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LSI 9201-16i SAS 6Gbps HBA


Over the past couple years, we've looked at a few SAS/SATA RAID controllers and HBAs from Adaptec and LSI.  Performance varied amongst models, but that was only IF the card was identified and enumerated by the system.  Getting this new generation of controllers to show their ROMs upon boot has become more and more difficult, as ROM sizes and motherboard BIOS sizes continue to occupy more memory, motherboard makers choose to integrate more features, and reduce compatibility testing with third-party storage cards.

This compatibility problem with storage cards is more prevalent with consumer-grade motherboards, not enterprise workstation or server boards.  As many of us readers utilize consumer motherboards for our small server or workstation builds, we began our search for an HBA that plays nice with a common consumer chipset -the Intel H67.  We tried at least half a dozen different HBAs and RAID cards made by HP, Dell, LSI, Adaptec, Promise, and Highpoint Technology.  These cards would either not be detected, or not enumerate its ROM at boot, causing the attached drives to be inaccessible by the OS.  Emails to manufacturers resulted in typical responses such as "update the firmware or BIOS" or, finger pointing as the culprit.

 Luckily, LSI released the 9201-16i, a 16-port SAS / SATA HBA which showed itself as the MOST COMPATIBLE HBA in our tests.  Regardless of which consumer chipset or motherboard we tried, the ROM happily showed up each time, identifying all the drives, and booting into Windows 7 properly and without a single complaint.  Windows 7 even installed built-in drivers, and allowed us to setup the drives using the OS to stripe or mirror drives.  That was wonderful, but does it stand the test of time?

SPECIFICATIONS

IO Controller LSISAS2116, Fusion MPt 2.0
Ports 16 internal, via 4x Mini-SAS SFF-8087
Connectivity Standard SAS 2.0, 6 Gbps
SAS Bandwidth 600 MBps per lane
Host Connector PCI Express 2.0 x8
Dimensions 4.2" x 6.6"
Power Consumption 16W nominal
Max Device Support 512 devices non-RAID
MTBF > 2M hours
Warranty 3 years

After 6 months of heavy use as a file server using automated file copy, delete, reboot and other sequences, coupled with automatic OS and motherboard BIOS updates, the LSI 9201-16i still chugs away, showing its ROM during each boot, and not dropping a single drive after hundreds of restarts, reboots, and "accidental" power losses.  We even performed a firmware update on the 9201-16i, and same result - no issues whatsoever. 

In the end, we are happy to see we have found an HBA that plays well even with low-end consumer chipsets and motherboards.  The next challenge now is to have the ability to spin down drives - something motherboard SATA connectors natively allow, when the OS tells drives to spin down to save energy.  And as of mid-2012, even the great SAS9201-16i does not pass those spin down commands from the OS to the drives.  Not YET at least...

 

 

 



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