StorCase SATA II InfoStation review

Price when reviewed

Direct attached storage (DAS) is still the most cost-effective means of upgrading server capacity and StorCase’s InfoStation delivers one of the first SATA II devices. This compact desktop-sized box holds up to five hard disks in hot-swap carriers, and the review system was supplied with five 250GB Hitachi T7K250 SATA II drives for an impressive total capacity of 1.25TB.

StorCase SATA II InfoStation review

The InfoStation supports the three key SATA II Phase 1 extensions, so performance gets a boost to 300MB/sec, the chassis incorporates port multiplier technology and native command queuing (NCQ) is supported. Another advantage is the longer cable lengths allowed with SATA II, and a 2m eSATA cable is supplied. StorCase completes the picture with a four-port Silicon Image SATA II PCI-X RAID controller card. The drives are mounted in solid hot-swap carriers, although these can’t be physically locked in place. The InfoStation’s Soft-Start circuitry improves drive longevity by negating any power arcing when drives are inserted and provides a smooth supply when they spin up.

Installation is fairly straightforward, but there are some limitations to this product that you need to be aware of. First is the port multiplier technique, as this implementation amalgamates all five SATA interfaces into a single eSATA port. On boot-up, only the drive in the top bay is picked up, so the card’s BIOS menu can’t be used to create RAID arrays. Therefore, although the card itself supports mirrors and stripes, hardware arrays aren’t possible, as it can’t see sufficient drives, and bootable arrays can’t be created either. Our Windows Server 2003 system picked up the controller correctly, but the drives still couldn’t be seen until the bundled SATARAID5 Java-based tool was installed.

This software is the only means of accessing all the drives, and it opens with a display showing the four interfaces on the controller and all available hard disks. All the main RAID array types are supported, so you can pick one from the list, decide how much space it should occupy, choose a chunk and give it a rebuild priority. It’s also worth noting that although RAID5 is supported, the accompanying documentation doesn’t discuss this.

From a Task Summary window, you can monitor rebuild progress and request that a log file is generated for controller-related events. Pop-up messages may also be displayed for up to four event levels. Unfortunately, that’s your lot: the utility doesn’t offer any more management or monitoring facilities such as those found on competing products from LSI, AMCC or Adaptec.

As all RAID arrays are implemented in software, some SATA II performance benefits will be lost. Using the open-source Iometer configured for 100 per cent sequential 64KB read requests, we saw a four-disk RAID0 stripe deliver 185MB/sec. Testing with LSI Logic’s 300-8X controller saw the same test with Hitachi SATA II drives return a faster 254MB/sec. We also tested a three-disk RAID5 array and saw a modest 80MB/sec throughput.

The SATA II InfoStation certainly delivers on capacity, and for this alone looks good value. However, this implementation does have a number of drawbacks. In particular, the software-managed RAID arrays will see a noticeable drop in performance over hardware controllers.

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