AMCC 3ware 9690SA-8I review

Price when reviewed

AMCC’s main focus has always been on its SATA line of 3ware RAID controllers, but the new 9690SA family represents a long overdue move into serial-attached SCSI (SAS) territory. This puts it directly up against the likes of LSI Logic and Adaptec, which have both been delivering SAS controllers for much longer, so this range will have to be good.

AMCC 3ware 9690SA-8I review

Three options are on offer and your choice will depend entirely on the type of interfaces you want. The 9690SA-8I offers a pair of internal multi-lane SAS ports, or you can opt for the version with two external ports or another with one of each type. All three cards sport a 3ware RISC I/O processor, and we liked the generous portion of cache, as all deliver 512MB of embedded DDR2 memory. As you’d expect, the cards can be upgraded with an optional battery – also reasonably priced. The remote mounting kit means you don’t have to place the pack directly on the card, either.

We found the card easy to configure from its BIOS screen, which allows you to create, delete, modify or rebuild arrays and add hot-standby drives to existing arrays. For JBODs, you must declare individual drives as single units, but this allows them to take advantage of features such as caching. RAID options are good, as the card supports RAID6 dual redundant arrays. These do need a minimum of four drives to function, but can cope with the loss of two drives.

Remote management options are good, with the card coming as standard with AMCC’s 3DM2 utility, which allows the card to be accessed locally or remotely via a web browser over HTTPS. We like the main interface, which provides easy access to all the settings, making the card simple to configure and monitor. In terms of features and usability, we’d place it above LSI Logic’s Mega RAID Storage Manager tool and just below Adaptec’s software. Alerting options are good: you can monitor the controller and use a notification system to issue email alerts in response to warnings and errors. 3DM2’s Windows Audible Visual Alarm is a new feature that will display a pop-up window showing the error.

For speed tests, we installed the card in a dual 3GHz Xeon 5160 Boston Supermicro rack server with 4GB of memory and running Windows Server 2003 R2. We connected a quartet of high-performance Seagate Cheetah 15K.4 SAS hard disks and started with one drive configured as a single disk. To test raw performance, we used the Iometer utility configured with four disk workers, 100 outstanding I/Os and 64KB sequential read operations. On our first run, this reported back a very respectable average read rate of 94MB/sec. We then configured two drives as a stripe and saw performance climb to 167MB/sec. A three-drive stripe returned 241MB/sec, while a four-drive stripe delivered a speedy 338MB/sec.

AMCC’s new SAS controllers deliver a good combination of speed and features, but comparing test results with those of a MegaRAID 8888ELP shows that LSI Logic has a speed advantage of less than 5%. However, the 9690SA cards are competitively priced and offer more cache for your money than anywhere else.

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