November 1, 2000

Review: Adaptec 29160 SCSI Card

Author: JT Smith

By Jeff Field
Hardware Reporter

Adaptec 29160 Review

In the world of high-end workstations and servers, many people prefer SCSI as their drive interface. This is for a number of reasons -- it has higher maximum speeds than IDE, multi read/write is allowed, and you may connect more devices to one controller than you can to IDE. However, SCSI still hasn't gone mainstream, mostly due to artificially high prices imposed by disk makers that make SCSI impractical for most people. However, for those people who can go SCSI, the next question becomes what SCSI card to purchase for your computer? In this review, I'll go over the Adaptec 29160 and whether it is or isn't the card for you.

The Specs

Interface Bus Mastering 32-bit or 64-bit PCI 2.1
Internal Connectors One 68-pin for LVD SCSI
One 68-pin for Ultra Wide SCSI
One 50-pin for Ultra SCSI
External Connectors One 68-pin for LVD SCSI
Maximum Devices 15

The Card
The Adaptec 29160 is Adaptec's mid-range SCSI card for servers and high-end workstations. A single channel card, it will support up to 15 devices. These devices can be comprised of combinations of Ultra160, Ultra2, UltraWide, and Narrow SCSI. The four connectors (External LVD, Internal LVD, Internal UltraWide, Internal UltraSCSI) may all be used at once, so long as the number of devices does not exceed 15.

LVD devices should be the only drives connected to the LVD connector, as adding non LVD (Ultra2/Ultra160) devices to that chain will cause it to become as slow as the slowest device on the chain. However, with the two other internal connectors, it should be no problem. The place this may become difficult is with the external LVD connector, which is the sole external connector. However, you can purchase an internal to external adapter which connects to the 50-pin UltraSCSI connector, which should do the trick for non-Ultra2 external devices.

The most interesting thing about this card is its method of connection to the motherboard. At first when I got the card, I was startled to find it was a 64-bit PCI card. 64-bit PCI cards are only found on high-end server motherboards, of which I have none. However, I quickly discovered that the card is in fact dual 32-bit/64-bit PCI. This means that it can go into either type of slot. It would, of course, perform better in a 64-bit slot, but it functions fully (and quickly) in a 32-bit PCI slot. This sort of design allows for those who eventually upgrade to 64-bit PCI to still use their existing SCSI card, and in fact see a good boost in speed from doing so.

Adaptec includes quite a bit of documentation with this card: a user's guide, an installation guide and a guide to Adaptec's EZ-SCSI software, which is Windows specific. The installation guide covers the steps neccisary to physically install the card. The user's guide gives basic information about SCSI, how to setup your devices, and troubleshooting information. The documentation is well written, and is more than enough because, in most cases, this card will be installed by an experienced person.

Assuming you are using a recent build of whatever Linux distribution you use, installation should be fairly simple, if you are running a distribution with hardware detection. If the distribution requires you to configure your hardware manually, you need only make sure that the proper module is loaded or support is compiled into the kernel. Once the driver is installed, the card will function fully under Linux. Physical installation went fine with one exception -- due to the extra 64-bit PCI connector, some slots are unable to take the 29160. You should choose a slot that has a clear area behind it for the 64-bit PCI connector to rest without forcing it, as you may damage either the 29160 or your motherboard.

Because there isn't really a way to benchmark the card itself, I will attempt to obtain another Ultra160 card to test and will compare this card and the other, but for now, my conclusion is based on ease of installation and features. On that basis, I am very impressed with this card. Allowing you to use all four connectors at once is a great feature, and the ability to be used fully in a 64-bit PCI slot is nice as well. The documentation provided is excellent, and the card comes ready to use with the necessary cables. Adaptec planned this card well, and in doing so made a great product I feel safe recommending.


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