LSI Logic MegaRAID SATA 300-8X review

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Despite much posturing between big storage adaptor vendors, the accolades go to LSI Logic as the first to deliver a SATA II RAID controller to market. We asked both Adaptec and AMCC if they wanted to join in a head-to-head review, but although they’d announced SATA II products, both vendors declined our invitation, as the products weren’t actually available.

LSI Logic MegaRAID SATA 300-8X review

The MegaRAID SATA 300-8X is an eight-port RAID controller card that supports the latest SATA II Phase I extensions. These deliver a doubling in performance to 300MB/sec plus port multiplier and native command queuing (NCQ) technologies. The port multiplier feature allows up to four drives to be attached to each adaptor port, although this will need the appropriate port multiplier hardware to be installed in the server chassis. NCQ aims to improve performance for random I/O operations by taking multiple requests for disk operations and reordering them so they’re executed more effectively. For normal operations, the drive heads have to deal with requests in the order they’re received, which will result in inefficient operations.

The 300-8X provides a good hardware specification, with an 800MHz Intel I/O processor in the driving seat. This is backed up with 128MB of embedded cache memory. The latter can’t be upgraded, but LSI Logic does offer an optional battery backup pack that fits into a proprietary slot on the card. The only other thing of note is the alarm buzzer on the card, as this has to be the loudest we’ve yet heard for a RAID card.

We installed the card in a 133MHz PCI-X slot in a dual Xeon system running Windows Server 2003. You can start with the BIOS configuration screen, which provides good access to all of the card’s features. The port multiplier feature can only be activated from here, and with this enabled the menu reveals a comprehensive table showing the layout of drives and their individual port connections. The card supports all the expected RAID array configurations along with single disks and both hot-swap and hot-standby. For local and remote management, LSI Logic bundles its MegaRAID Power Console Plus. This provides a basic Windows interface, which we’ve often criticised for being dated. Adaptec regularly spruces up its adaptor management software, so it’s about time LSI Logic did the same.

For performance testing, we used a quartet of 80GB Hitachi Deskstar 7K80 SATA II hard disks and a set of Western Digital WD740 SATA I drives for comparison purposes. To test raw throughput, we used the Open Source Iometer 2004.07.30, configured with two disk workers, 64KB transfer request sizes and 100 per cent sequential reads. A single Hitachi drive and a dual-disk RAID0 stripe returned transfer rates of 62MB/sec and 105MB/sec respectively. With a four-drive RAID0 striped array, Iometer reported an impressive 245MB/sec. Swapping over to the SATA I drives saw performance drop to 47MB/sec and 99MB/sec for the single drive and dual-disk RAID0 array, while a four-disk stripe delivered a lower 180MB/sec.

The SATA 300-8X delivers in the performance stakes, showing SATA II drives as an effective alternative to SCSI in SME and mid-range storage applications. The card’s management tools could do with a spring clean, but otherwise LSI Logic sets a high standard for the competition to follow.

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