Highpoint RocketRAID 2320 - Servers go SATA PCI-E

Today we are looking at the Highpoint RocketRAID 2320 controller which offers SATA-II support over the PCI Express bus.

4 minutes & 52 seconds read time


Servers have been the one place that bandwidth has been the ultimate goal. Servers are simply super computers put together in order to handle extremely intense computing tasks. It's not uncommon to see two or more processors in a server, with the limit now hitting eight thanks to AMD Opteron, and with Dual Core CPU's you get a total of 16 working CPU's on an 8 way Opteron system. It's clear this setup can really crunch some numbers, but if you can't get the data to the CPU fast enough, it's like having a Lamborghini and putting second hand bald tyres on it - you are just going to be spinning your wheels when you want to put the power down.

Servers have been held back in bandwidth terms because of the aging PCI bus. While the expansion of the PCI bus has included the 64-bit, 133MHz versions, it is still a parallel bus sharing its data with other PCI devices, and running these speeds means a large, expansive PCB for the expansion cards, and a rather large slot real estate on the board.

PCI Express has now come to the rescue, with a PCI-E x16 slot taking up about the same size as a regular PCI slot and offering up to 8GB/s transfer rates, it's easy to see why Parallel buses are now starting to go extinct on the PC architecture.

Mass Storage controllers are one of the biggest things in the server industry, with space needing to be in the Terabytes, you are going to need to add in additional controller cards and this is where PCI Express and Highpoint come in.

Today we are looking at the first PCI Express SATA-II RAID controller card to come from Highpoint into our labs. Today we intend to see just how good this little baby is compared to standard PCI RAID controllers as well as the only Serial ATA PCI-E controller on the market, the Silicon Image 3132 controller.

Package and Contents

The box that Highpoint ships its controller card in differs from the normal layout that Highpoint is known for. Usually the boxes from Highpoint are green, gold, red and white. This one features a white and blue box with some basic info printed on the front.

The back of the box shows a bit more info as well as a layout and explanation of the cards circuitry layout, so you know what you're getting.

In terms of cables and accessories, Highpoint includes 8 SATA cables that measure just over 60cm each - quite long. This though is a rather handy feature as the cases that this card will most likely be installed in will be large towers with lots of HDD bays.

In terms of documentation and drivers, Highpoint includes one user manual with all the installation procedures as well as explanations for the accompanying software. While short, the manual does give a good description of what you will need to do and how to setup the controller.

Last on the list that you get is a special cross over cable and a half height PCI expansion bracket. If using in U1 server cases, this bracket will be needed to allow installation. The cross over cable is used to link two of the same cards together to allow spanning across the two cards, allowing for a 16 device chain. This feature we covered in our review of the RocketRAID 2220.

The Card

The card itself is a half height half length server sized card using the PCI Express x4 interface to communicate with the motherboard. This baby will fit into a x4, x8 or x16 slot on any PCI-E based motherboard. You can put it into a x2 or x1 universal slot, but only if its an open ended slot. The front of the card houses the SATA ports, controller chips and the LED jumpers.

The back of the card is rather bare. Only the BIOS chip as well as the Highpoint HPT601 hot swap control chip is located here.

To power the card, Highpoint has chosen to uses its rival, Marvell's 88SX6081-BCZ controller chip. This chip is the first to support PCI Express on a large SATA scale. The chip support up to eight SATA-II or SATA-I devices on a single chip with the ability to span link two cards together to give a total of 16 drives in a single array, very large redundancies available here. The chip also supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD functions, though why JBOD or RAID 0 would be used in a server environment is beyond me, but the features are there.

You will notice a rather large heatsink just to the left of the unit. This covers an Intel SAF-TE controller chip. SAF-TE or SCSI Addressed Fault Tolerance Enclosure is a specification of defined SCSI commands for setting drive status. This allows the controller to monitor the status of the drive's RPM, SMART, temperature, drive enclosure status (if it has a drive in it, if the door is locked and powered up) as well as various other inputs. SAF-TE supports SCSI, SATA and IDE based RAID array statuses, meaning it's fully compatible with the controller and not just a patched job for status monitoring.

At the end of the card are the SATA ports stacked on top of each other in rows of two. This allows using the minimum amount of PCB space while fitting the entire amount of ports in and a small pezos buzzer is included to warn the user if a fault has occurred.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and PCMark

Test System Setup

Processor: Intel Pentium D 840 (800MHz FSB) (Supplied by Intel)
Memory: 2x 512MB Corsair DDR2-800
Motherboard: ASUS P5N32-SLI, ASUS P5WD2 (Supplied by ASUS)
Hard Disk: 2x Seagate 7200.9 (Supplied by Seagate)
Graphics Card: ATI Radeon X800XT Platinum (Supplied by ASUS)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP SP2

In our testings we are going to compare the Highpoint controller against the following: nVidia's onboard RAID controller, Intel's onboard SATA RAID controller and the Silicon Image 3132 RAID controller.

We have chosen these for the following reasons. The nVidia SATA RAID controller is included in the nForce 4 Pro series chipsets. The Intel ICH7R SATA controller is used on Intel Xeon boards of late and the Silicon Image as it's the only other PCI Express based SATA RAID controller on the market.


Version and / or Patch Used: 2005 Build 1.1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product 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.

Here we can see that the Highpoint controller manages to just edge ahead of the onboard controllers and well ahead of the Silicon Image 3132 chip.

Benchmarks - HD Tach

HD Tach

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.simplisoftware.com/Public/index.php?request=HdTachBuy It Here

HD Tach has been around for a long time and is excellent when it comes to testing hard drive performance. It is also a very handy program when it comes to testing the controller used on particular motherboards. Tests such as Read, CPU Utilization and Burst are available at a click of the button and give you a good idea of how the hard drive can perform from system to system.

HD Tach puts the RocketRAID 2320 on equal grounds with the nVidia onboard controller and ahead of the other two in the pack.

Benchmarks - File Copy Tests

X-Bit Labs File Copy Test

Version and / or Patch Used: 0.5.3
Developer Homepage: http://www.xbitlabs.com
Product Homepage: http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/storage/display/fc-test.html

X-Bit Labs File Copy Test is a real world benchmark used to measure the performance of IDE subsystems. In this test, we time how long it takes to copy 2.3GB worth of data (four x 590MB files) onto the same hard disk drive with File Copy Test program optimizations disabled to help provide the most accurate time possible.

File copy shows that the Highpoint and nVidia RAID controllers on par and just ahead of the Intel and Silicon Image controllers.

Benchmarks - HD Speed

HD Speed

Version and / or Patch Used:
Developer Homepage: http://www.steelbytes.com

HD Speed is a real world benchmark that tests the HDD and HDD controllers ability to transfer data between the drive and cache and the cache and I/O controller in read, write and burst situations.

Again we see the Highpoint and nVidia controllers just about even.

Benchmarks - Game Level Loading Time

Game Level Loading Time

Here we manually time (with a stop watch) game level loading times.

We loaded our test maps in Half Life 2, Doom 3 and Quake 4. We did the tests over three attempts on each and used the average time to give a fair example. Due to the human factor, there is a light reaction time delay because no one is able to hit the button on the exact millisecond, however, all were right on the point of full load in each map.

Here nVidia just pulls ahead of the Highpoint but not by a huge amount.

Final Thoughts

PCI Express is clearly becoming the standard for the future and it's good to see that the standard is being adopted by some of the big names in PC hardware.

It took nearly a year for AGP to become the standard when released and it's nearly one year now that PCI Express made its debut to the hardware world, however, with the benefits of PCI Express being so much more than PCI, its now hitting the market with a bang.

Highpoint have done a fantastic job with the RocketRAID 2320 controller card. Its small size, high bandwidth makes it not only the best server solution Mass Storage controller available, but for the home users who want massive storage possibilities, this card along with a board supporting PCI Express x4, you can make yourself a comfortable high density RAID setup.

Overall the performance of the Highpoint controller definitely justifies the extra cash you will pay in order to get yourself one.

- Pros
PCI Express x4 interface
Extremely fast
Supports bridging for 16 port RAID array
Hardware RAID 5

- Cons
Little Pricey

- Latest Pricing

Rating - 9 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Performance Award

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