Introduction, Specifications, Pricing and Availability
We've used the LSI 9260-8i for the past year to test multiple drive RAID arrays. The choice was pretty clear after testing the 9260-8i against several other hardware RAID controllers since it offered such a well designed software interface and blazing fast performance. The real standout feature, though, was the software interface used to build and manage arrays.
Today we are taking a look at the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e, the flagship model in the MegaRAID lineup. The 9280 Series uses the same MegaRAID Storage Manager Software that we feel is the best in the industry and also shares all of the cutting edge features, like SSD Guard. The 9280-24i4e does have a big advantage over our daily use MegaRAID controller and that is its ability to run 24 internal SATA / SAS ports and an additional 4 external ports at the same time. This is done without port multipliers and all SATA / SAS connections go back to the MegaRAID 9280-24i4e.
Before we get too deep into the specifications and features, let's just move along to that section and take a look at it all at once.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e is a beast when it comes to connectivity. There are six internal SFF-8087 connectors and each has the ability to connect to four drives. That gives users twenty-four internal connectors to be used for RAID. An additional SFF-8088 port is on the back of the controller and adds an additional four ports. These can be used with additional port multipliers giving the user up to 240 SATA / SAS targets. On the other end the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e connects to the host through a PCIe 2.0 8 lane bus.
When it comes to the architecture, the heart is the 800MHz RAID on Chip and SAS Expander. Accompanying the RoC is a 512MB 800MHz DDR2 module that is built onboard the PCB. This does mean that the cache module is not upgradable, but there is a good reason why as well. LSI uses a predictive cache system that enhances the cache by making it 'smart'. The smart cache doesn't really reveal itself in normal benchmark testing, but in real world tests and special built synthetic tests we can see the difference.
The cache system is just the start of the special feature list. Our personal favorite is SSD Guard, a special feature that keeps your SSD array safe, also a first for RAID controllers. The LSI 9280-24i4e has several such features, but if what is included doesn't fulfill your every need, LSI has some advanced software add-on packages as well.
When it comes to pricing, Newegg currently lists the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e for 1,285 USD, but we were able to find the best price at Provantage - 1192.37 USD.
LSI uses the same controller packaging for many of their MegaRAID products, but changes the stickers for each model. On the top left corner we see the LSI MegaRAID SAS 9280-24i4e listed and its 24 internal port and 4 external port information.
The side of the package lists some of the general features that are shared throughout the new MegaRAID product line.
The back of the package also lists some general information about the MegaRAID Series of products and talks about the advanced RAID features and management software.
Specific information about the 9280-24i4e is shown on the side of the package.
The internal packaging is very tidy with the controller card wrapped in an anti-static bag. The manuals and driver disk are located under the cardboard panel.
Here we take a look at the accessory package. It consists of a quick installation manual, RoHS document and a driver disc that also contains a full manual.
The LSI MegaRAID SAS 9280-24i4e
Here we get our first look at the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e. On the top is a large heat sink that keeps the controller and accompanying chips cool. There are six SFF-8087 ports that each carry four channels and on the back is an SFF-8088 external port that carries an additional four channels.
The back side of the controller is fairly uneventful other than a few surface mount components.
Here we see the external I/O panel that has the SFF-8088 port for connecting the 9280-24i4e to an external storage array.
On the side of the controller we see the four SFF-8087 internal ports.
The back side of the controller carries the additional two SFF-8087 ports.
The controller connects to your server through a PCIe 2.0 x8 lane port. You can also install the controller in a full length x16 port.
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI and Noctua.
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
We learned quite a bit from testing the HighPoint RocketRAID 2760 with 24 Crucial RealSSD C300 SSDs. For the LSI test we had the power issues down and reduced the number of PSUs needed to get 24 drives up and running. Making an appearance again are the fastest SSDs currently available on the market today, the Crucial RealSSD C300. We used 24 of them in RAID 0 and RAID 5.
It should be mentioned that the LSI MegaRAID 9280 is a high end RAID controller with many, many options. One option that will allow users to 'tune' performance is block size. It is possible to tune your RAID array for sequential transfer performance (larger block sizes) or high IOPS (smaller block sizes). LSI offers a handful of settings, but we used the largest block size available since the Crucial RealSSD C300 is able to deliver all of the IOPS you could ever need.
For a comparison, we are pairing the new LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e against the HighPoint RocketRAID 2760 and Areca ARC-1880ix-24 that we tested with 24 drives previously. The 2760 is a software RAID controller, but the LSI and Areca are hardware RAID controllers. This means that the HighPoint uses CPU cycles and the others use their own onboard processors to calculate transactional data. All were tested with 24 Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB drives.
LSI offers specific features for solid state drives and is the first RAID controller manufacturer that we know of to include SSD specific settings. We chose to run tests with the MegaRAID FastPath option enabled. LSI describes FastPath as:
LSI MegaRAID FastPath optimization software provides a high performance I/O accelerator, designed to dramatically boost transactional application throughput of multiple SSDs connected to a 6Gb/s SATA+SAS MegaRAID controller. MegaRAID FastPath software supports full optimization of SSD Virtual Disk groups to deliver a 3X improvement in read and write I/Os per second (IOPS) compared to the previous generation product.
ATTO Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.
In ATTO we were able to see read and write speeds breaking the 1000MB/s mark. It is possible to tune your performance to different block sizes, so your results will differ from mine as you try new settings.
Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro
HD Tune Pro
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00
Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com
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
HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.
In sequential read across the array the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e was able to deliver nearly 1200MB/s average with both RAID 0 and RAID 5. This was faster than both the Areca and HighPoint controllers.
The write performance across the array was solid and very fast. With so many high speed drives we are limited by the PCIe bus obviously, but they give us the opportunity to find the barriers. At the same time running SSDs in RAID give us issues with TRIM and performance degradation and that is why we see the minimum write speed drop to half of the write speed.
Benchmarks - Everest Random Access Time
Everest Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.60
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Everest Ultimate and Corporate Edition offer several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.
Drives with only one or two tests displayed in write the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron.
The LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e was able to keep the read access times very low. The onboard 512MB of cache aided in giving us lower access times than we are able to get with a single C300 on an Intel ICH. Access time is what gives SSDs their advantage over platter drives.
I was very surprised to see the very low write access time delivered by the RAID 0 array; it was half that of the RAID 5 array. The RAID 5 write access time was still very low.
Benchmarks - Crystal Disk Mark
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview
Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info
Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html
Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark
CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software.
* Sequential reads/writes
* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
* Text copy
* Change dialog design
* internationalization (i18n)
Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 is not available to the public yet, but the Technical Preview does allow us to test 4K performance at queue depths of 4 and 32 in addition to 1. The current release Crystal Disk Mark only shows us QD 1.
In CDM we are looking at the 4K read speeds. Here we see that the LSI MegaRAID in the block size we choose for testing didn't fare as well as the Areca controller did. This is one of the areas where users can tune performance, so we aren't too worried about seeing the lower 4K results. CDM is used by many enthusiasts as a benchmark standard and it is impossible to ignore the massive, over 2000MB/s sequential read scores from the MegaRAID.
The 4K write speeds can also be tuned to your liking by adjusting the block sizes. We are preparing an article that will explain and demonstrate this in the coming weeks. Look for it soon.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.
HDD1 - Windows Defender
HDD2 - Gaming
HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery
HDD4 - Vista Startup
HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker
HDD6 - Windows Media Center
HDD7 - Windows Media Player
HDD8 - Application Loading
Desktop users will want to pay close attention to these benchmarks if building an array to boot your system off of. The LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e isn't your typical desktop adapter and it wasn't designed to be.
Benchmarks - AS SSD
AS SSD Benchmark
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358
Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9
AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.
In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).
Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.
- Copy Benchmark
The LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e would make a great addition to a large storage server. In RAID 0 we managed to approach 1500MB/s. Holding that much data without redundancy isn't very wise, though. Most users will opt for a more conservative RAID 5 or RAID 6 array. In RAID 5 we managed to transfer program files at over 600MB/s. Things got even better when mixing large and small file sizes in the game test - This test delivered transfer rates of over 850MB/s.
Benchmarks - Passmark
Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com
Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com
Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.
The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.
The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.
The LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e is designed for tasks like what we are looking at in these tests. Here we see the controller putting up some respectable numbers.
We're really just scratching the surface here today with the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e. With all of the advanced features, configuration options and total control offered by the MegaRAID Management Software, we could tune performance for each and every benchmark and real world application if we had the time. Network administrators setting up SAN storage systems and datacenters will find that not only has LSI given them the tools to make their systems perform at peak levels, but also made it easy with some of the best software we've ever worked with.
When it comes to performance, the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e is able to deliver every drop available from the PCIe 2.0 x8 lane and it even outperforms the HighPoint RocketRAID 2760 that uses a full x16 lane. With up to 24 internal and an additional 4 external drives attached to the controller without additional expanders, you are going to hit the PCIe 2.0 x8 limits fairly quickly, but it is nice to know that the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e is able to give everything you have available.
The cost of the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e might be a bit high for the guy looking to build a home media sever; it is quite a bit lower than what we expected to find for an enterprise class, flagship RAID controller. We managed to find the LSI MegaRAID 9280-24i4e at Provantage for 1192.37 at the time of writing. Just a few days prior, we found the flagship 9280-24i4e at Buy.com for 1080 USD, but while writing this article the deal disappeared. Be sure to take a look there before making your purchase.