IntroductionHighPoint's RocketRAID 2340 - 16 hard drives and 12,000GB of storage
When it comes to storage, there are plenty of controllers out there for you to choose. Most of the time, you don't even need to buy additional hard drive controllers as motherboards these days comes with huge amounts of SATA connectors, some even as many as 10 or more, also offering plenty of RAID options.In previous years, additional controllers were somewhat of a must, as motherboards didn't come with too many IDE or SATA connectors as they do these days and if they did, they didn't necessarily always come with RAID support or much of it. If you wanted huge amount of storage space capabilities, that meant spending extra dollars on an add-on controller card. HighPoint Technologies is one company who has been making these types of products for a long time, over 10 years to be more precise and they've doing quite a good job of it. We have reviewed many controllers from HighPoint in the past, all designed especially for different uses and varying price points. Some are great for home users who simply want to add in a couple extra drives, some expand on it with vast RAID options and others are much more advanced and expensive with server-class features.Today we are going to take a close look at one of HighPoint's very latest controllers and it's one of the most impressive ones we've looked at so far, the RocketRAID 2340. Coming in at a little under $500 USD, it's certainly not a cheap product but its feature list is neither short. Using special Mini-SAS connectors, it allows you to add up to an extra 16 SATA or SATA II hard drives to your system and run in a range of different RAID modes including 0, 1, 5, 10, 50 and JBOD. In fact, it has not just one but two controller chips on the card, which is powered by the PCI Express x8 slot for plenty of bandwidth throughput for extreme storage requirements.Clearly it is designed more for small to medium-sized businesses with quite serious storage requirements. If you've got some cash to spend and are looking for a high-end controller card, which currently gives you the ability to store at least a whooping 12,000 gigabytes of data, using a total of 16 x 750GB drives (I just hope you have a monster-sized case...), you've come to the right place! Let's get started and take a close look at the RocketRAID 2340 product from HPT and see if it is worth the asking price and just how it performs against other recent onboard motherboard controllers in RAID 0 and non-RAID environments.
The PackageThe Package
For the asking price of close on $500 USD (or about $650 AUD), the package is actually quite basic. Having said that though, the package includes everything you will need to make full use of the RocketRAID 2340 controller. Once you've open up the large and stylish-looking box, you are greeted with all of the goodies.
First up you get the card itself which is nothing entirely special to look at along with an extensive manual written in English, which goes into plenty of detail about features and installation. Next up you have a CD that includes drivers (the card works in Windows XP, Windows XP 64-bit, Windows Vista (woo!), Linux and FreeBSD) but as always you should go online first and download the latest drivers. You've also got RAID management software and an electronic copy of the manual.
Most importantly you are also given four Mini-SAS to SATA cables made by the folks over at Foxconn that provide the connection for all of the 16 hard drives. Each Mini-SAS cable has a total of four SATA connectors that are protected by mesh shielding and protected at both ends to avoid cable fray. Our only disappoint with the cables is that they aren't the newer type which are able to lock into place at the hard drive end but at the same time they seem to be much more difficult to remove from hard drives or SATA ports than regular old SATA cables.The cables are all one meter long and while that's going to be a good thing for IT server managers or end-users with huge cases, for the average user with a standard full tower ATX case, it might end up causing some cable clutter issues. At the same time, if you're using a "smaller" full tower ATX consumer case, you probably won't be using all of the include Mini-SAS cables as there isn't enough room inside your cases for that many drives, anyway. During our testing, we just used a single cable and while it does add to cable clutter, they can be easily hidden away, like under your optical drive (like we did) and not hinder vital air flow all that much.The included RAID management software is quite advanced and it allows you to do such things as setup SMTP e-mail alerts that quickly send you out a message when the RAID has failed or something has gone wrong in the setup. For a product of this kind though, you would expect nothing less.
RocketRAID 2340 Close UpHPT's RocketRAID 2340 under the spotlight
As mentioned before, the HPT 2340 card itself ain't nothing all that special to look at. It does include a heatsink for the main chipset and it is needed, it's not just there for looks. During our benchmarking and testing, the chip certainly does heat up but using the ever-so-reliable touch method, it wasn't too hot to touch - I would say on the north side of "warm". Nevertheless, during our time spent with the product, we never experienced any issues. If you do have any problems with the card, you'll be pleased to know there is a three year warranty, which is quite generous, although for the price a lifetime warranty would have been better in our opinion.
When it comes to storage capabilities and features, the RocketRAID 2340 really shines. You can hook up a total of 16 x SATA or SATA II hard disk drives using the four Mini-SAS to SATA cables, that's a total of four drives hooked up per cable. If your boss has given you a huge budget for building your company's next server, you could buy 16 x Seagate 7200.10 750GB drives and that'll give you a huge total of 12,000GB of data storage.
The feature list is huge (as you can see above from the HPT website) but we'll cover some of the main ones that are most important. It is powered by a PCI Express x8 slot which is needed, especially if you intend on using all 16 hard disk drives. The 2340 will work in a regular x8 PCI-E slot along with a full size x16 PCI-E slot but it will only operate at x8 electronically. Since it is fully SATA II compliant, each of the SATA ports offer up to 300MB/s of maximum data throughput and of course, older SATA drives will work just fine.As far as RAID functions go, there are plenty of options with most of your possible needs covered. You've got plain old JBOD, RAID 0 for performance, RAID 1 for redundancy, RAID 5 for performance and redundancy, RAID 10 for even faster performance and redundancy as well as RAID 50 which is RAID 5 and RAID 0 mixed together.Native Command Queuing or NCQ for support is on the features list along with the ability to monitor the hard drives via LED. You've also got the ability of staggered drive spin-up support and hot swap and hot spare functions for replacing drives without shutting down your system. There is 64-bit LBA support which allows you to create large partitions. S.M.A.R.T is another feature that is included which allows you to monitor the drives health inside your OS and if your RAID array happens to die and go to a better place, it supports automatic RAID rebuilding once you add in a new drive to your system.As you can see, it pretty much comes with everything but the kitchen sink. It's easily the most advanced RAID controller we've ever reviewed and is sure to work well in important server environments. Now that we've finished looking at the package and the card itself, let's move onto installation.
InstallationInstallation of the HPT 2340
As far as installation of the RocketRAID 2340 goes, it's really quite simple. If you've ever installed any devices into your expansion slots before, this setup is no different. Although, there are a few conditions to take into consideration before installing the card or building a system or server based around it. Listen up.
During our testing, we used Gigabyte's P965-DQ6 motherboard based on the Intel P965 chipset. It has a couple of PCI Express x16 slots but they don't both operate at x16 lanes electronically. When using a single PCI-E graphics card in the top slot (due to the limitations of the P965 chipset), the second slot will only operate at x4 lanes electrically. And while you'd think that would still be enough bandwidth available for everyone to play nicely together, because there are in fact two HPT controller chips on the RocketRAID 2340, performance is actually halved as we proved during testing - RAID 0 burst rate speeds were almost exactly half of what the performance should be when provided the full x8 lanes of bandwidth.The cure was quite simple - we simply removed the RAID controller and the graphics card and switched them around. Now the HPT 2340 was operating at its full x8 lanes bandwidth in the top slot and the graphics card was kicked back down to x4 lanes in the second slot. Now while this won't be ideal for gamers who demand high frames per second in their games, the RocketRAID 2340 was not designed for gamer systems or these types of users and should not be much of a concern. If you're a gamer and can afford this type of RAID controller, just buy a motherboard which provides x8 lanes of bandwidth to the second or third PCI-E x16 slots and then you're good to go.
Next up and once you've installed the card into your motherboard, it's time for adding your SATA or SATA II drives to the controller card. Grab one of the Mini-SATA to SATA cables and plug into one of the four ports on the card. Then all you need to do is attach the drives required as you would with any regular SATA cable. The Mini-SAS cables shout nothing but quality and they clip securely into the controller card and it's not going to come out even if you pull it very hard - we tried! You can remove the cables by pushing down on the clip and then it is released from the port. Our only dislike about the cable setup is the fact that the part of the SATA cable that plugs into your drives seem to be the old version without any clip to lock the cable in place. Although, the cables seem to be a little different and they do provide a secure connection from cable to drive port - we didn't experience any issues here.Setting up RAID in the RocketRAID 2340 BIOS is very simple and probably won't even require looking at the manual unless you are a RAID virgin. Hit CTRL + H when you see the blue BIOS screen during POST and then after a couple of seconds, you're into the setup area. After you have initialize the drives, you then choose which drives to use for the RAID array - just select what type of RAID you want to use and the RAID is built very quickly. The only thing I don't like about the BIOS is the amount of time it adds to your system boot-up, it takes almost a full four seconds for the system to pass the HighPoint BIOS screen.The controller has support for INT13 BIOS booting, so you can select in your motherboard BIOS if you want to boot from one of the RAID arrays on the controller. The drivers include F6 drivers for Windows setup and make sure you have them handy as you will need them if you want to install Windows on drives, partitions or arrays connected to the controller. Otherwise, just load up your OS and then you'll be promoted to install the drivers for the RAID controller. It's really a piece of cake and just requires a single reboot to get things up and running. If you're using Windows, just visit the storage section of Administrative Tools in the Control Panel, initialize the drive, format it and then you are ready to go.Installation is dead simple and I reckon even my mother could succeed if she really set her mind to it and she's only just mastered MSN Messenger. Server admins will probably find it too easy
and eventually will probably be able to do it with their eyes closed. Just keep in mind the issues with bandwidth lanes available on your PCI Express slots (research things before buying!) and you won't have any issues at all. It even already has driver support for Windows Vista 32-bit and 64-bit and that's something we applaud.Now that the card is installed, our RAID array is setup and ready to go, let's see how this $500 USD monster performs against other RAID controllers from Intel and Jmicron.
Benchmarks - Test System SetupTest System SetupProcessor
: Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 @ 2.66GHz (266MHz FSB x 10) (Supplied by Intel
: Gigabyte P965-DQ6 (Supplied by Gigabyte
: 2x 1GB Kingston DDR2-1000 Hyper-X @ DDR-800Hard Disk
: 2 x Seagate 7200.10 320GB SATA II (16MB cache buffer) in RAID 0 and singleGraphics Card
: XFX GeForce 7900GS (Supplied by XFX
) Operating System
: Microsoft Windows XP SP2Drivers
: Latest XP updates, RocketRAID 2340 v1.01, Intel INF 126.96.36.1990 and Jmicron R1.17.08
Now that we have covered the package, card and installation of the HPT RocketRAID 2340, it's time to move onto the benchmarks and check out what type of performance is on offer.Gauging the performance of the HPT controller, we have put it up against the impressive Intel ICH8R Southbridge on the Gigabyte DQ6 motherboard along with the two port Jmicron JMB36x controller chip also found on the same board. The ICH8R has an advantage in that it communicates directly with the CPU via a fast link, data from the HPT controller first needs to travel along the PCI Express bus, through the Southbridge and then on to the CPU. The ICH8R has already proven to be a very good chipset in terms of SATA performance, so it will be interesting to see how the HPT controller performs against it, considering it has some added latency involved in its data process.We have used a whole bunch of different tests - using a couple of Seagate's impressive 7200.10 SATA II hard disk drives (which I reckon offer unbeatable performance for the price), we've tested in a RAID environment using RAID 0 arrays and in non-RAID with single drive. We've used a range of different applications and benchmarks which should adequately demonstrate the performance of the RocketRAID 2340 controller against other modern controllers that are featured on many recent motherboards.We already have established that the HPT 2340 RAID controller is one of the best we've ever seen in the features department but all of that doesn't mean jack if performance is sub-standard. Let's get this show on the road and see how this thing performs!
Benchmarks - SiSoft SandraSiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used:
XIDeveloper Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (S
iagnostic and R
ssistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
In our first test we use the drive index benchmark in Sandra XI which measures the drives read speed.As you can see, the ICH8R and RocketRAID 2340 RAID controller are about even in single drive configurations and they are not far off maxing out the performance of the hard drive itself. When it comes to RAID 0 though, the 2340 shows its true colors and provides a read speed of 144MB/s. Keep in mind that the maximum sustained theoretical transfer speed of Seagate's 7200.10 drives are 78MB/s (for a single drive) and that's quite impressive with all considered.
Benchmarks - HD SpeedHD SpeedVersion and / or Patch Used:
188.8.131.52Developer Homepage: http://www.steelbytes.comProduct Homepage: http://www.steelbytes.com/?mid=20
Measures both sustained and burst data transfer rates of your hard disks, cd/dvd-roms and floppy.
First up under HD Speed we have the average read speeds which show a similar result to Sandra XI. Before saying anymore, we want you to remember that Seagate claim that their single 7200.10 SATA drives are capable of a maximum sustained data transfer rate of 78MB/s. Both controllers from Intel do a very good job of almost maxing out the single drives sustainable performance shy of just 4MB/s - efficiency is brilliant!Next are the average writing speeds which put the Intel ICH8R and RocketRAID 2340 very close together. This is impressive considering data coming across the HPT controller has added latency, since it needs to travel a little further. Comparing the Jmicron and the HPT controllers in RAID 0 sees the 2340 coming out ahead by a considerable margin.Here is our first look at burst speeds and whether or not you consider these numbers important, it's interesting to look at for peak data transfer rates. For some reason, the Jmicron controller showed very slow results. We are starting to see the speed and potential of the 2340 controller nearing 370MB/s - in comparison, the ICH8R with RAID 0 will attain around 400MB/s as there is less latency involved with its more direct link up. As far as single drive confirmations goes, Intel ICH8R has the lead so far.Moving on!
Benchmarks - HD TachHD TachVersion and / or Patch Used:
184.108.40.206Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTachAs far as average read speeds go on the non-RAID setups, Intel and HighPoint are pretty well tied up again. In RAID 0, the HPT controller shows its strength just muscling out the Jmicron controller, which also runs through the PCI Express bus, and hence gives it the same type of latency penalty as the HPT controller.