HighPoint RocketRAID 1740 and RocketRAID 2300 RAID Controllers Review

hardnrg - 2008-01-21 07:50:29 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: hardnrg   
Reviewed on: January 24, 2008
HighPoint
HighPoint
Price: $119.99 -$121.99

Introduction:

To many people, HighPoint is a familiar name, appearing as the ATA controller on host adapters and also integrated into motherboard designs during the 1990s. HighPoint was the first to bring PATA RAID and SATA RAID to workstations and entry-level servers, bringing high performance storage solutions to end users and small-to-medium businesses at an aggrressively competitive price point. HighPoint maintains this ethos today, offering a wide range of RAID controllers in PCI, PCI-X, and PCI-E forms to cater for all applications of high capacity storage.

In this review, I will be taking a look at the RocketRAID 1740 (PCI) and RocketRAID 2300 (PCI-E) RAID controllers. The 1740 is at the top end of HighPoint's PCI series, and the 2300 is its entry-level PCI-E card.

 

Closer Look:

Both RAID controller cards come in a retail box with a clear picture of the card itself and a breakdown of the features and specs.

Firstly, here is what the RocketRAID 1740 packaging looks like.

 

And here is the packaging of the RocketRAID 2300.

 

Laying the cards side by side, you can see that the 2300 (left) is a fair bit shorter than the 1740 (right).

 

Closer Look:

OK, so let's take a look at each card to see the PCB layout and the location of the connectors.

The 1740 is a PCI card and you can see that the PCB is not as tall as the slot backplate. You can convert the card to low-profile to fit it in small form factor cases and the shorter rackmount cases.

 

 

The four SATA connectors are on the end of the card. They are the non-locking type that rely on friction to hold the cable in place. This makes it easy to remove the cables that are underneath if the top and bottom ports are populated, but the downside is that the cables aren't as secure as the locking type (which require locking SATA cables for this functionality).

 

At the lower left of the picture below, the large round black device on the card is a beeper that can be enabled to give audible alerts for various drive problems. The four pin headers facilitate the connection of LEDs to indicate individual drive activity and drive failure. The connector that looks like a CD/Aux header on a soundcard allows you to connect a backup power source to eliminate data loss or corruption in the event of a power outage or system failure.

 

The 2300 has a PCI-E 1x edge connector and is also able to convert to low-profile.

 

The four SATA connectors are in the same location as on the 1740 card.

 

Although the locations are different, the 2300 has the same beeper and headers for hard drive activity LEDs, hard drive failure LEDs, and backup power source.

 

Each card comes with a low-profile PCI backplate, and four SATA cables rated for SATA2 speeds. There are variations of the retail package that bundle two internal SATA cables, and two SATA cables that terminate at a PCI backplate to provide an external eSATA connection.

 

Also, as you would expect, each card comes with a manual, driver/software CD, and a floppy disk (not pictured) for "legacy" operating systems that require a floppy disk to load storage controller drivers, e.g. Windows XP.

 

Installation:

The physical installation of the cards is like any other PCI or PCI-E device. Connecting the SATA cables is equally as simple, just push them into the SATA headers on the card.

 

Configuration:

When you boot up the system with the card installed and hard drives connected, the card will scan for and detect the hard drives.

 

 

You can enter the RAID card BIOS and create a RAID array of one of the standard types: RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 1+0, RAID 5, and JBOD. If you are unfamiliar with the various levels of RAID, feel free to take a look through the OCC RAID Guide.

:

 

You can rename the array to something more meaningful if you wish.

 

Then you select the devices (hard drives) that you want in the array. You could set up more than one array, e.g. 2x RAID 0 (each with two drives). If you have two arrays, you can select which one to be the bootable (primary) RAID array. The staggered spin-up option reduces the strain on small power supplies compared to all drives spinning up simultaneously.

 

Further options in the BIOS allow you to view the connected hard drives and their current status, and view the arrays that have been created.

 

To be able to boot from the HighPoint RAID array, you need to make sure that the array is the first entry of the Hard Drive Boot Priority in your motherboard BIOS.

 

If you configured a RAID 5 array, and one of the drives fails, when starting the system you are presented with the following screen after the system POST sequence.

 

Configuration:

When your OS is running, you can install the HighPoint Web RAID Management software, which allows you to view and reconfigure the RAID array(s) connected to the HighPoint RAID controller.

The interface is via your default web browser. You can view the current status of the RAID array, and of the individual hard drives that make up the array.

 

 

If, for example, you had a RAID-5 array consisting of three disks, and had a fourth disk attached but not configured as part of the array, you can set it up to be a spare disk that can be used to rebuild the array in the event of a failure of one of the disks in the array.

 

You can see the various events, and when they occured, in the Event View.

 

The software allows you to schedule health checks of the array at regular intervals.

 

Other settings can activate an Automatic Rebuild in the event of a drive failure (and replacing the failed drive), the onboard beeper on the PCB seen earlier in the review, the priority level of the RAID rebuilding, and whether or not to spin down idle disks to reduce power consumption and noise. SAF-TE is an abbreviation for SCSI Accessed Fault Tolerant Enclosure. This is a hardware-software system whereby advanced chassis can communicate with the software to report temperatures of the system and various system failures. Events can trigger emails so that you can be made aware of any problems with the array, or when the array has completed a rebuild, etc.

 

The Storage Health Inspector reports the current temperature reported by SMART enabled hard drives. In this picture, SMART is not enabled.

 

Enabling SMART on each device reveals the temperature which you can then use to decide on a reasonable maximum threshold temperature that would trigger an alert.

 

Configuration:

If the HighPoint RAID array is not the system drive, you can delete the current array and create a new one. So here the drives are not configured as an array, and you click on Create Array.

 

 

 

Then you can choose the RAID level of the array, the name of the array, which disks to use, and the capacity of the array (as you can create more than one array using the same disks).

 

In this case, I have created a RAID-5 array on four drives. To benefit from the redundancy of RAID-5, you have to let the array initialize. During this time, you can still use the drives, but the fault tolerance will not work. It takes some time to fully initialize four 250GB drives (~7 hours).

Then you can choose the RAID level of the array, the name of the array, which disks to use, and the capacity of the array (as you can create more than one array using the same disks).

 

So, what if the RAID array is your system drive, you don't have a spare hard drive to boot from, and you want to change the RAID level of the array? As long as the new array is not smaller than the old array, you can do the conversion through the software, and even still carry on working on the system!

Here I have clicked on Maintenance, and selected RAID 0 as the new level for the array.

 

Now you can see the RAID array migrating from RAID 5 to RAID 0. This takes a long time, about 10% per hour, so it was quicker for me to reimage the array using another hard drive. If you were in a situation without drive images or spare hard drives, this feature would prove invaluable.

 

I disconnected one of the hard drives in the four drive RAID 5 array to simulate a drive failure. In the software you can see that the array status has changed to Critical, and one of the drives is not listed. You can see the locations of the drives to easily identify the failed (missing) drive.

 

On reconnecting the drive, rebuilding of the array begins. You can see the current progress of the rebuild and when the rebuild has completed.

 

This software interface is the same for both cards. I was impressed by the amount of settings available and features provided, and how easy it was to manage the arrays. Now it is time to assess the performance aspect of the cards.

 

Specifications:

RocketRAID 1740

Host Side Interface PCI@33/66MHz
Device Interface SATA I or SATA II
Number of Channels 4 SATA Channels
Supported RAID Levels RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD
Operating Systems Support Windows, Linux and FreeBSD
RAID Management Tool BIOS
Web based RAID
Management Software and CLI

 

RocketRAID 2300

Host Side Interface PCI-Express x1 (x4, x8 and x16 slot compatible)
Device Interface Serial ATA
Number of Channels 4 Device Channels
Allowed Disk Connection Four (SATA II or SATA I Hard Disks)
Supported RAID Levels RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD
Operating Systems Support Windows, Windows x64 Editions, Linux (open source), FreeBSD (open source) and Mac OS X
RAID Management Tool BIOS
Browser-based RAID Management CLI

 

Features

RocketRAID 1740

 

RocketRAID 2300

 

Testing:

These are not full hardware RAID cards and therefore still rely on the CPU to operate. So one of the first questions that came to mind was: are these cards just PCI/PCI-E versions of onboard RAID? Do they offer any performance advantage over RAID controllers integrated into modern motherboard chipsets?

I decided to test the cards against the RAID controller built into EVGA 680i, which uses an NVidia chipset.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Test Suite:

 

The following tests were run on Windows XP Pro SP2 using a four drive RAID-0 array.

 

HD Tune:

 

 

 

SiSoft Sandra Pro XII:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loading Time:

 

 

 

 

Overall, for RAID-0 in XP, Nvidia RAID beats both HighPoint cards in most tests. The 2300 does come first in Average Read and Random Write, which are arguably the most meaningful and important, apart from access times, which are pretty much equal for each controller.

 

Testing:

The following tests were run on Vista 32-bit using a four drive RAID-0 array.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HD Tune:

 

SiSoft Sandra Pro XII:

 

Loading Time:

 

The test data for RAID-0 in Vista 32-bit is very similar to that in XP. It's interesting to see the flat 47 MB/s write speed of the 1740, and the difference in CPU usage for each card.

 

Testing:

The following tests were run on Vista 64-bit using a four drive RAID-0 array.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HD Tune:

 

SiSoft Sandra Pro XII:

 

Loading Time:

 

OK, so you can see by now that there isn't much variation between operating systems. One thing I encountered was when testing the HighPoint cards in Vista (32 or 64 bit), if the Nvidia RAID controller was enabled in Device Manager, the CPU usage was stuck at ~25% regardless of the task, which had a negative effect on the results. I had to disabled the Nvidia RAID controller to eliminate this CPU usage. This was due to a driver conflict that HighPoint will be rectifying on the next driver release.

 

Testing:

The following tests were run on Windows XP Pro SP2 using a four drive RAID-5 array. Each test was run with a normal RAID-5 array, and with one of the disks disconnected (degraded).

 

 

 

 

 

 

HD Tune:

 

SiSoft Sandra Pro XII:

 

Loading Time:

 

The 2300 performs better than the other two controllers in write tests. Both HighPoint cards use less CPU cycles than the Nvidia RAID controller.

 

Testing:

The following tests were run on Vista 32-bit using a four drive RAID-5 array. Each test was run with a normal RAID-5 array, and with one of the disks disconnected (degraded).

 

 

 

 

 

 

HD Tune:

 

 

 

SiSoft Sandra Pro XII:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loading Time:

 

 

 

 

Again, the 2300 performs very well in write tests. Both HighPoint cards use less CPU cycles than the Nvidia RAID controller and have a slightly faster access time when the array is degraded.

 

Testing:

The following tests were run on Vista 64-bit using a four drive RAID-5 array. Each test was run with a normal RAID-5 array, and with one of the disks disconnected (degraded).

 

 

 

 

 

 

HD Tune:

 

 

 

SiSoft Sandra Pro XII:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loading Time:

 

 

 

 

So the 2300 remains the leader for write performance for RAID 5 arrays compared with the 1740 HighPoint card and Nvidia 680i onboard RAID controller. You can also see both HighPoint cards show a performance advantage for applications when the array is degraded.

 

Conclusion:

Well, that was a lot of testing wasn't it? I wanted to test the cards thoroughly in different operating systems, and for the two most popular RAID levels for most users. Testing for degraded RAID-5 performance was also something I was interested in, and wanted to present the results for in this review.

When I received the cards and read about them on HighPoint's website, I thought that the cards were no more than onboard solutions on a card. They actually prove to give you much more flexible management of the RAID arrays through the user-friendly browser interface, and the RocketRAID 2300 excels in write performance for RAID-5 arrays.

The RocketRAID 1740 seems to really suffer from the smaller bandwidth available on the PCI bus, but makes use of all the speed available to the card. In this way, it would be a decent upgrade for a machine without onboard RAID, or a spare PCI Express slot.

Overall, both cards exceeded my expectations, and I was especially impressed by the performance of the RocketRAID 2300. If you are thinking about adding a RAID-5 array, or are currently using a RAID-5 array through the onboard RAID controller, I can recommend the RocketRAID 2300 as a worthwhile upgrade.

I still feel as though the maximum potential of the hard drives has not been realized with any of the controllers tested in this review, but I'm sure that the only way to get the maximum performance is to invest in a full-hardware RAID controller with an integrated processor and RAM expansion slot, which is, of course, much more expensive.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: