Review: Adaptec Power Domain 2940U2W LVD SCSI Kit
Company: Adaptec, Inc.
List Price: $399.
This week I did a few things to speed up a relatively sluggish Power Computing Power Tower 180. It has been around for a while, and it could always do the things I’ve required of it. However, I have been publishing a zine and have been called upon to do some rather heavy graphics work, so I started thinking about what steps I might be able to take to get it out of its own way.
One of the best ways to speed up any computer is to install a faster hard disk. The Power Tower came with an “ultra SCSI” chip on its motherboard, but that chip was not exactly cutting edge. Its bus is completely full, and the drives I have on the bus are pretty much saturating its 10 MBps speed rating.
From what I have read , the new Ultra2W LVD technology is “too new” and unproven. I have also heard that if you have such a card in your new Blue-White G3 Power Mac and you add any other type of SCSI peripheral to it , it will slow down the entire bus. I decided to take a chance on it anyway because I’m wasn’t going to use this card for old SCSI, and I wanted my new SCSI to run as fast as possible.
I picked up the phone and got through to my friendly MacConnection representative and asked her to get me the card and a drive that would match it. She came up with a 9.1 GB drive and the Adaptec 2940U2W LVD card and sent them right out.
The reviewers didn’t like the Power Computing Power Tower because of the difficulty they had with installations. Its case is easy to open, but you then have to take the bottom of the case off in order to get at the riser card where the PCI slots are. Then, where to install the hard drive...
There are three forward-looking drive bays and one in the back that hangs underneath the power supply. The top bay held a CD-ROM, and the bay above the processor slot contained the OEM hard drive that came with my computer. I had installed a 4.1 GB hard drive about two years ago, so I was down to one open slot.
After I installed the drive and hooked up the power, it was time to reinstall everything. And I mean everything! I had to take the processor daughter card out, take the processor cooling fan out, take the PCI slot riser card out and just about rip my hair out to wedge the new hard disk into its bay. I routed the end-terminated high-density Ultra 2 Wide LVD cable around the various cards in the system and plugged it into the top of the card . I also looked at the other connections for Ultra SCSI, SCSI 2 Wide, and the external Ultra SCSI connector that came with the card, but I didn’t connect the other cables for fear of slowing down all he devices on the card. So, with just the LVD cable installed, I closed the box and started up.
Monitor didn’t light up, no “bong,” nothing. This had happened years ago right after I had purchased the Power Tower, and it was because of a dead motherboard. I hoped I hadn’t killed something but the deja vu was incredible.
I checked the power cable, checked the fuse on my surge protector and then began to take the box apart. After turning the box upside down, I tried a restart again. This time, the computer came on. This was good. With the box still open (and upside down), I began opening applications to look for anything that might be showing up on the new SCSI bus. No joy.
Accompanying the card was a diskette with a Mac program for scanning a SCSI bus. I popped it in and started scanning. I saw everything on the old bus, but no new hard drive and no bus 1, just bus 0. I also tried Apple’s Drive Setup application and the FWB hard disk toolkit to no avail.
I called up Adaptec and told the representative that I couldn’t find anything on the bus. He asked me what the package said. I told him Adaptec 2940U2W LVD SCSI Kit. He specifically asked me if it said “Power Domain” anywhere. Nope.
Send it back. It’s for PCs only. The ones for Macs have a one megabyte flash ROM chip and the Mac’s firmware needs all of that space. They had cut costs on the PC side by releasing different boards for the different platforms.
Back it went, and in between the time I sent it back and got the new one (with Power Domain clearly on the box), I went to the Macword Expo in New York.
At the Adaptec booth, I asked about the slowing down problem I had heard about, and was told that the card they’re selling to Apple for its Blue and White G3 SCSI option is the 2940-B, which will indeed slow down if you put slower SCSI devices on that bus. The 2940U2W LVD that is sold through retailers, however, has a multiplexing chip that will keep the slow-down from happening. This should be good advice for people who want the new G3 and also want SCSI: Don’t add that option; get this card and a couple of 9 or 18 GB drives and soft-RAID them yourself. The card you add will be better than the one Apple will sell you.
When the new card arrived, I popped it in, hooked it up, and even hooked up a legacy external SCSI bus port for an anticipated CD-ROM burner. The result was incredible. My new boot disk is 4 times larger than the original boot disk that came with my Power Tower. Seat-of-the-pants estimates make a single-disk system at least twice as fast as a regular SCSI 10 MBps system. Boot times are faster, and my copy of Microsoft Word 6 pops up onto the screen very fast (something Microsoft was condemned for slowing down in the past). Photoshop tests show equally impressive results . When I swap large photos on the new fast/wide ultra SCSI LVD disk, I get my work done as if I had almost unlimited RAM. I do hear the new hard disk clunking away, but nothing seems to slow down, even on very large files . QuarkXPress opened slowly, but got faster as I moved around in the files. And the best news is that legacy SCSI peripherals will not slow down the non OEM card. Just be sure it says Power Domain and that you get it directly from your retailer.
Adaptec included two programs with the Power Domain 2940U2W: a firmware upgrade to let you to use devices on the card as boot volumes on a Blue and White G3, and a control utility which allows you to change the card’s settings. In addition to that software, however, I wish Adaptec would include software for creating RAID arrays and formatting and partitioning hard drives. It would also be nice if they included an application that can determine what’s attached to the SCSI card.
This card is expensive and, with FireWire’s future essentially guaranteed by Apple, there is sure to be competition between the new fast wide LVD disks and the newer FireWire technology. While I have not yet seen FireWire-based hard disks that are capable of saturating the FireWire bus and I have not yet seen RAID striping software that is designed to work with FireWire arrays, LVD fast wide SCSI faces an uncertain future.
I rate the card “Very Nice”. Adaptec did a good job with this card, and for those who need to create striped arrays of very fast hard disks and still maintain a connection with legacy SCSI, this card fits the bill.
The machine I tested on:
Power Computing Power Tower 180 with a 604 processor
Mac OS 8.6
Hitachi SuperScan Elite 751 20" monitor in 1024x768 mode with millions of colors (Internal graphics).
Fast disk: Quantum QM39100TD UWSCSI2LVD
Slow disks: Seagate ST15230, Micropolis 4221–09 1128 (original OEM).