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Reader Review: Atlas 10K Series 2 RAID:Return to Accelerate Your Mac!

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Pleasantly Surprised: Atlas 10K II RAID Review
Published: Sept. 19, 2001
Andrew Watters

Introduction

Released in May 2000 amid significant delays, the Atlas 10K II is an "Ultra160" 10,000 RPM SCSI unit. At an initial street price of $400 for a single 9.1 GB drive, the Atlas 10K II was significantly cheaper than the competing Seagate Cheetah 36LP, giving pro users and Quantum's sales department high expectations...

Now it's 2001, and there are a number of drives from the likes of IBM, Fujitsu, and Seagate that eclipse the Atlas 10K II's performance figures. In addition, Quantum sold its hard drive division to Maxtor in 2001, so the Atlas 10K II is one of the last Quantum-branded drives. Despite being outgunned by the forthcoming Maxtor Atlas 10K III, the 10K II has the advantage of low unit price, making it ideal for use in RAID configurations for demanding applications.

Equipment

I purchased two 18.4GB Atlas 10K II drives from Hyper Micro for $229 each. The cable is Granite Digital TPO GD-1200 ($80.99) along with the GD-2015 terminator ($79.00). Since LVD drives are not able to terminate themselves, an external terminator is required. Until I get enough cash for the Atto ExpressPCI Ultra3 dual-channel board, I'll be using the $99 Initio Miles U2W, which is a great board itself. Please note that the Atlas 10K II will run in Ultra2 LVD mode, since the MilesU2W does not support Ultra160.

  • OS 10.0.4 & 9.2.1
  • Power Mac G4 (PCI Graphics) at 400 MHz
  • Initio MilesU2W, firmware 3.20
  • 2 18.4GB Quantum Atlas 10K II hard drives
  • Granite Digital TPO cabling, GD-2015 Terminator
  • Softraid 2.2.2
With the Initio 3.20 beta firmware, the card is bootable from OS X. Yes! OS 10.1 adds RAID support, so your best bet is to use the Apple Disk Utility to retain maximum compatibility. SoftRAID HFS and HFS+ volumes are bootable from Mac OS X also.

Why did I not use the Initio twisted pair LVD cable and terminator included with the MilesU2W? It was too long, looked a little bit cheap, and as noted on the Softraid website, LVD cabling and terminators can affect performance significantly. It's like the attitude you should have when going into a bar: you deserve the best!

Installation

The Apple G4 has an elegant expansion system with slide-out brackets. There are 4 spots for hard drives on the baseplane. The included hard drive is mounted on a double-decker bracket to accomodate a second ATA/IDE drive. The Atlas 10K II's install nicely into the other two brackets. Since I don't have a zip drive, I have two more spots to use when I want to add more drives. The Initio MilesU2W should be installed in the bottom PCI slot to yield maximum performance, according to MacGurus. If you have any older Mac, you should use the top slot. As for cabling, the shortest possible length works best. There are also remote LEDs available for Granite terminators that let you monitor the SCSI bus from outside the case, but that seems like overkill to me.
I ran into a few snags during installation, though are probably not the fault of Quantum. One of the drives appeared to be dead on arrival. I sent it back to Hyper Micro. Here's a photo of the drives installed in the two brackets on the left. Cable removed for clarity:

Temperature & Noise

The drives sound about as loud as the standard Apple/Quantum Fireball CX included with the G4, but at a much lower pitch. The drives gave off a low frequency vibration until I found the correct "little screws" for the drive brackets. From what I've heard about 10,000 RPM drives, the Atlas 10K II is quiet by comparison. The drives feel warm during operation, but not hot to the touch. The G4 case fan is quite large, which might help.

Configuration and Performance Tests

I tested each drive separately, followed by a RAID test. SoftRAID is the fastest disk driver for Mac OS, allowing the creation of RAID levels 0 and 1. Level 0 is the well-known "striped" array that treats two or more disks as one volume, and is the most common type. Until the next release of SoftRAID, 0 and 1 are the only available levels.

SoftRAID configuration. It turns out that a mirrored volume is not bootable under OS 9.2.1, so I changed this config after testing.

Fireball CX (included drive) performance figures-- quite respectable for an included hard drive.

Single Atlas 10K II performance figures [note that the drive has an 8mb cache, so the 8mb sample size may not produce an accurate result.]

RAID performance. Note that in Hard Disk Toolkit, there appears to be no increase in speed. In Atto ExpressPro Tools, the high figures have been attributed to the 8MB cache on the Atlas 10K II. I don't know why the RAID scores are little more than a single disk. Mac OS 10.1 will include RAID support, so I may re-test after the update.

OS X configuration. I'm waiting until 10.1 to make a RAID that works under OS X.

Conclusion

While the Atlas 10K II doesn't match the performance of the newest Ultra160/Ultra3 drives, its comparatively low price makes it great for use in RAID setups. The setup I have is great for entry-level RAID, but for the best performance you'll need a "Quicksilver" G4 with Atto ExpressPCI Ultra3 and your Ultra3 drives of choice. For the rest of us, the Atlas 10K II and Initio MilesU2W are a dynamic duo!

There is a huge downside to using RAID in a "Yosemite" G3 or in any G4: you can't boot from a striped volume on account of Apple's new ROM architecture. Maybe this will change with OS X's built-in RAID support. A good reason to either consistently buy the newest Apple hardware or stay with the older machines. Unless you have an Apple OEM SCSI board, your best bet is to get a fast UltraDMA hard drive like the Western Digital Caviar WD1000BB and boot from that. And be satisfied with your potentially 80MB/sec Photoshop-Premiere-Final Cut Pro scratch disk.



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