Firewire and USB Performance

It is really difficult to put together a simple, repeatable, and consistent test to measure USB and Firewire Performance. Since our goal was to make this a standard part of motherboard testing, we needed a benchmark that was reasonably simple to run and that would also provide consistent results on the same test bed. We finally determined that an external USB 2.0, Firewire 400, and Firewire 800 hard disk might be a sensible way to look at USB and Firewire throughput.

Our first efforts at testing with an IDE or SATA drive as the "server" yielded very inconsistent results, since Windows XP sets up cache schemes to improve performance. Finally, we decided to try a RAM disk as our "server", since memory removed almost all overhead from the serving end. We also managed to turn off disk caching on the USB and Firewire side by setting up the drives for "quick disconnect" and our results were then consistent over many test runs.

We used just 1GB of fast 2-2-2 system memory set up as a 450MB RAM disk and 550MB of system memory. Our stock file was the SPECviewPerf install file, which is 432,533,504 bytes. After copying this file to our RAM disk, we recorded the time to write from the RAM disk to our external USB 2.0 or Firewire 400 or Firewire 800 drive using a Windows timing program written for AnandTech by our own Jason Clark. The copy times in seconds were then converted into Megabits per second (Mb) to provide a convenient means of comparing throughput. Higher Rates therefore mean better performance.

Firewire & USB Performance

Possibly the most striking finding in our Firewire and USB throughput tests is the performance of a hard drive connected to Firewire 800. Gigabyte is the only SLI board to feature Firewire 800, and they have used Firewire 1394b on their top boards for almost a year. If you wonder why Firewire 800 matters, just look at the data. Our benchmarks show Firewire 800 at 40% to 55% faster than a drive connected to the more common Firewire 400, and about 16% faster than USB 2.0. The Firewire 800 drive even approaches performance of the IDE drive on the nVidia controller.

Our test is just one of many throughput tests, but in this benchmark, it is clear that the VIA Firewire 400 is faster than TI's 1394a chip.

All of the SATA solutions also slightly outperform IDE in our timed copy from RAM disk. We did not have SATA 2 drives to test with the onboard nVidia SATA2 or the MSI Sil3132, but it is still interesting that throughput with a SATA 1 drive is still a bit faster on the SATA 2 controllers than on SATA 1. We are looking forward to testing the SATA 2 controllers with true SATA 2 drives, which should begin appearing in the next few weeks.

Disk Controller Performance Ethernet Performance
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  • Gholam - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    I'm curious, where can I find benchmarks of SiI3114 with a 3 or 4 drive RAID5 setup? Read/write speed, access time, CPU utilization (especially important since it's essentially a software hack), general stability impressions, etc.

    I'm finally replacing my aging Duron 1200 soon, and looking at A8N-SLI Deluxe (no other NF4 board has a layout suitable for passive/quiet chipset cooling due to video card interference), and I plan to eventually build a ~700GB redundant storage array as home media server on it. However, I can't find benchmarks of SiI3114 RAID5 function anywhere.
    Reply
  • Slaimus - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    About the audio CPU utilization tests. Is that with the nForce Audio or Realtek driver? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #15,#18 and others - the 3DMark2003 SLI scores were an incorrect duplicate of 3DMark05. The 3DMark03 SLI scores have now been corrected and should make sense now. I apologize for the error.

    #4 - I saw none of the heat and instability issues with the DFI that were described at [H]. I discussed this with Editors from several other websites who also had no problems with this board. I would agree that the 5V jumper for very high memory voltages can get everything on the board real hot real fast, but this is a feature unique to the DFI and one that only the hardcore with more advanced cooling would attempt to use anyway.

    #5,#20 - Any x16 PCIe slot can be used for x1 or x4 or any other flavor of PCIe. MSI does NOT have an extra x1 slot, but they tell us video slot 2 can be used for an x1 device. You still can't use SLI and another PCIe device at the same time on the MSI, but you can use single video with an additional PCIe device in video slot 2.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    #4 - Abit has just shipped the Fatal1ty Ultra board to AnandTech. We haven't even received it yet. It will be included in a later Ultra roundup, bu the Ultra boards will have the same performance in single video as the similar SLI board from the same manufacturer. We met with Abit this weekend and they told us it would still be several weeks until their SLI would be available for review - and the SLI is NOT a Fatal!ty board. Reply
  • L3p3rM355i4h - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    318fsb 1:1? Jeezus Christ! Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    "but on the Asus board you also have to connect another 4-pin Molex for additional video card power. Asus says that this is required for "stable SLI operation", but the other 3 SLI designs do fine and are quite stable without the 5th power connector."

    The gold-winner DFI also has the same connector, though it wasn't mentioned in the review. And even though it wasn't necessary in your testings (with an OCZ 520W PSU), other people (like tbreak.com) could only find a stable SLI setup with the ASUS board, probably because of it.
    I also don't think its location is important, the fact it's close to the PCI-E x16 slots is probably a smart engineering decision.

    For future reviews it would be nice if you could show results with "Maximum FSB" where it actually means "Maximum FSB", that is, you remove memory overclocking from the table. It's great to see DDR600 and beyond, but I'm the kind of guy who spends $130 for quality 1GB of RAM, but still want a board that can take a 3000+ to 9*300.
    It's not really a 1:1 ratio as you're always using a divider for memory speeds (from the CPU clock).

    Looking forward to reviews of the mainstream PCI-E boards (K8T890, nF4 Ultra, etc).
    Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    oops typo

    It's a shame that there are non nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.

    I meant

    It's a shame that there are none nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.
    Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Jeez, Wesley, that must have been a hell of a job. Thanx.

    It's a shame that there are non nF4 Ultra boards with HD Audio.

    #12 Right, I am contemplating the Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-9 (the Ultra, not the SLI) and wonder if the Yesico FL-420ATX will do. Have you searched http://www.msi.com.tw/program/products/mainboard/m... or http://www.giga-byte.com/MotherBoard/Products/Prod... ? Look for manuals (Gigabyte) and compatability tables (MSI).
    I wish though these manufacturers would clearly state if its ATX 1.3 or 2.0 etc + minimum V/A requirements. That would be much easier than scrolling through their website.

    Just one silly question, because this has not been clear since the introduction of SLI-boards. Can you use a one of the 16xPCI-e slots on a SLI-board for something else than a second graphics card (in the future)? Maybe a (hefty) soundcard in the future?
    Reply
  • neologan - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    btw, excellent review, one of the best i've read in a long time! Reply
  • blckgrffn - Monday, February 28, 2005 - link

    Yeah, what is with the 3dmark03 scores? The SLI seems really low..more like a repeat of the 05 scores....

    Glad to see more indepth mobo reviews! I for one was getting tired of looking at the BIOS as a way to differentiate!
    Reply

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