The 3ware Sidecar SATA II Hardware Desktop RAID

| Reviews

Video pros and prosumers serious about their storage needs have long had a variety of choices in the realm of FireWire RAIDs.? The 3ware Sidecar from AMCC brings another option that offers higher performance through a SATA II RAID enclosure. Featuring four hot-swappable bays (up to 3 TB of storage), a hardware RAID controller (Raid 0, 1, 5, and JBOD), and theoretical throughput of up to 3Gb/s (300MB/s) ? while real-world throughput is lower than that, the Sidecar still offers substantially higher throughput than even a FireWire 800 RAID can offer.

Of PCI-Express Cards and Hardware Controllers

The unitis speed is achieved through a combination of SATA II bandwidth ? that theoretical 300 MB/s throughput I mentioned ? and a PCIExpress hardware RAID controller that ships with the Sidecar.? The latter limits it to use with the last generation of PowerMac G5s and all of the so-far shipped Intel-based Mac Pros. The card is installable into a free PCI-Express slot.

NOTE: The folks at AMCC pointed out to me that the 300MB/s is per lane, which translates into a itotali system performance of 1,200MB/s (4 lanes x 300MB/s).? That makes SATA II four times faster than eSATA, and several times faster than FireWire 800 (80MB/s).

Hardware RAIDs are more expensive than their software-controlled counterparts, but the performance and flexibility benefits are worth the money if you need them. With a hardware RAID controller, the device handles all of the I/O demands of the RAID, whereas a software RAID controller employs your Macis processing power for I/O, a significant CPU-tax for those doing high-end video work.

In other words, with a hardware RAID controller, your Mac is free to put all of its efforts into editing and processing your video, rather than mucking about with deciding exactly when and how to read and write data to your drive. Again, if you need it, youill find the added expense to be a no-brainer.


The 3ware Sidecar kit, with the cable and the SATA II card

Throughput

Speaking of real-world throughput, in my arbitrary throughput tests (I am not a video professional!), I got throughput results of up to 201 MB/s for writes and 160 MB/s for reads in a RAID 5 configuration.

RAID

Whatis RAID 5?? RAID 5 is one of the most flexible RAID configurations available, offering striped read/writes and Distributed Parity.? Striped performance is the fastest, as it divides reads and writes to multiple drives.? Distributed Parity means that any one drive in the RAID can fail without you losing any of your data.? The RAID manages the data redundantly so that no one drive will be missed, at least as long as it takes to replace it.

And since the Sidecar has hot-swappable bays, you donit even have to power the unit down to replace a drive.

If youire new to the world of RAIDs, you should let those last couple of paragraphs sink in.

Other options include RAID 0 (Striped), RAID 1 (Mirrored), and JBOD (Just a Bunch of Drives).

Management

The Sidecar is managed from a Web interface, a smart cross-platform solution for uniform management.? From this interface, you set up the drives and designate which RAID level you wish to run. Itis not as elegant a solution as a native, standalone application might offer, but from a development standpoint, it makes a lot of sense for a cross-platform product.

Construction

The 3ware Sidecar is a solidly constructed piece of hardware that looks about as good as a desktop RAID solution can.? The bays are accessed through levers on the front of the enclosure, and the drive cases slide in and out of their bays smoothly.? When installing a drive, screw it into its bay rail, slide it in, then snap the lever closed.


The 3ware Sidecar

The top and bottom of the enclosure has a matte grey finish, and the front of each bay enclosure is finished with a brushed-metal stainless steel look. If you click on the image above, youill be taken to a very large version of the same image where you can see the finish of both the case and levers in accurate detail.

For those with space issues, the unit will fit on top of a PowerMac G5 or Mac Pro.

The Darker Side

I donit have much to say thatis negative about this unit, except that itis noisy.? The 3ware Sidecar has a built-in fan to cool the unit, and like every hardware RAID Iive looked at over the years, itis noisy. I hate noise, but itis a fact of life when using a storage solution like this.

Operating System Support

  • Mac OS X (G5: 10.4.6+, Mac Pro: 10.4.8)
  • Microsoft Windows 2003/XP/2000 (32/64-bit)
  • Microsoft Windows Vista (32/64-bit)
  • Red Hat Linux, SuSE Linux, Fedora Core (32/64-bit)
  • Linux Kernels 2.4, 2.6 (32/64-bit)
  • FreeBSD? (32/64-bit)

Requirements

  • Apple Mac Pro, Power Mac G5 or PC workstation
  • Available PCIExpress slot (x4 minimum)
  • Supported operating system

The Bottom Line

The 3ware Sidecar is a great solution for anyone needing high-performance, desktop storage. Itis solidly constructed, performs well, looks good, and is competitively priced. If you need the features it offers ? hot-swappable bays, fast performance, RAID 5 support, hardware RAID controller, the Sidecar is a great choice.

Product: 3ware Sidecar

Company: AMCC

List Price: $1295.00

Amazon.com Price: 1099.99

Pros: Fast performance, dedicated hardware RAID controller, solid construction, attractive looks (for a desktop RAID!), and cross platform support.
Cons: Noisy fan, but then so are most such RAID enclosures.

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