When StorageReview.com was originally conceived, it was decided early on that I would use my personal system to perform benchmarks on the various storage devices that we came across. It became apparent very quickly that such an arrangement wouldn't work at all with the planned pace of reviews. So, we decided to turn to a dedicated testbed, allowing me to pipeline my actions (ie, write the article for one drive while moving on to benchmarking another). We tried to build a system that would allow us maximum flexibility. Here's what we've come up with:
The Case- We decided early on that we'd need a large roomy case that could hold multiple drives while keeping them all well cooled. We eventually decided on PC Power & Cooling's Solid-Steel ATX tower case. 10 5.25" drive bays allow us to keep several drives installed in the system with a full drive's worth of gap between each. Two "Turbo-Cool" intake and two exhaust fans allow for maximum cooling and ventilation. The case opens on its right side. There's no motherboard tray here. The case is so big and room that you just plop it in as is. The drive bays use a front mounting system, thus requiring proprietary drive rails for installation (10 pairs are included). This is a minus if you're constantly taking drives in and out, but if you're not, its no big deal. Besides, a server-like case sitting next to your desk looks really cool. This case is so monstrous in size that the testbed has received an internal nickname here at the Storage Review: "Hoss." How appropriate.
PC Power & Cooling Solid-Steel Tower ATX $289
Optional Backplane Fan Assembly $50
The Power Supply- To power the multiple drives that would inevitably be in the testbed, we turned to PC Power & Cooling's TurboCool ATX 300. Though not nearly as quiet as the company's "Silencer" line, the TurboCool power supply features a longer MTBF, better cooling, more regulation, line conditioning, etc. As far as I know, it's the best PC power supply out there.
PC Power & Cooling TurboCool 300 $129
The Motherboard- A glowing writeup at both Anand's Hardware Tech Page and Tom's Hardware Guide made us decide on Abit's LX6. A stellar performer benchmark-wise, this board is a real treat to work with due to its jumperless "SoftMenu" configuration system. The 440LX chipset includes Intel's latest ATA controller, the PIIX4 "Southbridge" chip.
Abit LX6 $150
The CPU- As nice as a chip as AMD's K6 seems to be, we decided to go with a 266 MHz Pentium II for our baseline machine. Though it was state-of-the-art just a little while ago, we're now hoping that the processor will remain relevant to our readers long enough to compile a comprehensive set of tests results for comparison . Progress. Oh well, c'est la vie.
To cool the Pentium II, we chose a PC Power & Cooling K1 Fan. Its rather small and probably not the best for severe overclocking, but it's a quiet little device, and performs nicely for our needs.
Intel Pentium II 266 MHz $350
PC Power & Cooling K1 $25
The RAM- No we're not talking Crucial, Samsung, or any of those other brand names that are conducive to overclocking, but just a single generic 8x64 SDRAM DIMM. We figure the average visitor has more than 32 but less than 128 megs of memory, and decided that 64 would be a decent representation of the average system.
64 MB SDRAM DIMM $120
The SCSI Card- Yeah yeah, I know, "XXX brand SCSI card outperforms Adaptec's and is overclockable to boot!" When it came to choosing a SCSI card for the testbed, though, our chief concern was one of compatibility and representation. Its probably a safe bet to assume that there are more Adaptec Ultra-Wide SCSI cards out there than any other. We wanted to be ready to test Ultra2 SCSI LVD drives when they became available, so we decided on the then brand-spanking new Adaptec AHA-2940U2W. It's a nice card that allows us to use all four of its SCSI connectors simultaneously and even seems to require a hair less in the way of CPU utilization than the 2940UW.
Adaptec AHA-2940U2W $399
The Video Card- Some people may wonder why we install a video driver at all instead of remaining with the standard VGA driver built into Windows 95. Quite simply, we can't stand to look at a 60 Hz screen. We've always been partial to Matrox's 2D cards, primarily due to the regular driver updates and the crisp image quality. We picked up a Millenium II PCI with 4 megs of memory.
Matrox Millennium II PCI 4MB $189
The SCSI Boot Drive- Although its probably not as good a value as the Quantum Viking, we use the Seagate Hawk 4XL as the SCSI boot drive. It's a decent performer, not terribly loud, and doesn't run too hot. Looks like Seagate is offering the Medalist Pro SCSI series as their entry level drive, phasing out the Hawk.
Seagate Hawk 4XL ST34555W $370
The ATA Boot Drive- A simple Western Digital 1.6 gig ATA drive (AC31600) serves as the boot drive for our ATA tests. Its rather slow, its rather small, and its rather loud, but we had it lying around .
Western Digital Caviar AC31600 $150
A Keytronic Mouse, NMB keyboard, floppy drive, and Iiyama monitor round up the test bed. We also use a couple drive coolers to keep our boot and test drives cool, even if the boxes do have a typo that reads "drive cooker." Hmmm.