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Areca ARC-1231ML SATA RAID 6 Controller

Areca has sent us a RAID 6 equipped PCI-E x8 SATA Controller. If you're serious about your storage, check it out.
@TweakTown
Cameron Johnson
Published Wed, Jun 25 2008 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:27 PM CDT
Rating: 85%Manufacturer: Areca

Introduction

IntroductionTaking a break from motherboards does have its advantages; it allows me to get into something different, and there is nothing further from the motherboard scene than storage controllers. While motherboards do come with a good array of mass storage expansions thanks to six SATA ports now being the industry standard, hardcore users simply want more, and servers need more; it's just that simple. So, where do you turn to when you run out of ports on the motherboard? - To a discrete solution of course! - There are many companies out there providing a huge array of cards.Areca is a new company to TweakTown; we haven't been graced with any products from them until now, and as always we are more than happy to oblige them with some testing of their products. Today they have sent one of their biggest cards for SATA-II expansion. In our labs we have been sent the ARC-1231ML 12 channel SATA-II Controller. Let's get stuck right into it.

Specifications

Specifications of the Areca ARC-1231MLAdapter Architecture Intel IOP333 I/O processor PCI-Express X8 bus One DDR2 DIMM socket256MB on-board DDR2-533 SDRAM with ECC protection Write-through or write-back cache support Support up to 4/8/12/16 SATA II drives Multi-adapter support for large storage requirements BIOS boot support for greater fault tolerance BIOS PnP (plug and play) and BBS (BIOS boot specification) support Intel RAID 6 Engine to support extreme performance RAID 6 NVRAM for RAID event & transaction log Redundant flash image for adapter availability Battery Backup Module (BBM) ready RoHS Compliant RAID Features RAID level 0, 1, 10(1E), 3, 5, 6 (if RAID 6 engine supported) and JBOD Multiple RAID selection Array roaming Online RAID level/stripe size migration Online RAID capacity expansion and RAID level migration simultaneously Instant availability and background initialization Automatic drive insertion/removal detection and rebuild Greater than 2TB per volume set Support S.M.A.R.T, NCQ and OOB Staggered Spin-up capable drives Support spin down drivers when not in use to extend service life (MAID) Monitors/Indicators System status indication through HDD activity/fault connector, LCD Connector and alarm buzzer SMTP support email notification SNMP support for remote notification I2C Enclosure management ready Software Drivers Windows 2000/XP (Scsiport Driver) Windows Server 2003 (Scsiport Driver and Storport Driver) Redhat Linux and SuSE Linux FreeBSD Solaris 10x86 UnixWare 7.1.x Netware 6.5

The Box and What's Inside

Package and Contents
Being a server class product, we aren't expecting much in terms of the external boxes. After all, most of these purchases are done by companies with IT managers who know what they are after already. However, Areca does go for a nice looking box for the enthusiast who wants this card. On the front there is a picture showing the two different PCB versions available.Since the front had the photos of the products, the back is dedicated to a huge array of features and specs. In fact, they are the exact same specs we have listed on our specifications page.
For a RAID controller, the users manual that is supplied is like a phone book. Areca uses one manual for all the different variants of the same card, depending on how many ports it has. The Driver CD included has Windows XP, Server, Vista and quite a few different variants of the Linux OS drivers onboard; so whatever you're running, you should find the driver on this CD.
Rather than using a huge amount of SATA ports along the PCB, Areca has cheated and used MiniSAS ports. Each MiniSAS port supports four drives, and three special cables are included for the 12 drive support this card has.

The Controller Card

The Areca Controller Card
For a SATA controller card, this baby is huge. It measures the same length as an 8800GTS graphics card, and in weight it's almost the same, too. This is because of the layout and how much has to be packed onto the PCB. The card uses a PCI-E x8 interface using 1.1 specs.
Being a hardware based controller card, cache memory is used in order to increase the speed of the transfer rate, allowing the onboard processor to store the incoming and outgoing data. The module is a standard 256MB DDR2 SDRAM module running at 667MHz; you can install anything from 256MB up to 2GB to increase the cache size, which in turn will increase the overall system performance in RAID mode.
While the processor onboard handles the RAID 6 hardware engine, the actual RAID controller chips (one Marvell 88SX6041 and a 88SX6081 RAID chip), each handle six of the SATA ports and are dual-link combined to allow the 12 drives to be included into a single RAID array.
Rather than populating the PCB with 12 single SATA ports, MiniSAS ports are used that allow for four ports per single multi-channel port. This allows for more SATA ports by using MiniSAS to SATA cables; a much better (and cleaner) option overall.
One nifty feature is the ability to monitor the RAID arrays though a LAN. To that end, the controller has a built-in LAN port that connects to any standard Ethernet, allowing for monitoring and RAID array manipulation. You don't have to be at the PC in order to affect the RAID array, it's all done though a HTML process.

Test System Setup and HD Tach

Test System Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 @ 3.16GHz (9.5x333MHz)Motherboard: GIGABYTE X48T-DQ6 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)Memory: 2x 1GB DDR3-1600XMP OCZ (Supplied by OCZ)Hard Disk: 2x 500GB HDD's (Western Digital and Seagate)Graphics Card: MSI GeForce 8800GTS 640MB (Supplied by MSI) Cooling: GIGABYTE 3D Galaxy II (Supplied by GIGABYTE)Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista SP1Drivers: nForce Driver 15.17, Forceware 175.16Our test bed has recently changed; we now use the X48T-DQ6 which has a second PCI Express x16 slot running off the Northbridge. This helps give PCI-E controller cards as much bandwidth as they can handle. We have pit the Areca card against the Promise SuperTrack STEX8650 card, since both support SATA and have 256MB onboard cache. However, this won't make much difference as it only works in RAID 6 mode.HD TachVersion and / or Patch Used: 3.0.1.0Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.comProduct Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTach
HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:- Benchmark: measures the performance - Info: shows detailed information- Health: checks the health status by using SMART - Error Scan: scans the surface for errors - Temperature display HD Tune may also work with other storage devices such as memory cards, USB sticks, iPods, etc.
Burst speeds are identical across the board; it's only the Areca's sustained speeds that give it a slight lead.

Benchmarks - Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0

Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/Buy It Here
Our test with Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 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.
Lastly, we move into real world applications. Premiere Elements was asked to add in over 200 transitions to a movie, transcode it and save. Here the Areca manages to just get a few seconds off the encode times.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsWhen you're considering an add-in RAID controller, you have to know exactly what you're after otherwise you may end up disappointed. The Areca controller card has the best of both worlds; supporting enterprise class storage, backup and monitoring, as well as providing a huge array of ports for the enthusiast file server who wants Terabytes to store their movies on and keep them safe. With 12 drives total, it's hard to even consider maxing this card out. The only downside is that you need to use a x8 or x16 PCI-E slot, or a universal slot to run this card on, as it needs a real lot of bandwidth with 12 drives running.Overall, the Areca card gave us no problems with installs; the drivers worked straight out of the box, and the array setup was as simple as any motherboard based RAID setup, so it's not rocket science getting this thing to work.
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