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The Promise SuperTrak SX6000


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The Promise SuperTrak SX6000
  October 31, 2001 Author: Terry Baranski  
Promise SuperTrak SX6000 provided by Promise Technology, Inc.


Introduction

Few argue that Promise has enjoyed greater success in the ATA RAID market than any other manufacturer. In particular, their cost-sensitive FastTrak cards are by far the most popular and well-known of all.

Promise's SuperTrak series, on the other hand, targets the much smaller high-end ATA RAID market. Target markets shared with 3ware's Escalade series and Adaptec's ATA RAID 2400A, the SuperTrak series lives on with its newest member: the SX6000.


The SuperTrak SX6000...

The SuperTrak SX6000 is the successor to the SuperTrak100 reviewed earlier this year. The ST100 was a huge disappointment from a performance standpoint, performing no better in any RAID level relative to the performance of a single drive. With the SX6000, Promise obviously hopes to improve immensely on the ST100's performance.

The SX6000 brings many features that one would expect from a high-end ATA RAID card, including on-board cache and RAID 5 support. Its full specs are as follows:

  • RAID levels 0, 1, 01, 3, 5, and JBOD
  • 100 MHz Intel i960RM processor with hardware XOR
  • Six ATA-100 channels (1 drive per channel)
  • Up to 128MB of cache (minimum of 16MB) supported (using a standard SDRAM DIMM)
  • Hot swap / hot spare support
  • Stripe size selectable from 4K to 64K
  • 48-bit LBA support
  • 32-bit/33MHz PCI
  • Microsoft Windows 2000/NT4; RedHat Linux 7.0, 7.1; TurboLinux 6.0, 6.1; SuSe Linux 7.0, 7.1; OpenLinux eServer 2.3, and OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 support (WinXP drivers are planned for the near future.)
  • 2-year warranty

Some notes about the card's specs... Firstly, its on-board processor is "new and improved" relative to the ST100's. Secondly, the SX6000 is, to our knowledge, the first RAID card (or ATA controller in general, for that matter) to support 48-bit LBA. This allows the full capacity of drives bigger than 137GB to be utilized (28-bit LBA can only address 137GB worth of sectors).

Thirdly, the card's claimed support of RAID 3 isn't accurate: because the only available stripe size range is 4K-64K, a "RAID 3" array on the SuperTrak SX6000 is, in reality, a RAID 4 array. See our RAID guide for more information on the differences between RAID 3 and RAID 4.

Lastly, the adapter requires a minimum of 16MB of memory, despite the fact that it doesn't come with any. This may seem odd at first, but there is indeed some logic behind this decision. A quote from Promise's FAQ: How come you don't include memory on the SuperTrak SX6000?

"The user is free to choose exactly how much memory he or she wants to install, and which type to use. Additionally, it is much more cost-effective for the user to purchase memory from a retailer rather than paying the additional amount that Promise would need to charge for the card if it included memory."

This makes sense, as the price mark-up on RAM sold by companies such as RAID card manufacturers tends to be extravagant. (Memory upgrades for some of Adaptec's SCSI RAID cards, for example, are priced upwards of 10 times higher than standard SDRAM.) It's also worth pointing out that the SX6000 is apparently much more tolerant of different SDRAM types/manufacturers than other cards such as the ATA RAID 2400A.

The retail SX6000 kit includes the following items:

  • Six single-connector ATA cables
  • Driver/utility CD
  • User's manual
  • 3 SuperSwap hot-swap removable drive bays (SuperTrak SX6000 Pro only)


The Software...

The SX6000's BIOS is your run-of-the-mill RAID card BIOS, permitting standard functions such as array creation, deletion, and rebuilding.

The SuperTrak SX6000 comes with a utility known as PAM, which stands for Promise Array Management. PAM allows arrays to be created, deleted, and rebuilt from within Windows. Arrays can also be monitored, both locally and remotely. If PAM detects a problem with an array, it can automatically send an email to the appropriate email address. The user may choose exactly which events should and shouldn't trigger an email, such a bad drive, bad sectors, an automatic rebuild, etc.


The Benchmarks...

The following benchmarks were run with the SX6000's read/write cache enabled and set to 'write-back', and a stripe size of 64K. Driver release 1.10 (build 31) was used along with BIOS version 1.10 (build 10). The card was tested with a 32MB SDRAM module.

 WinBench...


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