Review: HighPoint RocketRaid 642L SATA/eSATA card

HighPoint second generation 642L RAID card examined (February 6th, 2013)

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: HighPoint

Price: $109

The Good

  • Low profile card
  • Blistering speed with SSD
  • Cross platform with excellent Linux and Mac support
  • SSD TRIM support in single drive or RAID

The Bad

  • Not actually a x4 PCI-E card
  • Not RAID bootable in 10.8, Windows 8

While a small handful of drives is adequate for most, there are sometimes situations calling for a truly epic amount of storage either internal, or in external RAID cases. Or, perhaps, a specific computer has an older SATA protocol on its motherboard, and the need for speed is beckoning -- on a budget. Either situation is addressed by the new PCI-E x4 HighPoint RocketRaid 642L. By itself, the specs for the HighPoint RocketRaid 642L card are fairly impressive. The card is a full 6Gb/second PCI-E controller with a pair of external e-SATA ports and a pair of internal SATA as well. With port multiplying cases, the e-SATA ports can support five drives each, for a total of ten external drives. Specs are one thing, actual utility is another, and Electronista was given a chance to try out this new card.





HighPoint has an excellent track record with Macintosh support, as well as driver availability for its cards -- the RocketRaid 642L is no exception. The card is compatible with OS X 10.5 and greater through 10.8, with Windows 7 and 8 support as well as Fedora Core, CentOS, and Open SuSE drivers. Our testing platform is an original Mac Pro upgraded to eight cores with 6GB of RAM, running OS X 10.6, 10.7, and Windows 7.

The 2006 Mac Pro has a second generation SATA interface, capable of speeds of up to 3Gb/second, and given most modern drives, has no limitations on achieving speeds approaching the maximum speed. There is no great need for massive charts, or databases of varying drive performances here -- a pair of drives in RAID 0 formatting provide very nearly four times the speed of a single drive on the native bus. As an added bonus, the card is bootable in Windows 7, OS 10.6, and OS 10.7. We weren't able to get the RAID bootable in OS 10.5, 10.8 on a secondary testing computer, or Windows 8. In all three OSes, a single drive OS boot worked fine, pointing to OS issues with the three, rather than a hardware problem.

One specific test stood out to us. We put a pair of SATA 3 SSDs in a RAID 0 format, and booted Windows 7 from it -- the machine booted from "cold iron" at the BIOS screen to desktop in 11 seconds. Repeating the test with OS X 10.7 was similar, with a boot from cold iron to desktop in just under 12 seconds.

While not an issue in the Mac Pro, the card can be automatically configured by BIOS to run at a slower speed, hampering the card somewhat. If the computer's motherboard isn't capable of or configured to deliver enough channels to the I/O of the card, then speed will be limited to PCI-E x1 speed, so a perusal of the computer or motherboard user manual is in order, pre-purchase. The tool installed with the drivers will tell what speed the card is running. While billed as a x4 card, it seems to run in x2 mode electrically, which will only pose a bandwidth and speed limitation if four high-speed SSDs are installed in RAID 0.

From a cost-benefit analysis, the card is an excellent addition to even very new systems to add additional SATA3 and eSATA ports to any PCI-E computer with an available x4 slot. The cross-platform nature of the card makes it excellent to install in any generation of Mac Pro or other machine capable of running multiple operating systems supported by HighPoint. Additionally, the card supports TRIM for SSDs if implemented in the OS, even in a RAID configuration! While most users don't technically need the blistering speed this card provides with a pair of SATA3 SSDs in a RAID, isn't having the capability better than not having it?

by Mike Wuerthele


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