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ACARD ANS-9010 Ramdisk Review

Hard drives are eternally getting bigger and faster. When perpendicular recording was introduced, in 2006, storage made a huge jump in size and speed. Even with the continuous improvements in hard disk technology, there is a class of products that hard drives will never be able to compete with. Ramdisks!

Ramdisks utilize standard computer memory to provide lightning fast storage that no hard drive can match. The downside is that the cost per gigabyte is much higher.

As of this article, a 1 TB (1000 GB) Seagate hard drive costs $89 (Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST31000528AS).
The 16 GB ramdisk used in this article cost nearly $600.

One of the first affordable ramdisk was the i-RAM introduced by Gigabyte in 2005. The i-RAM was limited to 4GB of DDR memory and SATA 1.5 Gb/s.

The ACARD ANS-9010 is the latest affordable ramdisk. Introduced in late 2008, it has several features that put it several notches above the i-RAM. 

The ANS-9010 was purchased for $379 from mwave.com.
The memory used in this review cost $22.99 for each 2 GB Kingston ECC Memory stick.

Here are the specs from the Manufacturer Product Page:
5.25 inch SATA x 2-to-DDR2 RAM Disk
Supports up to 64GB amount of memory
Supports ECC/Non-ECC DDR2 400/533/667/800
Automatic data backup/restore between DDR2 memory and CF card
Built-in Lithium Battery
LED indicators for battery capacity, power status, SATA ports activity, backup status
Driver less: need no driver on host side

The ANS9010 arrived in a plain cardboard box:
 

The box contains:
ANS-9010 Ramdisk
Instruction Manual
2 SATA Cables with 90 degree connectors
1 4-pin molex to sata power adapter cable
2 Jumpers
4 Mounting Screws



Notice the 2 SATA connectors for RAID mode.
There are also jumpers for configuring the RAID and ECC modes of the ramdisk.  


The front of the unit has a power indicator, activity indicators for each sata channel, and a battery level indicator.
There are 2 buttons for restoring and backing up the ramdisk contents to a Compact Flash memory card. 


There is a sticker on the top of the unit that shows various jumper configurations.
Note the sticker that says "Reserved". Under the sticker you can see the jumper configurations disabling and enabling ECC mode.
I assume this is for if non-ECC memory is used.


Inside you can see the 8 memory slots and backup battery. The battery is disconnected during shipping.


Here is my ramdisk about to receive a pile of 2 GB Kingston ECC modules.


Here is the unit fully loaded. Notice the battery indicators show 100% now that the battery is connected.


ANS-9010 Performance

This ramdisk is a very high performance product. It is so fast you may run into performance issues if your hardware cannot support the latest SATA standard. These "issues" simply mean that you cannot utilize all the performance the ANS-9010 can provide. The ANS-9010 allows you to connect the ramdisk to your computer via 1 or 2 serial ports. In the dual port configuration each drive appears as a 8 GB disk. To use the ramdisk's full speed you need to have some type of RAID. The best performance will be achieved by creating a RAID0 array.

Single Drive Mode with 1.5Gb Sata

Here you can see that the consistent and maximum speed achieved by the ANS-9010 is ~98 MB/sec. This is on an older computer. These test were performed on an ASUS P5GDV-C Deluxe motherboard (Intel ICH7R) which only supports the older 1.5 Gb/sec SATA standard Using a PCI-Express add-on card allows we to get an additional 50 MB/sec:

Dual Drive Mode with 1.5Gb Sata

Utilizing this motherboards onboard RAID software I created a RAID 0 array. I found the best performance (190 MB/sec) was obtained using a 32k stripe and enabling the write-thru cache.

Taking it to 11

Ultimately the ANS-9010 is supposed to "take it to 11" in terms of storage performance, but I haven't seen that yet. Lett's kick it up a notch. For the next tests I will put the ANS-9010 on a 3ware 9650 RAID card in a newer ASUS M4A78-T motherboard (AMD ). Here is the configuration dump from the RAID Card: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ //computar> /c0/u1 show all /c0/u1 status = OK /c0/u1 is not rebuilding, its current state is OK /c0/u1 is not verifying, its current state is OK /c0/u1 is not initialized. /c0/u1 Cache State = off /c0/u1 volume(s) = 1 /c0/u1 name = /c0/u1 serial number = 5619871 /c0/u1 Auto Verify Policy = on /c0/u1 Storsave Policy = protection /c0/u1 Command Queuing Policy = on Unit UnitType Status %RCmpl %V/I/M Port Stripe Size(GB) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ u1 RAID-0 OK - - - 64K 14.8809 u1-0 DISK OK - - p4 - 7.44043 u1-1 DISK OK - - p5 - 7.44043 u1/v0 Volume - - - - - 14.8809 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Here the speed looks lower, but this can be deceiving. These benchmarks do not always show the full speed you can achieve. HDTune is very good for hard drive testing, but sometimes the burstiness of this ramdisk can be much higher. Here is the results from running the H2WBENCH benchmarking program on this setup: --------------------------------------------- h2benchw.exe -english -z -s -w ramdisk_h2benchw.txt 0 H2bench -- by Harald Bgeholz & Lars Bremer / c't Magazin fr Computertechnik Version 3.12/Win32, Copyright (C) 2005 Heise Zeitschriften Verlag GmbH & Co. KG Dutch translation by F&L Technical Publications B.V. Capacity: 31198230 sectors=15234 MByte, CHS=(1942/255/63) Checking timer for 10 seconds (Win32) ............. Ok. timer resolution: 0.279 s, 3.580 MHz timer statistics: 3115601 calls, min 1.40 s, average 1.56 s, max 46.10 s Reading some sectors to warm up... done. Zone measurement read: calibrating... 141.1 MByte/s at 50% of total capacity. reading 431 sample points (565 blocks of 128 sectors = 35.31 MByte) estimated runtime: 2 minutes...done. sustained data rate read: average 133748.4, min 47873.2, max 380064.7 [KByte/s] Measuring random access time (whole disk): reading... 0.12 ms (min. 0.07 ms, max. 0.16 ms) random access time in lower 504 MByte reading... 0.11 ms (min. 0.08 ms, max. 0.14 ms) --------------------------------------------- Here you can see that the max speed is 380 MB /sec! Using the ATTO performance tool, you can see the drive gets some insanely high speeds around 500 MB/sec. This is utilizing the onboard cache of the 3ware 9650 Card. Again with the cache off: Clearly none of these benchmarks will give as much insight as good ol' reliable IOMeter. Here I ran the ramdisk through the Web Server and File Server tests provided by StorageReview.com as well as a few of my own tests that test some of the raw capabilities of the device.
IOMeter Results
Que DepthIOpsRead IOpsWrite IOpsMBpsRead MBpsWrite MBps
File Server1577346191154625012
49477758318941028220
169602768219191048321
649574766019141048321
 
Web Server156085608086860
49665966501481480
16106931069301641640
64108071080701651650
 
Random Read12510251001571570
44433443302772770
164618461802892890
644653465302912910
 
Sequential Read12085208501301300
45697569703563560
165704570403563560
645700570003563560
 
Random Write13364033642100210
43747037472340234
163743037432340234
643741037412340234
 
Sequential Write14395043952750275
44741047412960296
164741047412960296
644741047412960296

Conclusion

The performance of the ACARD ANS-9010 ramdisk is staggering to say the least, but it comes at a price. For certain applications this product will dramatically improve performance, and if time is of the essence it will be worth every penny. Revision History: 2009-6-10 Initial Publication
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