SAS/SATA LSI Hardware PCI-e RAID under $50, say what? Yes its true and I will show you how. Recently I was shopping for some Raid controllers for our Dell PowerEdge 2950’s at work which typically use a Dell PERC 5/i or you can outfit them with something better but I was looking for the OEM solution. I was hunting on eBay when I started to notice most of these cards where under $50, in fact I purchased 3 of them for $35 each. If you don’t know already a Dell PERC 5/i is nothing more than a re-branded LSI MegaRAID SAS 8480e utilizing an Intel IOP333 Processor. Intel makes some of the best and fastest RAID controller processors so any card with an Intel Processor is likely a good bet.
I found this great article which details the Dell PERC 5/i, Dell PERC 6/i and goes into detail about reflashing the PERC 5/i with the MegaRAID 8480e firmware, there’s also a host of benchmarks including comparison to an onbaord Intel ICH9R.
So whats the catch? A few things actually, #1 and the most important is that you need specific cables to utilize these cards and they are not cheap. The first time around I bought the wrong cables and had to cut them in half and re-solder the wires in the opposite order, see my Article entitled “Dell PERC 5/i doesn’t detect hard drives”. I still haven’t got around to replacing my cables but as far as I know the correct cables are SAS SFF-8484 to 4xSATA Pass Through NOT Backplane or Crossover.
If those are no longer available then you might end up spending up to $50 per cable, yes they are expensive but if you can get those for $12 and if you only need to connect 4 or less drives than you are still doing pretty good but your not out of the water yet. We still have a couple more things to buy, If you want to enable Write-Back Cache without modding the card than you will need a backup battery. I bought mine on eBay for $25.00 each but I am sure they can be had elsewhere for less. I originally agreed to spend the $25.00 each because I assumed they would #1 fit perfectly in the Dell PowerEdge 2950 Chassis, and #2 come with the correct connection cable, I was wrong on both accounts. Because of this I would say either spend the money if you are sure it has the correct connection cable or buy the cheapest batter you can find that has been confirmed to work. http://www.ebay.com/itm/1890mAh-7Wh-Battery-DELL-Poweredge-M9602-X8483-PERC5e-PERC5i-IN-USA-/160687843246?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2569bde7ae#ht_2674wt_905
As you can see from the auction photo the battery does come with a cable but its not the correct one. Even if it was the correct cable it still wouldn’t be long enough for most server applications.
I ended up needing the battery connection cables which ran me $10.00 each, I know isn’t that crazy? But I could only find one seller selling them on eBay and I didn’t really know what else would fit so I just decided to suck it up and buy them since it was the last thing I needed.
This auction looks like it has the correct cable and the battery for only $16, with some searching you can find a much better deal than what I got.
So in total I spent $35 for the controller, $25 for two SAS SFF-8484 cables, $25 for the battery and another $10 for the cable, which comes to $95 total. With some bargain shopping I could see you getting this whole setup for as little as $70. This is a huge difference from the $400 that the LSI equivalent card usually fetches and a small price to pay for true hardware RAID with 256MB of onboard memory and a nice Intel IOP333 Processor. So how does it perform? I thought you might ask that, check out the gallery below.
My current drive configuration is as follows (I recently switched to Hitachi’s after the WD price jump)
Hitachi 1TB 60GB Partition 1 / Drive C:
Hitachi 1TB 870GB Partition 2 / Drive D:
Hitachi 2TB x4 5.45TB RAID-5 Drive F: