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About three years ago we got a SATA RAID controller ARC-1220 from the then-obscure Areca. It proved to be so good that it became the basis for the testbed we have used to benchmark HDDs in RAID arrays. Today, we’ve got another product from Areca called ARC-1680ix-16. It is based on a faster processor and supports SAS drives.

Like its opponents, Areca has released a whole generation of SAS-supporting products. The ARC-1300 series is the simplest, offering 4 to 16 SAS ports but no RAID functionality. The ARC-1212 and ARC-1222 series are full-featured RAID controllers that offer 4 and 8 external ports, respectively, and support all the standard array types. And finally, the ARC-1680 series provides the widest functionality, and it is an ARC-1680 series controller that we are going to test today.

Closer Look at Areca ARC-1680ix-16

The new series offers controllers to everyone’s taste: with external or external ports or a combination thereof. All models of the series fall into two groups: low-profile and full-size. The first group includes RAID controllers with 8 ports in all combinations. Areca is somewhat unclear on that point but it looks like all models of this group have more modest specs: a dual-core processor with a clock rate of 800MHz and 512 megabytes of DDR2-533 SDRAM.

The full-size models, including the 16-port sample that we’ve got, are somewhat more exciting. Their Intel IOP348 processor is clocked at 1.2GHz whereas their 512MB of memory is not soldered to the PCB but installed as a standard 240-pin DDR2-533 module with ECC. It means you can replace this module with a larger one if you want to. The manufacturer claims the controller support modules with capacities up to 4 gigabytes. We could not find an unbuffered 4GB module with ECC (a buffered module would not work) but a 2GB module worked normally.

The resulting controller specs match those of today’s entry-level PCs. We will test the controller with its default 512 megabytes of memory, though.

There are unusually many connectors at the controller’s bracket. The middle connector is an ordinary SFF-8088 (an external SAS connector for four ports). To the right of it there is an RJ-45 connector that allows managing the controller via an SNMP client. This is a useful and proper (for such a high-class controller) addition to the traditional management tools (BIOS settings and network control panel). The leftmost connector is RJ-11. It emulates an RS-232 port for upgrading SAS expanders’ firmware.

The kit contains more items than usual. Besides a traditional CD with drivers and software, user manual and cables, there is a cable with an RJ-11 plug on one end and an RS-232 plug on the other end. This cable is used to upgrade SAS expanders’ firmware. The user manual deserves our praise. You usually get a brief paper copy and a full version of the manual in electronic format, but here the controller comes with a 170-page book that details all of the device’s particulars and provides some general information about RAIDs.

The full list of supported array types is long enough and includes all popular as well as a few exotic (like RAID30) types of RAID. Here it is:

  • Single HDD
  • JBOD
  • RAID0
  • RAID1
  • RAID1E
  • RAID3
  • RAID5
  • RAID6
  • RAID10
  • RAID30
  • RAID50
  • RAID60

All ARC-1680 series controllers support a battery backup unit. If you’ve got an older Areca controller, you may be glad to hear that the BBU model has not changed.

As you can expect from a modern controller, the manufacturer’s website offers regularly updated firmware as well as drivers and an OS-based management utility that runs under Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris and Netware. You can also get a management information base for SNMP there.

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