Adaptec Ultra Wide 2940 PCI SCSI card

Adaptec Ultra Wide 2940 PCI SCSI card – Evaluation

Ron Gustavson

As the industry standard for PC-to-SCSI peripheral connections, Adaptec SCSI Cards are a natural sell. Now, with Adaptec’s new retail SCSI product initiative–which places an array of Adaptec SCSI host adapters in shrink-wrapped packages on the store shelves next to many of the peripherals that they will be connecting–the company is likely to sell a whole lot more cards. The Adaptec PCI host adapters offer great performance for applications like burning CDs and hosting networked hard drives, and bringing these serious PCI cards to the Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) user is Adaptec’s new challenge.

Installing SCSI cards has typically required knowledgeable PC enthusiasts or technicians. However, with the proliferation of scanners, CD recorders, and other secondary storage devices, SCSI host adapters have become de rigueur equipment for average home machines that are running out of Interrupt Requests (IRQ) and need a power boost to make them operate more efficiently. And so, Adaptec is now adapting its product packaging to doctors, lawyers, and every manner of telecommuter.

At $339, the Adaptec 2940 is an Ultra Wide PCI SCSI host adapter aimed at “power users,” a category that includes any user of CD-R or other secondary storage devices who might be contemplating the addition of a fast Ultra Wide SCSI hard drive. For users who want the power of a capable PCI SCSI card for up to seven peripherals, but don’t foresee adding an Ultra Wide device, Adaptec’s 2930 PCI UltraSCSI Card offers excellent value at a suggested retail price of $189.99.

The 2940 that is boxed for retail comes with a printed User’s Guide and User’s Reference; three floppies with installable drivers for Windows 95/NT/3.x, DOS, OS/2, Netware, and SCO UNIX; and a CD-ROM that contains a software suite, along with all of the card’s documentation in searchable Winhelp format. The 2940 PCI SCSI Card accepts both internal and external wide 68-pin SCSI peripherals–up to 15 SCSI peripherals attached to its 16-bit external port and one of its two internal ports. To date, most available Ultra Wide SCSI peripherals have been fast internal SCSI hard drives; these hard drives can transfer data at up to 40MB/sec, compared to 50-pin UltraSCSI drives, whose data transfer rates max out at 20MB/sec.

The key to decent SCSI performance–Ultra Wide or otherwise is found in the 32-bit PCI bus. ISA cards sell somewhat cheaper than PCI SCSI cards; however a PCI SCSI adapter like the 2940 will yield faster, easier, and more reliable device performance under Windows 95 or NT. In testing, replacing an Adaptec 1535 ISA host adapter with the reviewed 2940 enabled 4X CD writing (using a Matsushita 4X/8X drive) on a system that had achieved only 1X writes previously.

ADAPTING THE CONSUMER TO THE CARD

The greatest challenge for Adaptec, or any other manufacturer of SCSI host adapters, is convincing the purchaser of a new consumer multimedia PC that comes replete with large, fast, inexpensive EIDE storage devices, that there is a need for SCSI in his or her system. One guaranteed limitation facing the PC owner is the restricted number of IRQs that are available on any PC. New MPC-3 computers that are being retrofitted as perennial “dream machines” will soon run out of IRQ possibilities at which to assign new hardware accessories. The PC’s 15 available IRQs must accommodate such mainstream functions and parts as keyboard, mouse, sound card, COM1, COM2, LPT, and floppy, which adds up quickly. Attaching the 2940 allows 15 separate devices to use only one IRQ, which eliminates the IRQ dilemma.

The retail version of the 2940 comes with a variety of software accessories that appeal to the consumer and make SCSI configuration easier than it has been historically. Still, the card must be configured with care because setup requires invoking the same parameters as before, albeit now with coaching from the Winhelp SCSI Tutor. For example, Adaptec’s ROM-based SCSISelect boot configuration utility still contains a large laundry list of parameters that can be set for each SCSI device–as well as the host adapter itself–detailed in Adaptec’s printed reference manual.

To make consumer-performed upgrades a less painful weekend project, Adaptec has included its own EZ-SCSI 4.0 Utilities. Adaptec SCSI Explorer is the new GUI-based utility that scans the SCSI bus and reports the details about each connected device that it finds. Its report topics include SCSI IDs, power management, and disk cache. This GUI application will definitely appeal to the SOHO user more than the fleeting screen reports that SCSISelect produces as the machine is booting.

One utility that illustrates the value of the newly installed host adapter is Adaptec’s SCSIBench, which measures the throughput of each connected device using random I/O, sequential I/O, or same sector I/O. This drive speedometer can show the performance potential of a decent PCI SCSI Card after installation. What Adaptec really needs is something to show this potential before installation.

Along with these configuration aids, the 2940’s bundle includes accessory applications for CD recording, backup, image scanning, an audio CD player, and a viewer for Kodak Photo CD.

SOLID CARD IN A SLIPPERY BOX

Overall, Adaptec’s 2940 Ultra Wide PCI SCSI Card earns its prime position as the best-known host adapter, with demonstrable performance enhancements for a variety of SCSI peripherals. The 2940 also offers a substantial set of configuration aids that give users highly detailed assistance in setting all the necessary options needed with a variety of hardware combinations.

However, in its initial retail rollout, the software bundle leaves one bone to pick. For CD-Recordable software, the 2940’s packaging lists Adaptec’s latest and greatest, Easy CD Creator, in the contents list; however, a small sticker indicates that the earlier Easy CD Pro will in fact be found inside, along with a for Easy CD Creator. The coupon enables purchasers of the 2940 to purchase the Easy CD Creator Deluxe Edition for $99, which also happens to be its retail price. While this kind of bundling practice affords the vendor the flexibility to slip the newer product in later without rewriting the box, many purchasers will rightly be put off by the self-contradicting description of the box’s contents.

RELATED ARTICLE: Adaptec Ultra Wide 2940 PCI SCSI Card

Synopsis: Adaptec’s Ultra Wide 2940 PCI SCSI Card supports a total of 15 internal or external SCSI-1, SCSI-2. Fast SCSI-2, SCSI-3, Ultra SCSI, and Ultra Wide SCSI peripherals. Using Bus Master DMA, a top transfer rate of 40MB/sec is possible. The package also features SO- and 68-pin internal SCSI cables and a 50- to 68-pin external adapter. Bundled software includes Adaptec’s EZ-SCSI 4.0 and Easy CD Pro for CD recording; Easy CD Pro’s successor, Easy CD Creator, although listed as a bundled component on the box, is only available as a $99 mail-in upgrade.

Minimum Hardware Requirements: IBM-compatible PC-486, Pentium, or above, running Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 3.x, DOS 6.x, OS/2. UNIX or Netware operating system. PCI expansion slot and SCSI peripheral are needed.

Price: $339

For more information, contact.

Adaptec, Inc.

691 South Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; 800/934-2766; Fax 408/957-7223; http://www.adaptec.com/; InfoLink #400

Ron Gustavson is a freelance writer based in Medfield, Massachusetts and a frequent contributor on CD/Online technologies and products.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc. com, or check the masthead for other ways to contact us.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Online, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group