least two HDDs for mirroring, so those cannot be set up for single HDD configurations.
|Test Configurations||1 SSD||2 SSD||1 SSD + 1 HDD||1 SSD + 2 HDD||2 SSD + 1 HDD||2 SSD + 2 HDD|
|High Perf w/ Cache Pro||N/A||N/A||√||√||√||√|
|High Pro & Cache Perf||N/A||N/A||N/A||√||N/A||√|
The following are the programs and their settings used to test the RocketCache for each configuration and cache mode. Each test was run three times for each config and each cache mode to check for any noticeable performance differences. That comes out to be around 266 benchmark runs.
- Max disk size: 16,000,000 sectors
- Starting sector: 1024
- Queue Depth: 32
- 2 MB Sequential Read/Write; Sector Aligned
- 4 KB Random Read/Write; 4 KB Aligned
- Queue Depth 10
AS SSD and CrystalDiskMark
OCZ Vertex 4 Baseline
The hard numbers can be found here.
First we should probably look at some baseline results so we have something to compare to when checking out the RocketCache results. The following are single drives and RAID0 results of the Vertex 4 drives using the on-board RAID of the Maximus V Gene. We can compare these to the RocketCache configurations to see how close they get to straight SSD performance.
The hard numbers for ATTO are here.
ATTO is the test I like to run to see the maximum potential of drives. “Max Performance” and “High Protection and Cache Performance” are the best performing cache modes with the latter actually coming out on top in both reads and writes. So, Max Performance isn’t really what its name suggests, but it does provide twice the storage space of the High Protection and Cache Performance mode. As for the other two modes, High Performance with Cache Protection and Max Protection, they have slower write speeds since data is written to the HDD(s). Surprisingly, the Max Protection mode has top tier read speeds as well, but it’s by far the slowest in writes. High Performance with Cache Protection has the slowest reads of any of the cache modes and about twice the write speed of the Max Protection mode while providing twice the storage space.
Comparing the earlier Vertex 4 RAID0 results with the 2x SSD configurations of the RocketCache, we can see the the RocketCache provides performance exceeding onboard RAID0 in some cases. This performance increase most definitely comes from HighPoint’s experience in designing RAID controller cards. However, the single SSD RocketCache configurations don’t quite perform as well as a Vertex 4 on the Intel SATAIII controller.
Something odd I noticed is when adding the second HDD, the read speeds decreased and the write speeds increased. The reads dropped significantly in the High Performance with Cache Protection mode when going from 1 SSD + 1 HDD to 1 SSD + 2 HDD (greater than 100 MB/s loss) and when going from 2 SSD + 1 HDD to 2 SSD + 2 HDD (greater than ~400 MB/s loss). This means that the 1 SSD + 2 HDD and 2 SSD + 2 HDD modes perform about the same in ATTO when in High Performance with Cache Protection. This really makes me wish that my third HDD didn’t die, so I could see if adding a third HDD would reduce the speeds even further. I’ll definitely be looking out for changes in performance between number of HDDs used in the other tests as well.
The IOMeter hard numbers are here.
Not quite as many graphs here in the IOMeter section since the data can be grouped better without causing clutter. Again, the best performing cache modes are Max Performance and High Protection and Cache Performance. All of the caching modes had trouble with the 4 KB Random Reads, but when we look back at the Vertex 4 results, the numbers are quite the opposite. So, the Intel SATAIII controller did much better than the RocketCache in the IOMeter 4 KB reads and writes.
We don’t see the performance drop in IOMeter when going from 1 SSD + 1 HDD to 1 SSD + 2 HDD in High Performance with Cache Protection as we did with ATTO. However, there is a drop when adding a HDD to the 2 SSD setup in IOMeter, a ~100 MB/s or so drop.
CrystalDiskMark numbers can be found here.
In CrystalDiskMark, the numbers are quite a bit different than the ATTO and IOMeter results. The write speeds are faster than the reads in all the configurations and sub-tests. When looking at these results it looks like I may have flipped the reads and writes around in the graphs by accident, but I did not. I double and triple checked this. The Seq and 512 KB writes in CrystalDiskMark with the RocketCache with 1 SSD are ~100 MB/s lower than the Vertex 4 results, and the reads are just a little lower (about the same really). The RocketCache 2 SSD configuration results are a complete 180 of the 1 SSD configurations. The Seq and 512 KB writes are ~100 MB/s faster than the Vertex 4 results, and the reads match the baseline.
The best overall performing cache modes are still Max Performance and High Protection and Cache Performance. However, the highest read speeds go the Max Protection and Cache Protection modes, oddly enough. Again, reads go down and writes go up in most of the results when adding an additional HDD.
Hard numbers for the AS SSD tests are here.
The first thing you’ll probably notice with AS SSD is that the 4 KB numbers are pretty much non-existent outside of the writes in the Max Performance and Cache Performance modes, and definitely not as good as the Vertex 4 drives alone. The best overall performing modes haven’t changed and are still the Max Performance and High Protection and Cache Performance modes, with the latter leading the charge. The performance change by adding a HDD appears in AS SSD as well with reads decreasing a little or remaining constant and writes increasing. However, initial read speeds are higher than straight Vertex 4 speeds, so the drop to read speed results in performance still higher than a Vertex 4 on the Intel SATAIII controller.
The HighPoint RocketCache allows end users to have SSD-like transfer rates while having the large capacity of traditional HDDs. The RocketCache is unique because of its ability to use multiple SSDs to get cache performance similar to RAID0 SSDs, and allow mirroring of data across multiple HDDs.
High Protection and Cache Performance mode is the best performing cache mode. Not only does that mode perform the best, it also mirrors your data for security. However, the Max Performance mode is the best mix of performance and storage space, just be aware that if a single HDD fails all the data will be lost (much like RAID0). The other two modes, High Performance with Cache Protection and Max Protection, are still good performance-wise being much better than a HDD alone, especially in reads.
Typically, read speeds stay the same or decrease some when adding a HDD, while write speeds increase. So, there is a sacrifice for doubling the storage or mirroring data, but it could be well worth it depending on the usage.
The con that could be considered a deal breaker for some people is the driver crash issue when using sleep mode. Hopefully, this issue will be able to be fixed with a BIOS/firmware update from HighPoint. Personally, I don’t use sleep mode anymore since I started using SSDs as boot drives. My gripes about the RocketCache are listed below, but aren’t deal breakers for me.
- Not a bootable device
- Having multiple RocketCache logical drives is not an option
- rc32xx driver crashing after waking the PC from sleep requires the user to turn off sleep mode altogether to avoid blue screens
- An option for RAID5-like parity for the 1 SSD + 3 HDD would be nice instead of just triple mirroring to give the user more storage space while still being protected from a single drive failure.
The RocketCache 3240×8 is selling for $160 at NewEgg and 60/64 GB SSDs can be had for around $65. So, if you need both high capacity and high speed storage, the RocketCache will be much cheaper than the equivalent amount of SSD space and easily outperform mechanical HDDs. However, for the everyday user, it would be more economical to get a larger SSD and maybe an external HDD since the majority of users don’t need or use a ton of space in day to day use.
Overall, the HighPoint RocketCache is a unique solution for hard drive caching that does what it was designed to do and does it well; which is exactly why we award Approved stamps.
– Matt T. Green (MattNo5ss)