HighPoint RocketRAID 2302 RAID Controller Review
By Gabriel Torres on June 2, 2008
RocketRAID 2302 is one of the simplest RAID controllers from HighPoint, featuring two internal SATA-300 ports and two external eSATA-300 ports, supporting RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD. With several motherboards coming with RAID capability why should someone spend USD 120 to have an add-on RAID controller? That is the question we will try to answer in this review.
If you are new to RAID, we recommend you to read our tutorial How to Setup a RAID System, where we explain everything you need to know about RAID. In this tutorial you will information on what is RAID, the difference between RAID levels, etc.
As you can see in Figure 1, RocketRAID 2302 uses a PCI Express x1 connector. What is really interesting about PCI Express is that you can install this card on any PCI Express slot, including bigger slots like x4, x8 and x16. The card, however, will still work at x1 transfer rate.
As mentioned, this card has two internal SATA-300 ports and two external eSATA-300 ports, making it a product targeted to average users looking for a simple RAID controller. If you need more ports you will need to look for another product, like RocketRAID 2300, which offers four internal SATA-300 ports but no eSATA ports.
It is also important to notice that cards from RocketRAID 2000 series aren’t 100% hardware-based –some processing is still done by the system CPU and that is why they are also called “software RAID” cards. Only cards from RocketRaid 3000 family are 100% hardware-based and that is why they are more expensive. Hardware-based cards also provide on-board memory cache to increase performance, which also increases the final price. Just as an example, RocketRAID 3510 also features four SATA ports but costs around USD 300, more than double – this other card is 100% hardware-based, has 256 MB memory cache and supports RAID 6.
RocketRAID 2302 is based on Marvell 88SX7042 RAID controller.
So, what is the difference of RocketRAID 2302 RAID controller to a typical RAID solution provided by the motherboard and that you get “for free” when you buy a board that has this feature?
In this review we will compare the performance of RocketRAID 2302 with the performance of Intel ICH9R south bridge RAID, so we will discuss performance later.
Feature-wise, this card provides some interesting features not provided by on-board RAID solutions, such as Online Capacity Expansion (OCE), Online RAID Level Migration (ORLM), hot swap, hot spare and remote management.
Online Capacity Expansion (OCE) allows you to add more disks to your RAID array while Online RAID Level Migration (ORLM) allows you to change the RAID level of your array. Both features can be done with the operating system loaded and your system working, even with the hard disk drives being accessed, so you won’t face any loss of data. On motherboard RAID solutions you usually don’t have these features and if you need to add disks or change your RAID level you need to backup your data and reconfigure your RAID array, which involves reformatting your drives and losing all data.
Hot swap allows you to replace a hard disk drive with the computer turned on, in case of disk failure. Notice that you need first to access the RAID control panel on the operating system and select the hot swap function before removing any drive from your system; this will shut down the hard disk drive, allowing you to remove it from the system.
And hot spare allows you to have an additional drive on the array ready to replace any other disk from your array in case of disk failure.
RocketRAID 2302 comes with two eSATA cables and two SATA cables, plus a low-profile bracket, see Figure 3.
Installation of RocketRAID 2302 is very easy. Simply install it on any available PCI Express slot from your motherboard, install the hard disk drives and turn on your PC to setup your RAID array. As mentioned, even though it is a PCI Express x1 card you can install RocketRAID 2302 on any PCI Express slot, including x4, x8 and x16.
After turning on your PC, you will need to press Control H to enter the card’s control panel. However, we highly recommend you to first upgrade the card’s BIOS. This is done by downloading the latest BIOS from the manufacturer’s website (the file contains both the BIOS file and the programming software) and running the program, unzipping the file first, of course. You will have to do this procedure by installing the card on any computer with Windows, and you will need to do that on another computer if you are building a new system.
The procedure is similar from what is described on our How to Setup a RAID System tutorial. The only difference is that before doing anything you need “Initialize” each drive. If you don’t do this the control panel will complain that there are no RAID-compatible drives on the system.
One thing we noticed is that RocketRAID 2302 doesn’t allow us to select the strip size that will be used.
Next you will need to install the operating system. Don’t forget to create the necessary floppy disk (read the above mentioned tutorial for more details), by running the CD-ROM that comes with the product on any computer and selecting the appropriate option.
After installing the operating system you should install the control panel for the RAID card. Thru this control panel you can check the status of the array, change the array level, turn any of the disks off so it can be removed with the computer turned on (hot swap), access the control panel remotely through a web-based interface and even get e-mail notifications if something goes wrong with your array.
We built a RAID0 array with two 160 GB hard disk drives and compared the performance of this system against the performance achieved with a RAID0 array using the same drives but controlled by ICH9R south bridge chip from the motherboard we were using (ASUS P5K-E/WiFi-AP, which is based on Intel P35 chipset), using the recommended stripe size, 128 KB. We also compared the results with the performance of a single drive installed on our PC, in order to see how much performance gain you should expect to achieve with a RAID0 system.
During our tests we used the configuration listed below.
We adopted a 3% error margin. So, performance differences below 3% cannot be considered meaningful. In other words, products where the performance difference is below 3% must be considered as having similar performance.
As you could see in the previous page, we measured performance using three different programs, DiskSpeed 32, HD Tach and HD Tune. Let’s first analyze the results achieved with DiskSpeed32 (results are in KB/s).
The burst speed achieved by RocketRAID 2302 was 47.81% higher than the one achieved by a single disk. On SpeedDisk32, however, ICH9R achieved a higher burst speed, being 26.68% faster than the reviewed card. RocketRAID 2302, however, achieved a higher transfer speed: its average transfer speed was 63.69% higher than the average transfer speed of a single drive and 18.92% higher than the one achieved by the on-board RAID solution (Intel ICH9R).
Results with HD Tach were similar. ICH9R achieved a higher burst speed but RocketRAID 2302 achieved a higher average transfer rate. RocketRAID 2302 achieved a burst speed 41.03% higher than a single drive configuration, but ICH9R achieved a burst speed 18.55% higher. RocketRAID 2302 average transfer speed was 87.68% higher than a single drive configuration and 8.61% higher than ICH9R. The results on the chart above are in MB/s.
On HD Tune the burst speed achieved by RocketRAID 2032 was 7.42% higher than the one achieved by the on-board solution (ICH9R), however both achieved a burst speed lower than the one we achieved with just one hard disk drive (6.49% faster than RocketRAID 2032). RocketRAID 2032 average transfer rate was 87.65% higher than single drive configuration and 9.80% higher than our on-board RAID solution based on ICH9R. The results on the chart are in MB/s.
As a final note, pay attention on how hard disk drives can’t reach anywhere close to the theoretical maximum transfer rate of 300 MB/s set by the SATA-300 standard. This transfer rate is the maximum capacity of the interface; the actual transfer rate will depend on the drive.
HighPoint RocketRAID 2302 main features are:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
In this review we could clearly see that a RAID0 system definitely improves disk performance. The question is: should I stick with an on-board RAID solution that comes “for free” with my motherboard or should buy an add-on RAID card like HighPoint RocketRAID 2302?
RocketRAID 2302 will certainly bring a higher transfer rate for your disk system: during our tests it increased the average transfer rate between 9% and 19% compared to our on-board RAID solution, based on Intel ICH9R.
While for high-end users this performance increase can easily justify buying a USD 120 card, average users will probably be fine using the on-board RAID solution – unless you think the extra features provided by RocketRAID 2302 are worth the price.
Among these features usually not provided by on-board RAID solutions are OCE and ORLM, which allow you to add more drives to your array and change your array level, respectively, without data loss (i.e., without needing to reformat the array) and with the computer running, with data being transferred, and hot swap and hot spare, which allow you to replace drives with the computer turned on (you need to turn off the drives through the RAID controller control panel first) and to have a spare drive that will be automatically used if any drive on your array fails, respectively.