capsule review

PCI ATA Cards

Computer parts are like donuts, they're cheaper by the dozen. The Mac market, long time defenders of SCSI, have recognized that ATA drives, the standard in the PC world, are affordable and reasonably fast. However, most Macintosh utilities still work best with SCSI drives. Three new Macintosh PCI cards allow you to attach the fastest ATA drives and still use your SCSI utilities to configure them. While all the cards get the job done, the UltraTek is the most flexible.

The three cards have more in common than they do differences. All support booting from an attached drive and support the ATA specifications for up to four drives -- two master drives and two slave drives. They are all ATA/66 cards supporting a maximum of 66MBps and include decent printed manuals; however, the UltraTek manual doesn't provide instructions on setting the jumpers to change a drive from a master to a slave. If you're planning on connecting a couple of hard drives, the only real difference between the cards are the bundles.

The three cards come in slightly different configurations. The TurboMax cards are not available separately. ProMax only sells them as part of a card and drive bundle, thus ProMax is able to ensure compatibility between the card and drives, but it does limit your options. In order to set up a RAID array, you need to purchase RAID software separately. While ProMax sells SoftRAID for $149, you can buy any Macintosh RAID software designed for SCSI drives to set up the array.

The Sonnet Tempo Ultra comes with no special software, but it's available at a rock-bottom price of $99. Sonnet says the card works with any ATA drive, both ATA/66 and ATA/33 drives. However they don't guarantee it to work with other types of drives, for instance CD-ROM, DVD, or Iomega Zip drives.

The UltraTek/66 comes bundled with SoftRAID. Although the card is $50 more than the Sonnet card, SoftRAID retails for $145, making this bundle a good deal if you plan on adding multiple drives. Plus the UltraTek is fully ATAPI-compliant, supporting CD-ROM and DVD drives.

We saw good performance with two 7,200 rpm IBM DeskStar 45GB drives both set as masters and striped into a RAID 0 array. We were able to duplicate a 100MB file at 12MBps, 30 percent faster than the single internal drive. However, SCSI still wins if you can invest in the fastest drives. The SCSI Ultra3 two-drive array was 35 percent faster than the ATA two-drive array.

ProMax optimizes their TurboMax card for digital video by preventing bus resets. While resets can interfere with video playback, this configuration is not optimal for a server.

Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics. All scores are in seconds.

100MB File Duplicate 100MB Folder Duplicate Optimize Disk
VST UltraTek/66 8.2 9.6 50.9
Sonnet Temp Ultra ATA/66 7.3 9.5 55.0
ProMAX TurboMAX 7.4 9.4 56.7
G4/500 Internal Drive 11.4 16.3 69.9
APS Ultra 3 SCSI RAID 4.9 7.7 48.8
(Shorter numbers are better.)

We tested each card in a Power Macintosh G4/500 with Mac OS 9, 128MB of RAM, a default system disk cache of 4MB, and Virtual Memory disabled. Softraid 2.2.2 was used to stripe two 46GB drives into a RAID disk. We used Norton 5.0.3's Speedisk test with verify media disabled for the optimize disk test. --Macworld Lab testing supervised by Ulyssis Bravo

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Affordable
    • Works in many CPUs

    Cons

    • Limited compatibility with removable media drives
1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon