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05-22-2007, 06:09 PM
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ST Lab PCI ATA 133 IDE Card

With Raid Support

Author: XcOM (Francis Sutherland)
Date: 22nd May 2007
When it comes to raid cards these are normally reserved for servers and most people assume that you mean SCSI or SATA. But in recent years there has been a development in this area, you can now pickup an IDE RAID card for as little as £20 ($40USD)

What is Raid?

Now if you know what RAID is you can skip this part, RAID has multiple definitions, these come as “redundant array of”:
• Inexpensive
• Independent
Drives (Or Disks), Using RAID allows you to improve storage beyond what your motherboard supports, increase stability, backup options and speed boosts.

Raid-0 allows you to STRIPE your drives, basically meaning you can use multiple drives to show as one in an operating system, this has the advantage of increased storage while making the system seem to only have one hard drive present. The MAJOR drawback is if a single drive fails the entire array fails therefore meaning you lose everything, as such this isn’t used much.

Raid-1 allows you to MIRROR your drives, this creates a backup of all data stored on DRIVE 0 to DRIVE1, in theory when drive 0 or 1 fails the sleeper drive becomes the primary drive and all data is copied to that drive, the damaged drive is then no longer used. Some systems don’t use a sleeper drive, if not then the administrator normally gets a warning to replace the drive.

RAID-3 and RAID-4: Striped Set (3 disk minimum) with Dedicated Parity: Provides improved performance and fault tolerance similar to RAID-5, but with a dedicated parity disk rather than rotated parity stripes. The single disk is a bottle-neck for writing since every write requires updating the parity data. One minor benefit is the dedicated parity disk allows the parity drive to fail and operation will continue without parity or performance penalty.

RAID-5: Striped Set (3 disk minimum) with Distributed Parity: Distributed parity requires all but one drive to be present to operate; drive failure requires replacement, but the array is not destroyed by a single drive failure. Upon drive failure, any subsequent reads can be calculated from the distributed parity such that the drive failure is masked from the end user. The array will have data loss in the event of a second drive failure and is vulnerable until the data that was on the failed drive is rebuilt onto a replacement drive.

RAID-0+1 is a mix of Raid-0 and Raid-1, allowing the user to stripe your drives, but it also mirrors the stripe with an identical set of drives. This is the most popular of all the RAID configurations as it allows you to stripe your data with the backup of a mirror.

The last options is what I will be testing here JBOD, this stands for JUST BUNCH OF DRIVES, this allows you to setup hard drives on your system without any RAID, it will allow you to used a bunch of drives if you need to extend your storage.

The Package
The box is compact and got full details on the reverse of what the card supports, the box is used for various cards as you can see it clearly states “RAID SUPPORT OPTIONAL” you have to check the sticker in the bottom right corner to see if this supports RAID, if not it will just use JBOD. The one I am using does support RAID ATA133 even though I won’t be using any RAID just yet.

Inside we find the Card in question, it has a nice finish to it, looks like they have coated the entire card in layer of matt black paint, and I’m assuming this is to protect the card from any accidental damage or shorting the circuitry, also included is two (2) IDE 80way 40Pin ribbons, A Manual and the Driver CD.


The IDE cables are an odd yellow, I am assuming this is so you can quickly identify which drives are connected to your raid.



After quickly reading the manual which looks like it was converted from Chinese into English by a monkey riddled with spelling and grammar errors, I decided to install the card, but as the card IDE brackets are mounted facing the bottom (IE facing the case base when installed) I opted to connect the IDE cables before inserting the card into my test system.
The cables fitted snugly, a reassuring CLICK confirmed that cables were locked in, this is good, but be careful when removing, as you may leave the head behind.
It’s as simple as slotting the card into a free PCI slot, I wouldn’t recommend one rite at the bottom of your case as the cables may prove to be tight, so I installed my about half way.


Then I connected my drives to the raid card, Drive 1 is a Maxtor 40GB 7200RPM with 2MB Cache, Drive 2 is a Weston Digital 80GB 7200RPM with 4MB Cache.
I decided to install drive 1 onto IDE channel 1 and drive2 onto IDE channel 2.

Windows installation was a breeze, Test system:

AMD Athlon 64 – 3000+,
1GB Kingston DDR 3200 RAM
ATI FireGL X1 – 128MB
A-Open Ak-ln Motherboard (Socket 754)
Hard drive 1 160GB Maxtor on Motherboard BUS
Hard drive 2 80GB Maxtor on Motherboard BUS
2x Generic DVD-RW on Motherboard BUS
Hard drive 3 40GB Maxtor on RAID CARD BUS
Bard drive 4 80GB Weston Digital on RAID CARD BUS
Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate Build 6000, Symantec Antivirus Corp V10, Zonealarm 7 Beta.
Disk Bench

The software I will be using for testing will be Disk Bench.
Upon booting windows Vista new hardware was detected, windows didn’t have the drivers, neither did windows update, but when the wizard searched the provided CD it found a driver and installed it, no questions asked.


Upon closer inspection I noticed how old the driver was, this means either they haven’t been bothered to update it, or it was near perfect when they made it the first time, I also noticed it using a Silicon Image chip.


Note the driver date, May 2002!
Either way it seems to run very smoothly.

05-22-2007, 06:16 PM

To the testing, I will be using software called DiskBench, this copies a file several times and gets an average speed write speed, I shall run the test copying from one drive to another on the Motherboard BUS, then put the same drives on the RAID card and copy the same file, then I shall copy from the Motherboard BUS to the RAID card.
The file to be copied is a Setup exe for “Futuremark 3DMARK 2006” @ 604908520k (576MB)
The tests were run 10 times and an average taken from all the results,


Here we can see the time to copy the file, Lower is better, this represents how fast a block of data can be transferred, As we can see the Raid to Raid is the best option here as the data can be processed without the CPU having to do anything, I also took the liberty of testing on the same system with a “Promise Ultra 100 PCI IDE Card”
The ST Lab card is the obvious winner here for block transfer time, I think this maybe due to the fact the STLAB is ATA133 while the Promise is ATA100.


This test was run 10 times and the average top speed taken, again we can see the STLAB has a distinct advantage. Again I think this may be due to the fact its ATA133 rather than ATA100, Here Higher is better, the STLAB peeked at 37.963MBs, Promise 36.502.
It may not seem much between STLAB and Promise but when transferring larger files you will notice the speed increase.


I feel the STLAB Raid card is well built, handles data very well, and VS a leading manufacturer’s best card offering at the same price won hands down, And with the advantage that this card offers FULL raid options of 0, 1 and 0+1 it’s a must have if you want more drives or a raid system without switching motherboards or making the transition to SATA/SCSI.
The only real drawback is the fact it’s lacking a good manual, and the driver CD seems to be a generic CD with drivers for almost every device powered by Silicon Image.

I give it 8 out of 10.