IntroductionSerial ATA's introduction into the storage world was greeted with enthusiasm as well as scepticism. Was it any better? Was it faster than current technology? Would it be another RAMBUS blunder being a serial technology?First brought to the market by Intel on the ICH5 series southbridge, its inclusion was simply to introduce the technology. Only sporting two SATA ports with RAID on the ICH5R, it was in no way able to take the place of Parallel ATA, especially since ICH5's SATA controller did not support any ATAPI SATA devices (like DVD drives) which would be a requirement to get rid of Parallel ATA altogether. The ICH6 series of southbridges started to see the demise of the IDE interface, as Intel stripped off one of the two IDE channels and also added two extra SATA ports, all of which supported ATAPI devices, though only first generation SATA speeds.ICH7 saw the introduction of 3Gbps SATA to Intel desktops. Intel fell behind the likes of Nvidia who introduced SATA-II months before Intel released the ICH7. In terms of features, ICH7 only saw SATA-II added, no extra SATA or IDE ports were added or removed. ICH8 saw the introduction of six SATA ports supporting SATA 2.5 specs, this including hot swap and eSATA support. Unfortunately though, Intel was mistaken in removing IDE altogether from the ICH8 series, making it the first Intel chipset to be SATA only. Most boards with ICH8 use an IDE chip running off the PCI-Express bus to keep everyone happy. ICH9 is Intel's latest update to the southbridge, sporting six SATA ports with the ability to use port multipliers if motherboard vendors wish to. This is especially helpful if you want to run eSATA and internal SATA off the existing six ports. While southbridge SATA controllers have advanced, we can't forget add-on cards. When you run out of ports on your board, it's time to slap in an extra card with SATA, and one of the biggest players is HighPoint.HighPoint has been on the front of the peripherals storage add-on for the last five years. HighPoint was rather slow to start adopting native SATA chips, but rather used its own IDE chips with PATA to SATA bridges. This was okay for generation one drives, but gen two drives supporting 3Gbps and NCQ simply won't cut it on a bridge chip. Today we are looking at HighPoint's dedicated PCI-Express eSATA controller card. What does it do and how does it stack up? Let's take a look!
Inside the Box
Package and Contents
HighPoint's packaging over the years has changed. Previous products were shipped in a yellow, green and red box design. White and blue is now the package design from HighPoint. HighPoint does a good job on its packages as you get a full colour photo of the product on the front of the box, along with a brief description of the main supported features of the card.
The back of the box contains a lot more info on the card as well as a second colour photo of the product. HighPoint provides a lot of market info, especially in relation to using external storage enclosures as well as the ability to support port multiplier function.
As always, a good product has to be matched with good accessories and documentation. HighPoint has a very good user manual for the controller which includes instructions for both the BIOS setup and software interface in Windows and Linux.
HighPoint includes four eSATA data cables, each measuring one metre long. These cables are half the maximum length that eSATA is capable of supporting, Two metres is the maximum per cable but HighPoint has gone the safe way with half-length.
The Controller Card
Now it's down to the card. One thing about the PCI-Express interface is that it allows for smaller PCB's. HighPoint uses a small as possible PCB while still finding room to pack on all of the features. The RocketRAID 2314 is part of the 2xxx series of cards which support SATA 2.5 specifications. This includes 3Gbps transfer rates, hot swapping capabilities and also the now ratified eSATA specifications. The card interfaces with the computer through a PCI-Express x4 bus. You require a PCI-Express x4, x8 or x16 slot to run this card. It won't fit into an x1 slot unless it's a universal slot, and even then it will only operate at x1 speeds.
HighPoint has not produced any of its own chips for over three years; in fact the last chip that HighPoint produced itself was the HPT374 4 Channel IDE RAID controller which was used as a SATA controller with Marvell PATA to SATA converters on the board. As of late all of HighPoint's controllers use Marvell chipsets. The 2314 uses the latest Marvell 88SX7042 PCI-Express x4 chipset. This chip has PCIe x4 bus support as well as support for four native SATA 3Gbps ports. The unique feature of this controller chip is that it is fully capable of supporting Port Multiplier function. Before we go any further we want to give a bit of info on what Port Multiplier is and how it works. Serial ATA is a Point-to-Point serial interface that connects your hard drive to the computer through a 7-pin serial cable. Being serial in nature means that it can be duplicated to support more devices on a single port, similar to how USB works. Port Multiplier works in a similar fashion to a USB hub, converting one Serial ATA port into two or more. A four port multiplier is the highest that is currently able to be supported, so one port can be turned into four. This is where the similarities end between USB and SATA port multipliers.While USB devices on a single port share the bandwidth equally at the same time (i.e. If you have four devices on one USB port, those four devices share the 480Mbps amongst themselves, depending on what needs the most bandwidth), Serial ATA Port Multiplier works by recognising all of the devices attached to it, but only one is accessed at a time. One drive gets all the bandwidth until the other is accessed, and then that drive gets all the bandwidth. This does have the advantage of giving the best possible speeds to the drive being accessed, but if you want to copy from one drive to another on the same port, it will be much slower than if you wanted to copy from drive to drive on different channels due to the switching nature of the Port Multiplier. In the event you are copying from drive A to drive B on the same port, it will require caching the data to the system memory, switching from drive A to B through the port multiplier and then dumping the data from system memory to drive B. Then you would need to switch back to drive A to copy more data.
Four eSATA ports line the rear of the I/O cover plate. This is how you get access to the ports. eSATA is identical to Serial ATA in its signalling, there is no conversion of signal from SATA to eSATA like there is from PATA to SATA. eSATA uses extra shielding on its ports which allows for the extra length cables.
Lastly, on the back of the card is the HighPoint HPT601 hot swap chip which allows for the drives to be removed and plugged in under an OS without having to restart the system.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and PCMark
Test System SetupProcessor: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel)Motherboard: Gigabyte P35-DQ6 (Supplied by Gigabyte)Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair)Hard Disk: 2x 250GB Seagate 7200.9 SATA-II (Supplied by Seagate)Graphics Card: 2x MSI Radeon X1950 Pro in Crossfire (Supplied by MSI) Cooling: Gigabyte Neon775 (Supplied by Gigabyte)Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2Drivers: Intel INF 184.108.40.2063, ATI Catalyst 7.3 and HighPoint RR2314 2.0Today we have a new test system setup as we are now moving from an ICH8 based board to the ICH9 series. This southbridge hasn't provided any faster transfer rates than the ICH8, but we like to stick with the latest. We have pitted the HighPoint RocketRAID 2314 against the ICH9R southbridge using a RAID 0 array since it provides the fastest speeds possible out of all of the RAID formats. While not as secure as RAID 5 or 10, it's still the choice for gamers and enthusiasts when it comes to pure speed.We used the ICH9R's southbridge RAID along with the built-in JMicron RAID (also in RAID 0) controller that Gigabyte puts on its board. We also did single drive tests comparing eSATA to external USB HDD enclosures.Let's get this show on the road! PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.3.0Developer Homepage:http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage:http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
In our first tests, the ICH9R and RocketRAID perform identically. This could be partly due to the use of the PCI-Express x4 bus for extra data transfer rates between the controller and the PC itself.Our single drive tests were not run here because we can't run Windows off a USB drive.
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0 is performed with a raw two hour AVI file. It is then compressed into DivX format using the latest version codec. We measure the time it takes to encode and then record CPU usage.
Rather than doing just an encode test which looks at the CPU and Memory bandwidth, we put a number of transitions in and made it save direct to the drives on each controller. This allowed us to see how long it took to do an entire render and encode process.Under RAID setup, ICH9R and HighPoint tied it up again. In single drive mode the eSATA transfer is like just using a HDD on a direct SATA port, whilst the USB drive chugs along at its slow pace.
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