Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS / SATA Controller Page: 1
Introduction
 
Adaptec LogoOnce a storage solution used only by enterprise datacentre's, RAID (or Redundant Array of Independent Disks) has slowly been gaining ground in the enthusiast market over the past few years. Starting with the introduction of Intel's "Matrix" RAID on their ICH6R Southbridge chipset along with many motherboard manufacturers including chipsets from manufacturers such as Highpoint and Marvell, the ability to create basic RAID0/1 arrays on most mid to high-end motherboards has been available to us for some time.
 
However, while most of these solutions have undoubtedly got the job done, most are nothing more than a firmware based implementation of RAID, offering little more than the most basic of functions and relying on system resources and drivers in order to work correctly.
 
Enter Adaptec. Probably one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) manufacturers' in the storage I/O industry. Adaptec are well known for their production of high-end server grade SCSI, IDE and more recently, SAS/SATA controller cards. Today we've been given the opportunity to test one of the latter in the form of their "RAID 2405 "SAS/SATA controller.  For those of us who haven't come across the acronym SAS before, it stands for Serial Attached SCSI which is in effect the latest edition of the SCSI standard. However, whereas previous SCSI technology has relied upon its own unique parallel based interface, SAS uses connectors that are interchangeable with the widely used SATA standard and thus both SAS and SATA based hard disks can operate on the 2405 controller.

 
Specifications
 
Marketed as an entry level RAID controller, the 2405 still manages to pack quite a feature set. As we can see from the specs below, Adaptec have fitted the card with an 800MHz processor, 128MB of DDR2 memory and an 8x electrical (4x physical) bus interface. This should certainly ensure that the performance of attached storage devices is not bottlenecked while also reducing the workload of the PC / Server's main CPU significantly.
 
Product Description
The Series 2 family of Adaptec Unified Serial™ (SATA/SAS) RAID controllers leverages the same industry-leading dual-core hardware RAID design as our industry-leading Series 5 Performance RAID controllers.

The Adaptec RAID 2405 features 800 MHz of processing power, a 128MB of DDR2 write cache, connectivity with the latest x8 PCI-Express, and direct I/O connectivity for SATA/SAS tape devices and hard drives. Using SAS expanders, it supports up to 128 devices.

The Adaptec RAID 2405 supports a wide range of operating systems, compatibility with more than 300 third-party devices, and full integration with Adaptec Storage Manager™ for centralised management of all Adaptec RAID controllers on the network.

Intelligent Power Management - Reduce Power by up to 70%
The power required by disks is a primary ongoing storage cost. Full power is maintained to every disk whether it is actively being used or not, which also increases cooling costs. Adaptec Intelligent Power Management slashes power and cooling costs by spinning down idle disks and providing a lower power mode for active disks.

Highlights
Intelligent Power Management
4 internal ports
MD2 – Low profile form factor
800MHz processor
8-Lane PCI-Express bus interface
0, 1, and 10 RAID levels
128MB DDR2 cache
Up to 128 SATA or SAS drives using SAS expanders
1 SFF-8087 (int.) connectors
Adaptec Storage Manager, Copyback Hot Spare management features
RoHS compliant
3 years warranty
Complete List of Supported Operating Systems
 
With native support for four hard disks and the ability to connect up to 128 hard disks using SAS expanders, the 2405 also has more than enough capacity to replace the role of any motherboard-based SATA RAID controller. It's almost impossible to imagine 128 devices spanning off a single card, but we're sure there are some storage hungry admins out there who would be keen to show us pics.
 
Another great feature of the 2405 is that it supports just about every operating system known to man. From Windows XP and Vista 32bit /64-Bit, to Linux distro's such as Redhat and SUSE,  FreeBSD, Sun Solaris and even VMWare. For those interested in building their own "Hackintoshes" we've also heard reports of the card being supported under OSX....but we didn't say that!
 
Now let's move on to some pictures of the card in all its glory...


Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS / SATA Controller Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance
 
With Adaptec products being squarely aimed at professionals and enterprises more than home users and enthusiasts, it's no surprise that  the 2405 controller is presented in a pale blue box with minimalistic appearance. This is quite a refreshing change from some of the overdressed products we often receive, that would more than likely have a camouflage background with fighter jets spelling out the SAS name.
 
Adaptec RAID 2405 Box Front Adaptec RAID 2405 Box Back
 
Adaptec RAID 2405 Box Inside Adaptec RAID 2405 Contents
 
Contained within the box is a 4-way SAS/SATA cable, low profile blanking plate, driver disk, software disk (containing Adaptec's Windows based configuration utility) and a worryingly large printed user manual. The controller card itself is kept separate from the rest of the accessories by means of a moulded clear blister style packet that should ensure safe delivery of the card, even at the hands of the most brutal couriers.
 
Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS Controller Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS Controller
 
Going in for a closer look at the card, we can see that passive cooling is required to keep the 800MHz processor cool during operation. As previously mentioned, the 2405 is a low-profile card and thus the two 64MB memory IC's that make up the cards 128MB of on-board ram have been located on the rear of the PCB to make way for the rest of the components.
 
Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS Controller Front Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS Controller Rear
 
This particular version of the 2405 is fitted with a single SAS connector allowing for the connection of four SAS/SATA devices without the need for any SAS expanders. It is also worth mentioning at this point that the SAS connector interface is far, far more robust than standard SATA and gives a reassuringly sturdy click when the connector is pushed into place.


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Test Setup
 
To assess the performance of the Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS/SATA controller we will be running a total of three tests. Each of the tests will feature two drives configured in RAID0 with comparisons being made to Intel's motherboard based 'Matrix' RAID controller. While not a directly comparable product to the Adaptec solution due to its lack of dedicated Memory and CPU, Intel's Matrix RAID is without doubt the most widely used controller in the enthusiast community, and it will certainly be interesting to see how the two compare.
 
Processor
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 "G0" @ 3.6GHz

Motherboard
ASUS P5E64 WS Evolution (Intel X48 Northbridge, ICH9R Southbrdge)

Array 1
Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS Controller
Seagate Barracuda ES.2 500GB 7200RPM 16MB
Configuration: RAID0 / 128kb Blocks

Array 2
Intel Matrix RAID on ASUS P5E64 WS Southbridge (ICH9R)
Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB 10000RPM 16MB
Configuration: RAID0 / 128kb Blocks

Array 3
Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS Controller
Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB 10000RPM 16MB
Configuration: RAID0 / 128kb Blocks
 
Adaptec + Seagate SAS Config
 
A combination of both 'real-world' and synthetic benchmarks will be used to report the performance of each RAID Array. The benchmarks can be seen below:
 
Synthetic Benchmarks
• HDTune Pro v3
• Sisoft Sandra 2009

File Write & Manipulation
• WinAVI (with 500mb AVI file)
• Dummy File Generator (Write speed test with varying size files)
• Peazip (File Compression / Decompression)

OS & Gaming
• Racedriver GRID (Game loading times)
• Windows Vista x64 (Startup time)
 
With the exclusion of the Windows Vista (Startup Time) benchmark, all other benchmarks were performed from a fresh installation of Windows Vista x64 located on a separate Western Digital RaptorX master drive. This configuration ensured that the results from RAID arrays on test were not skewed by any random operating system disk access while also allowing us to perform all benchmarks on a completely blank Array.
 
 
Configuration
 
Setting up a RAID array for the first time can be quite a nerve racking affair. With so many different options to chose from including several different RAID types, stripe sizes and parity it's easy to get lost and end up with an array not suited to your required purpose. While the in's and out's of the various RAID levels and tutorials on how to configure them are beyond the scope of this review, the screenshots below from the 2405's configuration utility should give you an idea of what you're up against.
 
Adaptec RAID 2405 BIOS Adaptec RAID 2405 BIOS
 
Adaptec RAID 2405 BIOS Adaptec RAID 2405 BIOS
 
As we can see, the 2405 certainly doesn't have the most friendly of interfaces. However, anyone who has had previous experience navigating a Motherboard BIOS or indeed configuring a RAID array on a non-Adaptec controller, should have little problem getting used to it. In addition to all of the usual RAID configuration options, the 2405 also has a section dedicated to power saving as well as useful tools for formatting and secure wiping the hard disks.
 
Now let's move on to some benchmarks!


Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS / SATA Controller Page: 4
HDTune Pro Results
 
HD Tune Pro is a complete hard disk benchmarking, status and erasing utility by EFD Software. Our testing procedure involved running both the read and write benchmark tests on each of the RAID configurations with screen shots of the results being taken at the end of each benchmark run. The results can be seen below:
 
Array 1 - Adaptec RAID 2405 + 2x Seagate Barracuda ES.2
Adaptec + Seagate READ Adaptec + Seagate WRITE
 
Array 2 - Intel Matrix RAID ICH9R + 2x Western Digital Velociraptor
Intel + Velociraptor READ Intel + Velociraptor Write
 
Array 3 -  Adaptec RAID 2405 + 2x Western Digital Velociraptor
Adaptec + Velociraptor Adaptec + Velociraptor Write
 
Starting off by comparing Array1 and Array2 we can see that the Velociraptor drives teamed with the Intel Matrix controller have a clear advantage over the Adaptec + Seagate ES.2 combination in both the Read and Write results. This is undoubtedly because the Seagate drives, despite being SAS, cannot keep up with the sheer performance of the 10,000RPM Velociraptors. Interestingly however, Array1 totally trounces Array2 when it comes to Burst rate, managing a 100MB/s+ increase. This possibly shows that the Intel Matrix controller is acting as a bottleneck when throughput goes beyond 200MB/s.
 
A slightly fairer and more direct comparison can be had when we put the results of Array2 and Array3 side-by-side. With both arrays using the Western Digital Velociraptor drives, its clear to see that the Adaptec RAID 2405 card allows for much higher burst rates along with a higher overall transfer rate in both the read and write results. CPU usage is also dropped by around 2% when using the Adaptec, showing that the card clearly is offloading some of the work from the main CPU.


Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS / SATA Controller Page: 5
WinAVI Video Encoding
 
The transcoding of video files between different formats for use on devices such as portable media players or burning to DVD is becoming increasingly common in today's digital world. While the method of conversion is largely CPU intensive, it requires a fast hard disk to keep up with the stream of data. For this stage of the testing we used a 600mb Xvid encoded AVI file placed on each of the hard disks and then used WinAVI to transcode the file into DVD format. The time taken was recorded with a stop watch.
 
 
Once again the Adaptec + Seagate (Array1) configuration loses out to the Intel + Western Digital array mainly due to the slower speed of the Seagate Barracuda Drives. However, as soon as the Adaptec controller is teamed up with the Western Digital Velociraptors the tables turn and Array3 becomes the fastest of the bunch. However, with only 3 seconds separating the slowest and fastest arrays it could possibly show that the encoding of our AVI file was more bottlenecked by CPU performance than hard disk speed.
 
 
Peazip File Compression
 
File compression is yet another area where the system is just as reliant on the performance of the CPU as it is on the hard drive. To simulate the compression of various types of files, a folder containing a collection of 200 text documents filled with random contents and file sizes varying from 1KB to 100MB was copied to each of the arrays. This folder was then compressed and decompressed using a utility called Peazip which provided us with an accurate "time taken" reading.
 
 
 
With less than a second between each of the Compression and Decompression results it looks like CPU performance may well be a bottleneck here as well. However, the combination of Adaptec 2405 controller + WD Velociraptor hard disks is at the front of the pack, showing that although the difference is small, there most certainly is one.
 
 
Dummy File Creation
 
When performing manual "file copy" benchmarks, the performance of the drive that the files are being copied from can directly and negatively affect the results of the drive they are being copied to. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration when benchmarking high performance RAID arrays as the performance is easily in excess to that of a standard hard disk. Therefore, to test the write performance of each array, a freeware utility called Dummy File Creator was used to generate files directly to each of the hard disks removing the possibility of any bottlenecks.
 
The results below show how long each of the drives took to write 20GB of files with sizes ranging from 1MB to 1GB.
 
 
In contrast to the previous two benchmarks, Dummy File Creation uses up very little CPU resources, instead concentrating on the array and filesystem write speed. Despite this, there is still very little difference between the Intel Matrix based RAID array (Array2) and Adaptec Array3 indicating that although our HDTune results put the Adaptec controller ahead of the Intel Matrix Firmware based array, there really is very little real world difference.


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Windows Bootup Time
 
Quite a simple and self explanatory test. We took each of the three arrays, installed a fresh copy of Windows Vista SP1 on to them and measured the time each took to boot into the Windows desktop and display the Welcome page. To ensure that the tests were fair and that Windows has fully completed installing all devices, the results were recorded after three initial reboots.
 
 
The pattern from the previous page continues, with the Adaptec+Seagate (Array1) being the slowest of the pack by around 3 seconds. However, once controllers are on a level playing field and using the same hard disks, the difference comes down to milliseconds making any performance differences totally unnoticeable.
 
 
Game Level Loading
 
With a fresh copy of Vista installed on each of the arrays, the final test was to see if any of the arrays could offer a significant decrease in the time taken to load a popular PC game. Once again, the test procedure was quite simple: Install Racedriver GRID, load the game, select a track to play and measure the time taken from pressing the "Start" button to the time the track is fully loaded. This procedure was repeated a total of three times on each of the Arrays, with a reboot in between each test to clear system memory.
 
 
Once again the results follow suit with all the other "real world" benchmarks we've performed on this and the previous page, giving us little else to say.


Adaptec RAID 2405 SAS / SATA Controller Page: 7
Conclusion
 
Adaptec RAID 2405 SASWhile Adaptec were kind enough to furnish us with a pair of Seagate SAS hard drives for use in today's review, it's clear to see that that the only real comparison worth talking about is the difference in performance between using an on-board firmware RAID solution such as Intel's "Matrix" RAID and Adaptec's hardware RAID 2405 card with a common set of SATA hard disks.
 
Starting out with the results from HDTune, the Adaptec 2405 controller had a clear lead giving burst rates over 100MB/s higher than the Intel Matrix RAID array while also using less CPU resources and producing slightly higher sustained average read/write results. However, as we moved on from synthetic benchmarks to real-world applications, the difference in performance was much less pronounced. Both the Dummy File Creation, File Compression, Game Loading and Windows Startup results showed less than a second difference between the Intel and Adaptec arrays, leaving us quite underwhelmed.
 
Despite this, the 100MB/s higher burst rate of the Adaptec card did make us wonder if the Intel "Matrix" RAID controller actually starts becoming a bottleneck once throughput exceeds 200MB/s? If so, could the Adaptec 2405 begin to shine when coupled with a pair of Solid-State drives or any other hard disks that offer much higher performance than the Western Digital Velociraptors used today? We'll be sure to test this theory when we get a chance.
 
Of course, performance isn't the 'be all and end all' of what you should be looking for in a RAID controller, and despite the majority of PC enthusiasts having little interest in anything outside of this area the Adaptec 2405 is packed with many enterprise level features that are well suited to a server environment. For starters there is support for up to 128 SAS/SATA devices through use of expanders, support for all major OS's with the Adaptec Storage Manager suite running on everything from Windows to Solaris and finally the ability to remotely control and BIOS flash the card which comes in very handy indeed if your server is co-located in a data centre.
 
To sum things up, the Adaptec RAID 2405 offers an extensive feature list for a budget RAID card and managed to consistently take the gold in each of our benchmarks. However, even when coupled with the fastest SATA drives on the market, the performance difference between the Adaptec card and Intel's firmware based "Matrix" RAID was negligible, and possibly the only real performance improvements will be had when moving to seriously fast storage solutions such as SSD or 15,000RPM SAS drives.
 
The Adaptec RAID 2405 card can be purchased from www.ebuyer.com for £191.63 (as on 10/11/08).
 
 
The Good
- Burst rates 100MB/s higher than Intel Matrix RAID
- Feature set of a high-end RAID card.
- Support for a wide range of OS's.
- Lower CPU utilisation.
- Support for both SATA and SAS disks.
 
The Mediocre
- Very little real world performance advantage with our chosen disks.
- Card initialisation time is quite slow.
 
The Bad
- Lack of RAID5 support.
 
 
Overclock3D Recommended Award
 
Thanks to both Adaptec and Seagate for making today's review possible. Discuss in our forums.