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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 Results...

Due to the consistently unrepresentative WinBench Diskmark scores we've been getting in our RAID reviews, we're no longer going to bother to comment on them in RAID articles. We'll continue to present them for the sake of completeness, but the only WinBench tests that we'll discuss are the sustained transfer rate, access time, and CPU utilization tests.

Base Scores...

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - Base
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, 1 driveAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, 1 drivePromise SuperTrak 100, 1 DrivePromise SuperTrak SX6000, 1 drive
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 4406 6110 4872 3582
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 15160 14940 13580 10482
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)16440 12980 11560 15280
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)61900 63020 58400 31180
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)19880 19100 17480 17440
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)8242 8802 7154 6836
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)13160 12840 10676 8226
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)15000 16280 19480 10258
Visual C++ (KB/sec)14360 14340 14460 7358
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)29633 29700 20200 29800
End (KB/sec)17500 17400 17500 17500
Disk Access Time (ms)15.38 15.62 16.12 15.34
Disk CPU Utilization (%)3.12 2.67 2.89 3.16

Nothing out of the ordinary here - scores are what one would expect. Note, however, that the SX6000 doesn't suffer from the unfortunate 20MB/sec STR limitation that the ST100 did. Good news, indeed.


RAID 0...

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 0, 2 Drives
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, RAID 0, 2 drivesAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, RAID 0, 2 drivesPromise SuperTrak 100, RAID 0, 2 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 0, 2 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 3676 6116 4948 3868
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 13400 17840 14620 10264
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)15860 13640 114800 12620
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)29560 61340 159180 54780
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)16020 17800 16100 15840
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)10580 12760 8572 5370
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)11480 16220 11880 6736
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)14280 21040 21460 9236
Visual C++ (KB/sec)9070 17020 15980 9798
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)59200 59000 20133 59567
End (KB/sec)34900 34800 20200 35000
Disk Access Time (ms)15.18 15.52 16.22 15.82
Disk CPU Utilization (%)3.21 2.64 2.86 3.26

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 0, 3 Drives
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, RAID 0, 3 DrivesAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, RAID 0, 3 drivesPromise SuperTrak 100, RAID 0, 3 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 0, 3 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 4040 6206 4956 4166
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 14740 17620 15100 11040
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)17220 15300 23920 14180
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)31260 61080 59720 54940
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)17140 18280 14920 15380
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)12620 9864 8974 6080
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)12760 17840 12000 7602
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)15240 21800 21980 10680
Visual C++ (KB/sec)9736 17500 16260 11120
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)88700 88333 20100 69400
End (KB/sec)52400 52200 20133 52367
Disk Access Time (ms)15.14 15.44 16.06 15.90
Disk CPU Utilization (%)3.18 2.71 2.85 3.47

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 0, 4 Drives
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, RAID 0, 4 DrivesAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, RAID 0, 4 drivesPromise SuperTrak 100, RAID 0, 4 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 0, 4 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 4300 6384 5020 4330
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 15180 16900 14840 11700
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)16120 15280 11420 14400
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)33720 61340 59260 56080
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)16760 17920 15340 15280
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)13940 8720 9172 6202
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)12420 17720 11920 8754
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)15420 20920 21640 11800
Visual C++ (KB/sec)11000 17300 16340 11820
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)107000 109333 20200 70633
End (KB/sec)69833 69633 17500 67700
Disk Access Time (ms)14.96 15.02 15.94 15.68
Disk CPU Utilization (%)88.83 88.3 88.50 89.43

The SX6000 comes in a bit high on the access time side of things, but the difference may not be significant. The SX6000 seems to be limited to about 70MB/sec worth of STR, which, while lower than that of the competition, is quite an improvement relative to the ST100.


RAID 1...

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 1, 2 Drives
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, RAID 1, 2 DrivesAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, RAID 1, 2 DrivesPromise SuperTrak 100, RAID 1, 2 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 1, 2 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 3560 5158 4912 3666
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 11520 13580 12960 7600
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)17440 11380 11540 13140
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)26720 57240 58980 49540
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)17920 14240 17800 16580
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)7790 8324 6686 3760
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)9546 11680 9880 4762
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)11240 16220 16820 6550
Visual C++ (KB/sec)7460 13940 14300 7402
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)49667 29600 20100 29200
End (KB/sec)27900 17400 17500 17133
Disk Access Time (ms)13.42 15.50 14.30 14.12
Disk CPU Utilization (%)3.17 2.54 2.87 3.19

Note that the SX6000 doesn't load-balance sequential reads in RAID 1 like the Escalade does. Hopefully this isn't an indication that the card doesn't load balance random reads either...


RAID 01...

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 01/10, 4 Drives
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, RAID 10, 4 DrivesAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, RAID 01, 4 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 01, 4 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 3694 5244 3986
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 12680 9718 9332
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)15880 11300 12020
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)31100 54980 54260
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)16380 15160 15180
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)9340 3002 5006
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)11280 5650 6168
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)12900 8276 8878
Visual C++ (KB/sec)8224 11020 9314
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)59600 59167 57467
End (KB/sec)35000 34867 31333
Disk Access Time (ms)15.22 15.64 14.12
Disk CPU Utilization (%)3.20 2.64 3.42

The SX6000 weighs in with significantly lower access times in this test, a good sign. STR just about matches the competition.


RAID 3...

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 3, 3 Drives
Benchmark Promise SuperTrak 100, RAID 3, 3 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 3, 3 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 3952 3592
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 6118 11140
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)11020 12700
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)51660 49480
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)15080 14280
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)2462 3774
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)3806 5174
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)6122 7194
Visual C++ (KB/sec)7394 7400
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)16333 59500
End (KB/sec)16367 35000
Disk Access Time (ms)16.12 15.98
Disk CPU Utilization (%)2.88 3.34

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 3, 4 Drives
Benchmark Promise SuperTrak 100, RAID 3, 4 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 3, 4 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 3870 3304
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 6116 8000
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)11500 13560
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)52200 49240
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)15720 14220
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)2480 3796
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)3850 5380
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)6172 7494
Visual C++ (KB/sec)7494 7866
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)16300 65000
End (KB/sec)16300 52467
Disk Access Time (ms)16.12 15.94
Disk CPU Utilization (%)2.85 3.54

Since the ST100 is the only other ATA RAID adapter besides the SX6000 to support RAID 3, there's not much to compare the SX6000 to. However, the SX6000's STR in RAID 3 is much higher than that of the ST100 - hardly surprising given the STR results above.


RAID 5...

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 5, 3 Drives
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, RAID 5, 3 DrivesAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, RAID 5, 3 DrivesPromise SuperTrak 100, RAID 5, 3 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 5, 3 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 1842 3816 2542 3280
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 4370 5378 1845 7360
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)13060 11780 10018 10260
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)13700 46680 27880 48880
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)11680 16080 10642 14060
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)2250 2254 675 3620
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)2554 3036 1020 4894
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)4106 4822 1450 7080
Visual C++ (KB/sec)3500 6570 2290 7406
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)59167 59067 11767 57700
End (KB/sec)35000 34833 9647 30167
Disk Access Time (ms)15.32 15.60 16.48 16.16
Disk CPU Utilization (%)3.11 2.69 2.85 3.45

Ziff Davis WinBench 99 under Windows 2000 Professional using NTFS - RAID 5, 4 Drives
Benchmark 3Ware Escalade 7410, RAID 5, 4 DrivesAdaptec ATA RAID 2400A, RAID 5, 4 DrivesPromise SuperTrak 100, RAID 5, 4 DrivesPromise SuperTrak SX6000, RAID 5, 4 drives
Business Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 1894 5620 3998 3262
High-End Disk WinMark 99 (KB/sec) 4758 12760 9266 7678
AVS/Express 3.4 (KB/sec)13540 13600 11420 12040
FrontPage 98 (KB/sec)15720 58920 56760 49900
MicroStation SE (KB/sec)11880 17020 13680 13480
Photoshop 4.0 (KB/sec)2418 6440 4148 3746
Premiere 4.2 (KB/sec)2780 9928 6688 5226
Sound Forge 4.0 (KB/sec)4586 16200 12520 7434
Visual C++ (KB/sec)3892 12420 10060 7398
Disk/Read Transfer RateStorageReview.com
Beginning (KB/sec)87300 83113 12533 51867
End (KB/sec)52400 52200 10933 38433
Disk Access Time (ms)15.16 15.68 16.46 16.08
Disk CPU Utilization (%)3.22 2.70 2.85 3.23

The SX6000 again arrives on the high end of the access time curve, but we'll wait to see what IOMeter has to say before drawing any conclusions.


IOMeter Scores...

Base Scores...

Baseline with 1 Drive

What stands out from the above scores is the SX6000's poor write performance - both random and sequential. Performance in our core tests (File Server, Workstation, and Database), however, is as expected.

RAID 0...

RAID 0 with 2 Drives
RAID 0 with 3 Drives
RAID 0 with 4 Drives

As the above graphs demonstrate, the SX6000's performance is remarkably improved relative to the ST100. Scores in our core tests scale nicely as drives and outstanding IO's increase. Core test scores remain lower than those of the Escalade 7410 and ATA RAID 2400A, however, particularly in the Workstation pattern. Write scores are disappointing - for whatever reason, the SX6000 seems to be limited to about 4.5MB/sec of STR per drive. Random write performance isn't anything to boast of either, unfortunately.

RAID 1...

RAID 1 with 2 Drives

Like the Escalade 7410 and ATA RAID 2400A, the SuperTrak SX6000 boosts RAID 1 performance by load balancing random reads between both drives - a positive thing, indeed. Scores aren't quite up to the level of the competition, however, and write performance continues to be poor.

RAID 01...

RAID 01 with 4 Drives

Scores again greatly improve upon the ST100, but remain behind the competition.

RAID 3...

RAID 3 with 3 Drives
RAID 3 with 4 Drives

Unsurprisingly, the SX6000 does a lot better than the ST100 in RAID 3.

RAID 5...

RAID 5 with 3 Drives
RAID 5 with 4 Drives

In RAID 5, the SX6000 does particularly well against the Escalade 7410, topping 3ware's offering in most tests. It performs significantly worse than the ATA RAID 2400A, however, which continues to be the ATA RAID card to beat in RAID 5.


Conclusion...

When trying to summarize the SX6000's performance, the phrase "it's all relative" works quite nicely. On one hand, we can't help but be impressed with the SX6000's improved performance relative to the ST100 - we couldn't help but be somewhat worried prior to testing at the possibility of the SX6000 performing anywhere nearly as poor as the ST100. Thankfully, this didn't turn out to be the case.

Relative to competing controllers, however, the SX6000's scores don't compare quite so favorably. Scores in RAID 0, 1, and 01 are significantly lower than the Escalade and ATA RAID 2400A, particularly in the write tests where, for whatever reason, the SX6000 does very poorly.

RAID 5 is somewhat of a different story... Who'd of thought that the successor to the sickly ST100 would perform better overall in RAID 5 than the Escalade 7410? Not very many, we suspect. It can't match the performance of the ATA RAID 2400A, however, although it does offer the advantage of supporting up to 6 drives as opposed to the 2400A's limit of 4.

In the end, it's not out of the question to use the word "impressive" to describe the SX6000, despite the fact that its performance isn't record breaking. It certainly warrants consideration by those who are in the market for a high-end ATA RAID card - the ATA RAID 2400A is limited to 4 channels and is somewhat more expensive, and some may think twice about purchasing an Escalade given 3ware's disappointing exit from the ATA RAID market. But, it ends up being the buyer's decision, as always.


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