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We are resuming our RAID controller reviews with the 3Ware 9650SE-16ML model to show our respect to the company that has undergone a lot of changes recently. Particularly, it has been devoured by AMCC. The company transformed and its products changed, too. They would acquire an external cache memory module but then would lose it again.

Keeping up with the times, 3Ware products acquired SATA2 support, transitioned to the PCI Express bus, began to work with the now-fashionable RAID6. The outcome of all this is the 3Ware 9650SE series. One controller from this series will be discussed in this review.

Closer Look at AMCC 3Ware 9650SE-16ML

Not a senior model in the series. The 9650SE-16ML controller has 16 ports for hard disks (four multilane connectors each of which supports up to four devices) and 256 megabytes of DDR2-533 SDRAM. The senior model is called 9650SE-24MB and it has 24 ports and 512 megabytes of memory. And if you need low-profile controllers, you’ll find them in this series too, but they support no more than eight ports. The controllers all support the PCI Express interface, but the junior model with two ports is equipped with PCI Express x1, the 4- and 8-port models with PCI Express x4, and the senior models support PCI Express x8. Of course, the senior models are compatible with the narrower buses. Every version, except for the junior 9650SE-2LP, supports a battery module for cache memory.


Besides the controller, the box contains a standard selection of accessories: a user manual, a disc with drivers, and four interface cables.


An AMCC Power PC 405CR chip is the controller’s processor. 3Ware doesn’t specify its frequency but it must be 266MHz judging by the marking. Two eight-channel SATA-II chips Marvell 88SX6081-BCZ1 are responsible for the disks. This is a noteworthy change – 3Ware used to employ its own chips before.

The controller supports a long list of operating systems including 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Microsoft Windows 2003/XP/2000, Red Hat Linux, SuSE Linux, Fedora Linux, Linux cores 2.4 and 2.6, FreeBSD. You can find the full list at the manufacturer’s website and download the latest drivers and firmware from there.

The 3Ware 9650SE-16ML supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50 as well as Single Disk mode (when the controller “outputs” the attached HDDs as independent disks) and JBOD. There is one peculiarity about RAID6: the controller doesn’t allow using this array type for less than five HDDs. You cannot build a four-disk RAID6 neither through the BIOS nor in the 3DM program. We were really perplexed at that because four disks is the theoretical minimum necessary for a RAID6 (as opposed to RAID5, this array type needs one disk more to store the checksum). Still, the controller would not do that and we had to contact the developer’s tech support for the explanation.

We found out that the prohibition of four-disk RAID6 had no technical foundation. It is all about marketing, actually. They thought that if the performance of a four-disk RAID6 is lower than that of a four-disk RAID10, the user should not be given the opportunity to build a four-disk RAID6 at all.

As a matter of fact, RAID10 has lower reliability than RAID6. A RAID6 can survive the failure of any two disks whereas data on a RAID10 only survive if the two malfunctioning disks are in different mirror pairs (to remind you, RAID10 is a stripe of mirror pairs). The logic of the marketing people from 3Ware escapes us really.

The controller supports such technologies as SATA2, eighth-generation StorSwitch architecture, 64-bit LBA addressing, and StreamFusion for optimizing multithreaded requests. It comes with the 3DM version 2 program that can be used to manage the hard disks and arrays under Windows.

The program offers information about the controller and disks attached to it as well as about the battery status. It also displays system warnings and controller messages. Its main purpose is in managing arrays and specifying the controller’s settings in the appropriate sections of the Management tab.

We won’t describe the settings because you can see them clear enough in the screenshots above. We used this program to manage the arrays and controller throughout our tests and found it to be an easy-to-use tool indeed. Although lacking a pretty interface, it offers all the options in a logical manner. You don’t need a user manual to find your way around. The available features are labeled in such a way as to be intuitively understood by everyone who has some basic understanding of RAID technology.

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