Our last RAID review took a look at two hardware ATA RAID controllers: the SuperTrak100 and Escalade 6400. As discussed there, the presence of an on-board RISC processor on both of these cards earned them the "true hardware RAID" classification - RAID cards without a dedicated processor are oftentimes called "firmware RAID" as all RAID calculations are done by the system's main processor.
This time around we're going to compare two lower-cost "firmware" solutions: the Promise FastTrak100 and the AMI MegaRAID IDE100 (formally known as the HyperDisk 100). Both of these cards retail for under $100 - far less expensive than hardware cards like the SuperTrak and Escalade.
Needless to say, this price differential raises the issue of performance. If firmware RAID cards like the FastTrak and MegaRAID perform as well as hardware RAID adapters such as the SuperTrak and Escalade, there's little incentive to pay much more for one of the latter cards. If performance differences are significant, however, then one would have to consider each card's price/performance ratio before deciding which one to buy.
Before assessing the performance of each card, let's take a closer look at the adapters themselves.