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Looking to improved hard drive performance, should I add a PCI SATA card?

Posted on 2008-10-27
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I have a bunch of workstations at my work that have already had a memory upgrade and the processor is fine.  The only thing that's holdling a lot of these PCs back is the fact that they have ATA100 or ATA133 IDE hard drives.  The PCs that have the IDE drives don't have any SATA connectors on the board so I would have to then go to the PCI bus for help.  I started reading up on the PCI speeds and the machines that i'm dealing with are mostly 33MHz.  I looked around for PCI SATA cards and I realized that they don't make PCI SATA II (3.0Gb/s) because the PCI bus isn't fast enough, only PCI-Xpress will handle SATA II.  

Since the PCI bus is only 33MHz, that means that the peak transfer speed is 133MB/s... which is the same speed as an IDE Ultra ATA133 hard drive.  So... even though both seem to be the same speed on paper is it faster to run a PCI SATA card or keep the onboard IDE ATA133?

In my case, the hard drives in these PCs are only ATA100 drives so the PCI 33MHz speed (133MB/s) speed would be faster than the ATA100 drive, so I'm going to try the PCI SATA card and SATA drive and see how that works.
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Question by:Swamp_Thing
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jdietrich earned 80 total points
ID: 22814414
What are these workstations used for?  If there are no great data transfers the difference between 100/133 is very little.  SATA drives have more bandwidth in the data transfer area, but speed in using programs, word processing, etc. has more to do with the RPM's of a drive (7200 is preferred), Seek Time (< 8 is better), Latency, and cache on the drive.  Are these drives 5400 or 7200 RPM?  Can you tell us what brand they are?  Western Digitals are notoriously slow, but generally last much longer.  Seagates and Maxtors are faster and don't last as long. Ultimately there are other options such as putting in a PCI Raid card and running 2 drives striped.  This will be much faster.  Again, need to understand what the workstations are used for to understand recoverability as well.

 
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by:Swamp_Thing
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Well I know that doing the striping would greatly improve disk performance but then that would mean buying 2 drives instead of 1.  And I would like to use the card's striping config (hardware) as opposed to Win XP Pro's striping within Disk Management (software), so I would prob be looking at spending more money on a SATA card instead of a moderately priced one.  Right now I have a Western Digital Caviar SE WD1600AAJS 160GB SATA 3.0GB/s drive and a Rosewill RC-210 single SATA port SATA 1.5GB/s PCI card in my Newegg shopping cart for $61.98 (not including shipping).  If I'm going to spend close to $200 or so I could just buy another low-end Dell which would come with SATA by default (and prob a lot better hardware... these PCs are Dimension 2400's, 4500's and 8200's, etc.
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by:jdietrich
jdietrich earned 80 total points
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True, but what are the workstations doing?  Will they benefit from greater internal transfer spped or do they need improved access speed?  They are 2 very different things.  Striping is all about access, read and writes.  SATA (3 GB, 1.5 GB) is all about internal drive transfer bandwidth.  If both drives are 7200 RPM you will find their seek times and latency are comparable.  SATA will have a slight edge.  I'm not telling you not to buy the SATA, just that even $61 spent to get 2-3% gain is not worth the investment.  It comes back to what the workstations are doing?  Video or large data work would justify the SATA.
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by:larsga
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I'd agree with jdietrich, what solution that would give best performance improvement for the money would depend on what the workstations are doing. Reading/writing lots of small files spread all over the disk? Reading/writing large sequential files?

Disk RPM and average seek time will likely have most impact on speed, with the particular interface it is connected through (IDE/SATA) not being that important.

SATA has some architecture advantages over IDE, in particular command queueing (some IDE controllers/disks also support this, not sure if the IDE controller on your current PCs support this). Before TCQ/NCQ, the controller had to wait for one read/write command to finish before it could send the next command to the disk; with some workloads, a SATA controller/disk supporting NCQ could improve the performance quite a bit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCQ

An other alternative could be to put a gigabit ethernet card in each PC, get a gigabit switch and spend some money on a fast NAS box filled with disks.
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by:Swamp_Thing
ID: 22815781
To get back to "jdietrich" about his question on what the PCs current have for hardware:

One of the PCs (Dimension 4500) has a Maxtor D740X-6L IDE hard drive.  Below is a site that has its stats:

http://www.pcstats.com/articleview.cfm?articleID=951
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by:jdietrich
jdietrich earned 80 total points
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So that is a decent performing drive.   If you look at the stats in your link, the drive index is 27067 for an ATA133 drive.  2 ATA100 drives striped gives 36300.  That is a 34% increase.  Your issue is finding another Maxtor since they were bought.  If you can't, I listed simple costs below from Newegg.  A similar WD 80 gig is $38.  The Promise Raid controller is $40.  So for less than $80 you can get a 30-40% increase, ( I say 40 if you get another ATA133, the WD is ATA100).  I think the gain there is more than an SATA will give you, and the cost has to be less than a SATA controller and drive.  Again, it does depend on what is being done on the workstation, I don't see where we identified what the workstations do from a work standpoint.



http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16816102027   $40
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822144102   $38

Thanks,
JD
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by:Swamp_Thing
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sounds like it's worth a shot!  I'll look around for IDE controllers and ATA133 drives and see if I can set this up in a test box.  Thanks for the help!
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by:jdietrich
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Please let me know how it works.  It's a little more work setting up the raid array and driver for the install, but it should offer quite an improvement.  With multiple caches and multiple controllers (one per drive) the reads/writes will alternate and increase performance significantly.

JD
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