SATA RAID is rubbish

For the last 4 months, I’ve had a 4TB storage array (=16x320Gb WD RE SATA hard disks) sitting in my front room.

Doing nothing. Nothing at all.

The reason? SATA RAID cards are _unfeasibly_ bad. Here’s what I’ve tried so far, under linux (various kernel versions and distributions):

– an Adaptec 21610SA. This lasts about 4 hours before it does the classic aacraid: scsi hang? (google for it, lots of references). Adaptec sent me a “heat sync” (sic.) for some reason, in a russian doll style series of packaging.
– a 3ware 9550. This lasts about 10 minutes before it powers down a random drive (physically: you can hear it), then claims that the drive has been reset (well, duh). 3ware deny everything (the last thing they told me was that it was “noise on the PCI bus”. The 3ware card has been tried in a couple of different motherboards, same thing in both of them).

Is this isolated? From friends I know of:

– At least two other machines containing Adaptec AAC series cards with the scsi hang? issue;
– At least two other machines containing 3ware 9xxx cards that pop drives;
– At least one other machine containing a 3ware 9xxx card that pops drives under a different OS

Good news? I got to play with an Areca-1160. Managed 24 hours without an issue, so that’s the best so far. If I can find someone who distributes them in the UK, I’ll get one!

Random technical details:

– I break the cards with dd if=/dev/sdX of=/dev/null (x10); dd if=/dev/zero of=fooX (x10); bonnie++ (x10); and cp -a on a kernel tree (x10). IoW, just a bit of IO.
– The cards were tried in a P8SCi motherboard, 3Ghz xeon, plenty of power supply (including 1100W worth for some experiments)
– The P8SCi is on 3ware’s compatibility list
– 3ware card also tried in an Athlon64+H8SSL motherboard setup with a 760W power supply

I can’t believe these companies get away with peddling such crap. But then I suppose so do Highpoint and Promise to name a few I’ve seen shite (ATA-100/ATA-66) hardware off in the past.

Is SCSI any better?!

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8 Responses to SATA RAID is rubbish

  1. Rob says:

    Have you tried the 3ware card in the 32 bit pci slot? it will still work, just at a slower speed? I know for a fact that the 3ware card works quite well in a large number of computers. We’ve shipped hundreds of them and have not had any problems like you are experencing.

  2. Adaptec 21610SA is by far the worst RAID adapter I have had so far.
    It’s expensive and slow! it’s sequential file I/O transfer speeds are terrible under windows 2003 server. I have find for small file transfers I manage about 40M/byts sec but for large files (1Gbyte files) the file transfer at about 40Mbytes/sec max for the first 65% of the file and then the speed drops down to a crawl of just a few M/bytes sec. It make no difference what type of RAID or how many drives you have, the card total I/O performance seem to be about 40M/bytes second TOTAL..Yes the card had the latest drives..etc// Tried different drives, systems OS, motherboards, 32or 64 bit slots, powersupplies etc, the card performs badly no matter what I do. I have a promise fasttrack 4 port card and it way faster at about 60M/bytes write and 100M/bytes read! in RAID 5 way faster!! Adaptec support SUX! they will try to blame your system or configuration where it actually their crappy card! I have also noticed from google searches other Intel controllers that use the same Intel RISC i/o processor have exactly the same slow performance issues, write speeds in RAID 5 are very bad!

    Do not buy a 21610sa I think the problem with the card is the on board processor is too slow. Also the controller is unreliable and may drop a drive out of the array for no reason, often an attemp to rebuild an 5 array will cause the arry to FAIL AND TOTAL LOSS OF DATA RESULTS!

  3. SATA connectors are also rubbish! Often I find the actual sata connectors and cables are far too loose and can easy be bumped off the drive. There
    are no proper clips to hold them on,however some manufactures are now attempted to fix this, but generally there is not enough holding force and contact force between the contacts, where the connectors will wriggle easely on the drive! It actually a BAD DESIGN. The connectors shoud clip in not just slide on and rely on friction alone.

  4. Also in general I have been finding SERIOUS firmware and software bugs in large number of products rendering them useless, or limited. Manufactures often will try to blame your configuration to escape their stuffups! Before pruchasing a product it best to go with popular items with good reviews, do google searches. Also if a large number of revisions of firmware in particular have been released it may be best to avoid that product.

  5. Neil says:

    Any joy with your SATA RAID since your blog of 14/4/06? I’m experiencing grief (drives dropping out) with a couple of 9500S-12 systems, so I’ve been surfing…

    From what I observe, lots of people do get the damn things to work. Maybe the unlucky few of us just got unlucky with a component or two.
    What components if any were common to all of your tests? You mention swapping mobos, and you also imply swapping PSUs, but what about the drives themselves?

    Good luck,

  6. Ed says:

    Working with 3ware 9550 12 disk raid level 5 — 2 servers running with 12 250GB seagate sata drives — no problems.

    Did setup a software raid and had mucho mucho problems, found it to be the powersupply. The 5v side was dropping to about 4.3 volts causing drives to hang, lose dma, lock up, etc. The powersupply was rated for 650W, upgraded to a $400 powersupply (rated for 600W) and all problems disappeared. Check your voltages — cheap powersupplies will give you a huge headache.

  7. George says:

    My first experience with SATA a couple of years ago is similar to the comments posted here. 1) The original cables I had were garbage (came with the MB), and I had to order higher quality shielded ones over the Web for a bit of money. That solved the older computer problems (except driver issues which plagued me in Windows at the time).

    As long as you stick with decent cables, I am quite successful running fakeRAID under windows, though I shudder the day when I have to restore due to a failure. You CAN purchase better cables that have clips from some US based sites, but they didn’t ship outside the US last time I checked about 6 months ago (I’m in Canada).

    I now have 6 SATA drives running in my Linux box (the one I’m messing with the LIRC driver…). After reading (and using in the long past) about RAID Controllers, I’ve decided that unless supreme performance is an absolute requirement, Software RAID is the way to go. Unfortunately, I had a lot of problems finding a SATA Controller to work with linux. My first attempt was using SUSE 10.0 and it would only see 2 of the 4 drives on my Promise SATA 300 controller. Since I switched to Ubuntu Dapper, everything is now happy.

    However, there is still ONE small gotcha in this whole setup (aside from the fact that I have to really be careful with those stupid cables): I have Hitachi SATA II 300 drives, but the burst speed (150/300) is only settable through software. That means that your MB must be able to recognize the SATA card and the Hitachi software must support your controller or you can’t change any settings. So, if you set the speed to 300 and then your MB based SATA controller can’t read the drive (even if your PCIe or PCI card can) you can’t run the Hitachi utility to change any settings.

    My conclusion is that you have to wait almost 2 years for new technology to be properly supported otherwise you have problems no matter what OS you use.

    I am one very disgruntled SATA user — and I never considered myself to be bleeding edge.

  8. Patrick says:

    I have been using the Adaptec 21610sa for over 2 years.
    Except minor bugs, i find it fairly good agains other company i tried.
    I use the tyan S2460 and so far, no major issue has appear.
    I do read/write over 100MB/s permanently.
    i am maxing my 1gbps network card while i do backup of that storage.
    i have 16 drives WD3200KS in raid 5 and a hotspare.
    The only thing i find bad is they are missing a heatsink on the cpu off that card.
    With that, the cads works much better.

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