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12/3/01 Monday's News: Story DetailReturn to News Page

Real World Tests with Sonnet vs Orange Micro Firewire/USB Cards in 9500
Published: 12/3/2001
" Mike,
Thanks for a great site.
I recently purchased both the OrangeMicro FW/USB 2.0 combo card and the Sonnet Tango combo card. I had two machines to upgrade and decided to try one in each. I'm keeping them both. Tested were an Oxford 911 chip 7200 RPM 80g firewire drive and a QPS Plextor 16x CDRW drive. I'm not doing anything with USB at the moment but I tested keyboard and mouse function, and they were fine on both cards.

I'm using OS 9.1 but loaded the Firewire support and enabler extensions from 9.2.1. Test system was a 9500/Newer G3 400, ProTools mix plus system (slots 1-3), FW card in slot 4, ATTO SCSI dual-channel UW in 5, ATI video in 6. I didn't load any 3rd-party drivers for either card and I initialized the FW disk in the Finder. I had no crashes or Finder copy freezes with either card.

The OrangeMicro card uses the NEC chip (yes, still does, although I don't know if it's the same chip as earlier) and the Sonnet uses Lucent. I ran ATTO's benchmark test and came up with interesting results. The Lucent chip outperformed the NEC chip in write speed (peak & sustained around 19mb/sec vs 15mb/sec) but the reverse was true in read speed (peak up to 25mb/sec NEC, 17mb/sec Lucent; sustained was a few mb lower for both). These speeds were reflected in real-world Finder copies of 8g of mixed audio and smaller files from an Ultra-SCSI 10k drive on the ATTO UW: 7.3 mb/sec using Lucent, 6.3mb/sec using NEC in SCSI to FW copies, and 6.3mb/sec using Lucent, 7.3mb/sec using NEC going from FW to SCSI.

Both cards were happy using Toast to burn audio CDs to firewire at 16x, but I had to disable Apple's Firewire Authoring Support in favor of Toast Firewire Support to get Toast to recognize the burner.

The most interesting results were obtained with ProTools hardware. The OrangeMicro card proved unacceptable for playing back audio files in that loud ticks and pops were present all over the place in some sessions. This was not true for every session and I have no explanation as to the cause or lack of consistency. Now, remember that this is the _faster_ read-speed card. The Sonnet card played back the same sessions just fine. Perhaps the OrangeMicro card is too fast for its own good... Both cards handled recording fine, but the OrangeMicro card could record _more_ tracks - and this is the _slower_ card for write speed. And the final curiosity: I created a torture-test stretch of 13 edits across all audio tracks with crossfades in the span of 1 second. The "slower" Sonnet card performed _better_ (i.e. higher track count before "disk too slow" error message). Track count in general was about what I would expect given the benchmarks; not up to UW SCSI by a long shot, but definitely usable. The Sonnet card handles up to 20 tracks of reliable playback and can simultaneously record another 20 tracks, which is quite decent. For comparison, using a 10k unfragmented drive on UW SCSI, I can get 64 tracks in any combination of record and playback. What I have not yet tested is ProTools performance with multiple FW drives playing audio files.

Anyway, due to the OrangeMicro playback problem, I'm keeping the Sonnet card in the 9500 and I put the OrangeMicro card in a PowerBase/PowerLogix 350 G3 tower which we use as our AIT tape backup station, where we can now do Retrospect backups of Firewire drives as well. I just finished the first major test of a backup and restore of 28g of audio data and everything is working fine.

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