3ware Sidecar review

£982
Price when reviewed

When 3ware originally launched its Sidecar DAS appliance earlier this year, it had Mac users firmly in its sights, but this latest version now supports Windows as well. The Sidecar targets storage applications where performance is a high priority, as the kit comes complete with a 3ware 9650SE PCI Express controller card offering hardware-managed RAID arrays.

3ware Sidecar review

With the Mac market as its first priority, 3ware can’t afford to turn out dull beige boxes, so you’ll find the Sidecar looks more interesting than most DAS solutions. It’s certainly well built, with the quartet of 150GB Western Digital Raptor drives supplied in the review unit nestling in solid aluminium hot-swap carriers. Each one has a large multifunction LED that shows the drive status and warns of errors or imminent failures. With the 9650SE card at its foundation, you have a good choice of JBODs, stripes, mirrors or RAID5 arrays, and drives can be designated as hot-spares. The card has the same 4x multilane SATA port as the appliance, and the kit comes complete with a 2m cable. Noise levels are an important consideration for a desktop companion, and we found the Sidecar quiet enough, although the single rear fan wasn’t completely silent.

Installation is easy enough and we fitted the card in a Supermicro dual 3GHz Xeon 5160 server running Windows Server 2003 R2. You can create RAID arrays directly from the card’s BIOS if you wish, and this provides quick access to the card’s settings and also allows you to delete, modify or rebuild arrays and add hot-standby drives. 3ware also bundles its Windows 3DM2 utility, which allows the controller to be managed locally and remotely using a browser over secure HTTPS sessions. We found the main interface was well designed and provided good levels of access to the various settings. You can keep a close eye on the controller, configured units and physical drives, while warnings and errors can be tied to an email notification system.

Along with the SATA cable, the appliance can be linked directly to the RAID card for enclosure monitoring. This adds an extra tab to the 3DM2 interface, which provides basic details of the internal temperature and fan status, plus options to individually flash the drive carrier LEDs. Note that, at the time of review, 3ware hadn’t made an official announcement of Vista support.

For performance testing, we used the default four-drive RAID5 array and configured the Iometer utility with four disk workers and 64KB transfer-request sizes. Raw performance was good for a DAS appliance, with Iometer reporting a healthy 152MB/sec for 100% read operations, and 73MB/sec for write operations. The Sidecar offered noticeable performance improvements over the test server’s local storage. Its single WD Caviar SATA hard disk set up as a dedicated data drive delivered just 102MB/sec read and 51MB/sec write speeds respectively.

If you’re looking purely for data protection then get a NAS appliance such as the A-Listed Thecus N5200 RouStor – it delivers more than four times the capacity for the same price, and even supports RAID6 and five hot-swap SATA drives. The Sidecar certainly delivers in the speed stakes, but that’s the only possible reason we can see for parting with this much cash for a storage device.

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