RAID – On-Board or PCI card?

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Setup and Rationale

With the large number of mainboards now available using on-board IDE RAID (chips and ports mounted directly on the mainboard, but not integrated into the Southbridge), and the growing popularity of using these as either standard IDE ports or RAID 0 and RAID 1, I thought it would be interesting to see if there was much difference between this implementation and a PCI card. Three issues came to mind: Speed, installation and compatibility.

Promise seems to be the most popular choice of RAID controller at this time. Not only do they produce and sell cards under their own brand name, but their controller chips, along with the BIOS and drivers, are used by a number of mainboard manufactures when offering on-board IDE RAID. The only other popular choice would be from High Point Technologies, which I may take a look into at a later date. What I wanted to look at, and what is generally used, is a basic software RAID solution. This means that the system CPU is used rather than a dedicated RAID processor (like a higher end setup would do).

What I chose to test with is an MSI K7T Turbo R using the Promise FastTrak 100 Lite controller mounted onboard, and a Promise FastTrak 100 TX2 PCI card installed in a Soyo K7VTA Pro. Both mainboards use the VIA KT133A chipset and are similar in performance, so that should not be an issue in the comparison. Since most users of RAID will be performance oriented I opted to set up a higher end system with an AMD Athlon 1.2GHz 266MHz FSB CPU along with 256MB of PC133 memory in my quest to profile an average power system.

For drives I used a pair of Western Digital 200BB ATA/100 7200 RPM hard disks. Although I have not personally tested all of the different brands, these do appear to be among the faster drives available. Installed at the same time was a GeForce II GTS AGP card, 50X ATA/33 CDROM, D-Link 10/100 PCI network card and a Creative SoundBlaster Live PCI sound card, along with a basic PCI 56K v.90 modem. I used Windows 98 SE with the latest drivers for all devices running at 1024×768/16bit @ 85Hz. Both mainboards were set up for optimal performance, and all Windows settings were automatic.

Note that this is not a look at RAID and what it will do for you, but a look at whether there is a difference between using an on-board solution vs. an add-on PCI card. If you want to know what I think about using RAID in a normal system or what types of usage would benefit from RAID, take a look at the work I’ve already done, since nothing has changed since IDE RAID – Is There A Benefit?

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