The Right Card for You

NOW THAT YOU KNOW ALL THERE IS TO know about SCSI, one question remains: which card should you buy? To find the answer, Macworld Lab tested 16 SCSI cards.

Seven of our cards were Narrow SCSI. We also tested nine Wide cards. To test their speed, we used MacBench 5.0 (see the benchmark, "It's No Race," for results); we also looked at the cards' ability to boot and their compatibility with scanners.

Mostly Steady Speeds Speed is determined more by what category of SCSI card you choose than by what company. Within each SCSI category, the cards performed very similarly. The only exception was the slow Narrow cards from Adaptec.

Adaptec's cards are the only ones you can get built into a new Mac when you buy one online from the Apple Store. Adaptec has been working closely with Apple and carefully followed the company's specifications to gain maximum compatibility with older SCSI devices. Unfortunately, this proves to be a disadvantage for the company's Narrow cards, at least for now.

The Narrow Adaptec cards check the driver for each connected device; if the driver doesn't clearly identify the speed of the device, the card drops to SCSI-1 speed –5 MBps. In our testing, Apple's Drive Setup installed a driver that did not correctly identify the speed of our test hard drive; performance dropped significantly. Adaptec plans to include updated formatting software at a future date.

Company Product Mouse Rating Price List Contact Warranty (in years) Bootable* External Connector Comments
FAST NARROW
Adaptec SCSI Card 2906 2.5 mice $65 800/442-7274 5 no DB 25 pin Driver problems may affect performance; not bootable.
AdvanSys ABP3925 3.5 mice $69 800/525-7443 5 no High Density 50 Good performance; not bootable.
               
Orange Micro Grappler SCSI 906F 4.0 mice $49 714/779-2772 1 yes DB 25 pin Inexpensive basic card; fastest in class.
ULTRA NARROW
Adaptec PowerDomain 2930U 2.5 mice $105 800/442-7274 5 yes 50-pin Centronics Driver problems may affect performance.
AdvanSys ASB3940UA 3.0 mice $119 800/525-7443 5 no High Density 50 Fastest in class; more expensive; not bootable.
Initio Miles Bluenote 3.5 mice $79 800/994-6484 5 yes High Density 50 Inexpensive; good performance.
Orange Micro Grappler SCSI 930U 3.5 mice $79 714/779-2772 1 yes High Density 50 Inexpensive; good performance.
ULTRA WIDE
Adaptec PowerDomain 2940UW 3.0 mice $349 800/442-7274 5 yes Wide 68 pin Pricey; variety of cables; good performance; RAID.
AdvanSys ASB3940UW 3.0 mice $199 800/525-7443 5 no Wide 68 pin Good performance; not bootable.
Atto ExpressPCI PSC 3.0 mice $249** 716/691-1999 ext. 241 1 yes Wide 68 pin Good performance.
Formac PowerRAID I 4.0 mice $119 925/855-1063 2 yes Wide 68 pin Good price and performance; RAID; no cables.
               
Initio Miles 4.0 mice $169 800/994-6484 5 yes Wide 68 pin Fastest in class; good price; RAID.
Orange Micro Grappler SCSI 940UW 3.5 mice $149 714/779-2772 1 yes Wide 68 pin Good price and performance; RAID.
ULTRA2 WIDE
Adaptec PowerDomain 2940U2W 3.5 mice $499 800/442-7274 5 yes Wide 68 pin Fastest in class; internal connectors and cables; expensive.
Atto ExpressPCI UL2S 3.0 mice $399 716/691-1999 ext. 241 1 yes Very High Density Wide Good performance; no cables included.
Initio Miles U2W 4.5 mice $239 800/994-6484 5 yes Wide 68 pin Good price and performance; RAID; no internal Narrow

* Reflects cards' capabilities at press time. Check company Web sites for firmware updates that may solve this problem.  ** When bundled with Atto's ExpressRAID Solution Kit, which offers additional RAID software and an external cable, $350.

Macworld's Buying Advice

If all you're looking for is an inexpensive means of getting your old devices on the bus, Fast Narrow SCSI will do the trick for you and Orange Micro's Grappler SCSI 906F will get you up and running with the least damage to your wallet. Its warranty isn't as good as those of its competitors, but the Grappler SCSI 906F was the least-expensive card in its category and the only one that was bootable.

If both speed and the ability to attach more devices are essential to you, then bump up to an Ultra Wide card, such as the Initio Miles. This card comes at a reasonable price, has a good warranty, is bootable, and includes RAID software. Understand, however, that by using Ultra Wide SCSI you'll be restricted to using shorter, higher-quality cables. Our advice is to avoid Ultra2 Wide for now–very few devices can actually take advantage of its potential for blazing speed, and the prices are too high.

One last word of advice: most of the Fast Narrow and Ultra Wide cards offer almost identical performance, so cost played an important part in our evaluations. Think about what features you can't live without, and then double-check prices before you decide which card to buy.

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