Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/14

Promise Ultra 33

by Anand Lal Shimpi on July 17, 1997 2:07 PM EST


So you've invested a few hundred in a great motherboard, you have an excellent processor, the best and fastest RAM, you've overclocked it to death, have a Monster 3D, and you only have $400 left for a hard drive...looks like that Cheetah is out of the question, and the only other option is that "value priced" 540MB SCSI 2 and controller. Sounds like your stuck with 4GB of reliable, SLOW EIDE storage...or are you? The new Promise Ultra33 Controller Card gives you support for Ultra-ATA (UltraDMA/33) hard drives, without having to trash that wonderful motherboard for a limited TX model. And in some cases...provides faster performance than a TX based motherboard with an Ultra-ATA HDD!!!

Bus Type: PCI 2.1

EIDE/Ultra ATA Channels: 2 Channels (4 - Devices Total)

Price: $70 MSRP

The Good

Open the box...take out the card...pop it in...that's all it takes to install the completely Plug 'n Play Ultra33 controller card. Upon bootup, Win95 detects the card as a PCI Raid controller (no that's not a misprint!), however when you use the supplied device driver everything runs smoothly. The Ultra33 includes its own PnP BIOS, which initializes upon startup, configuring all attached devices. It accurately detected my Quantum Fireball ST, and configured it as a UDMA Mode 2 Hard Drive. No setup function is necessary with the Ultra 33 for true PnP operation. And because of its advanced on-board BIOS, the Ultra33 breaks the 8.4GB barrier present on some motherboards. Promise even includes an excellent utility for getting the most out of your Ultra ATA hard drive, UltraTune. UltraTune allows the user to select which type of application to optimize the Hard Drive's performance for, Business, Desktop Publishing / CAD, Audio / Video Editing, or Games. This utility does have a positive effect on your system performance, as you might be able to tell from the Test results below. When using the 2 Channels on the Ultra33 you free up the 2 Channels you have on your motherboard, making it possible to use a total of 8 EIDE Devices (provided you have a few extra IRQ/DMA channels free). Don't feel restricted to Ultra ATA drives when using this controller card, for the first time you can have that 4 Hard Drive + 1 CDROM drive configuration which you've been longing for. Performance wise, you can't tell the difference between a Ultra33 with an Ultra ATA HDD and a motherboard with Ultra ATA support and an Ultra ATA HDD. In some cases, the Promise Ultra33 provided faster performance in my real world tests than the AOpen AX5T (TX based motherboard with Ultra ATA support)! My Quantum ST when paired with the Ultra33 controller came as close to SCSI performance as you can possibly get for the amazing price ($70 for the Controller + < $300 for the drive). If you're looking for near SCSI performance without the cost...consider this combo.

The Bad

The Ultra33 does have its flaws, although most of them can be fixed by a little tweaking. First of all, if you happen to have a SCSI boot device, be sure to have the SCSI Card's BIOS load before the Ultra33's BIOS, otherwise the Ultra33 will assume that it should be the designated boot device and will boot...regardless of your configuration. This can be done simply by moving your Ultra33 to the last PCI slot (usually the slot furthest away from the ISA slots) or at least closer to the last PCI slot than your SCSI card. This will allow the SCSI BIOS to initialize before the Ultra33's BIOS, therefore fixing any problems you may have there. Secondly, the Ultra33 did not appreciate the fact that I had an AWE64 in my system. From the minute I installed the Ultra33 to the minute I removed it, my sound card would simply not function. It was a simple device conflict not mentioned in Win95's Device Manager, however I'm just giving you fair warning that this may happen. The final problem I experienced with the Ultra 33, was its design. There is really nothing that can be done about it, but the Hard Drive Channels on the small low profile PCI card are placed in such a way that after you install the HDD cables, any PCI cards located directly beneath it may be pushed down a tad. To avoid this you can simply move the card to a slot without a neighboring card below it. Overall, the Promise Ultra33 is an excellent add-on to the power hungry, speed crazed user's system...with a few minor flaws.



The Test

When I approached comparing the hard drives, I realized early on that synthetic benchmarking just wouldn't work. So I devised a few real world copy/move tests to really give these hard drives a fair chance against each other. I simulated an installation of Windows 95 Service Release 2 (the copying part) by transferring a collection of files totaling 79.4MB, 81,305.6KB, or 8,325,6934.4 Bytes (a megabyte in this case is equal to 210 kilobytes or 1024KB). I tested each hard drive's ability to transfer files from one partition to another, simulating simultaneous read/writes, as well as the ability to transfer from one hard drive to another.

Test Configuration

Processor(s): Intel Pentium II - 300
BIOS Revision: Megatrends FX83-A
RAM: 2 - 32MB 50ns Micron EDO
Hard Drive(s): Quantum Atlas II XP34550
Quantum Fireball ST 3.2A
Western Digital Caviar AC21600H
Busmaster EIDE Drivers: Intel v3.01
OS: Windows 95 Service Release 2
Cooling Configuration: Enlight 7230 Mid-Tower ATX Case
2 - Secondary Brushless Case Fans
OEM Pentium II Heatsink

Quantum Fireball ST Performance w/ Ultra33

  Score (lower is better) using UltraTune
Test Business Desktop Publishing/CAD A/V Editing Games
Move Test File from Partition 1 to Partition 2: 28.26s 29.63s 39.08s 35.72s
Move Test File from Partition 2 to Partition 1: 30.15s 31.26s 31.11s 29.94s
Move Test File from Fireball ST to EIDE Test Drive: 31.09s 31.37s 29.37s 32.71s
Move Test File from EIDE Test Drive to Fireball ST: 24.98s 25.13s 21.00s 24.70s
Move Test File from Fireball ST to Atlas II: 13.24s 18.17s 16.14s 15.56s
Move Test File from Atlas II to Fireball ST: 23.38s 24.97s 18.07s 24.70s
Load Time for Microsoft Frontpage 97 Editor: 10.07s 9.93s 11.42s 11.15s
Load Time for Microsoft Word 97: 2.71s 3.02s 4.82s 3.05s
Best Scores in Green, Worst Scores in Red

The above chart shows you the effects of the different settings UltraTune gives you with the Ultra33 Controller card and your hard drive. The Business Application setting is by far the best and fastest setting, however for the best possible read/write performance you will want to use the A/V Editing setting. As you might be able to tell be both of these charts, the Promise Ultra33 controller sped up performance with the Quantum Fireball ST a small amount over that of the TX based motherboard with the exact same hard drive!

Quantum Fireball ST Performance w/o Ultra33

Test Score (lower is better)
Move Test File from Partition 1 to Partition 2: 30.08s
Move Test File from Partition 2 to Partition 1: 31.25s
Move Test File from Fireball ST to EIDE Test Drive: 34.98s
Move Test File from EIDE Test Drive to Fireball ST: 24.55s

The Ultra33 combined with the Quantum Fireball ST is an unbeatable team, and approaches SCSI performance closer than any other hard drive. It is definitely worth the extra $70, the perfect addition to any powerhouse system.

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