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  #1  
Old 12-15-2004, 04:53 AM
Trailerman Trailerman is offline
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Default TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

Apologies for the long post.

I know this issue has been done to death, but after 3 months trying to put together a pro-level Windows TDM machine, I feel the motherboard situation is still far from clear or ideal.

Although the ubiquitous Asus P4C800-E Deluxe, which is repeatedly recommended here, is an ok board, my conclusion is that it's not suitable for serious ProTools TDM use if a SCSI controller is also being used. (apologies to those who have been recommending it, but I'm now on my second board and have had nothing but issues).

I have now tried 3 SCSI controllers, and all cause the system serious problems. Adaptec dual channel UW320 controllers, if installed with 3 HD cards, cause the system to either hang during the boot sequence or blue-screen on bootup. In short, they can't be used. Single channel Adaptec SCSI controllers (I'm currently trying to work with the 29320 ALP) are forced to share IRQ's with Digidesign hardware, assuming you install Windows XP in ACPI mode. Although the system will work (I've used it for live mixing for the last couple of months), as soon as you place any kind of serious demands on the SCSI drives, you hit problems. In my case, when I started using samplers within ProTools, performance dropped to a crawl. Often the system becomes unresponsive for a few seconds, mouse and on-screen GUI's freeze, and disk performance slows to a crawl. Even copying big files around causes mouse freezes and other issues. Moving HD and SCSI cards to different PCI slots, reserving IRQ's in the system bios etc., do not solve the problem - no matter what configuration you try, the SCSI card and Digi hardware always are forced to share IRQ's, which Adaptec have confirmed will result in exactly the problems I'm seeing.

The bios with the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe, does not allow the user to dictate which IRQ's are used by which system resources or PCI slots, which means a none ACPI install of Windows is unlikely to yield any improvements - you will still have the same IRQ limitations. Also, the USB implementation on this board is poor - use of certain USB hubs (such as the Belkin 7 port hub, which is very common), will cause the system to stall during bootup, and the USB controller also shares IRQ's with other critical system resources - this is not ideal.

In short, my personal view is that this board is fine if you don't need to use a dedicated additional disk controller, but is problematic if you do and place heavy demands on the USB bus. It's hardly surprising - it's a £90 board really designed for general purpose users, overclockers and gamers.

The problem is that nobody seems to be using any of the high end workstation motherboards. From 12 years working with Windows based DAW's, I came to the realization some time ago, that you needed a top quality and feature rich board to build really solid, pro-level audio workstations. I've used Supermicro boards for the last 6 years, which are always excellent. However, although I tried to use an X5DA8 before resorting to the Asus board on advice, it would not function correctly with 3 Digi cards installed (unless you left a gap between two of the HD cards - not recommended).

So, I guess I'm asking, has anybody found a good workstation grade motherboard, ideally with onboard SCSI and the usual bits, and preferably dual CPU, which ProTools cards will live happily on? There are lots out there, but none appear to have been tested, Digi provide no information on certified motherboards, and the risk of running into similar issues is to great to gamble with.

Alternatively, are there any P4C800-E Deluxe users who also use SCSI and can perhaps recommend a different SCSI controller card which will work on this board without side-effects, even if IRQ's are being shared? Nicky has mentioned she knows users who use this board with SCSI controllers - any information on working configurations and SCSI cards would be extremely helpful. I appreciate some may feel SCSI is unnecessary and I don't want to begin a debate on that issue - it's a matter of personal preference and choice. I still feel there should be a solid, widely tested alternative for SCSI users.

In advance, thank you for any feedback, experiences or help on this subject. I really feel we need to find a high-end workstation board which can be reliably recommended to Windows users.

Jules
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  #2  
Old 12-15-2004, 10:43 AM
Onepoint Onepoint is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

Hi Jules,

I have just read your mail at DUC and I totally agree with
what you are saying. I have been looking for the same kind of
information myself and always end up with having the same
questions you have.
My plan for next year is to buy a HD3 accel system with a
additional extra card based on the windows platform.

For the time being I can not give you any good info apart
from what you already know, but let΄s keep looking and see if
we can find the info we need. Four eyes are better than two,
I will send you any info that could be valuable in this
matter. If you find anything, please drop me a mail.


Best regards

Per
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  #3  
Old 12-15-2004, 11:03 AM
Rail Jon Rogut Rail Jon Rogut is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

http://www.digidesign.com/compato/xp/cpu/xw8000.cfm

http://www.digidesign.com/compato/xp/cpu/dell670.cfm

Personally I stopped using SCSI a while ago (as has most of LA).. I have the 6 removable Glyph SCSI racks hooked up to my old Mix system.

I have a Promise IDE card in my Asus P4C800 Deluxe which the OS thinks is a SCSI card and it works perfectly... you must disable the onboard Raid controller in the BIOS.

Rail
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  #4  
Old 12-15-2004, 11:22 AM
Riad Riad is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

Even though it's not Digi approved I've been using 10K SATA drives that work perfectly with the Asus P4C800-E Delux Mobo.

Rob-
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  #5  
Old 12-15-2004, 11:47 AM
Trailerman Trailerman is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

Thanks Rob, Rail

I don't doubt the system will run fine without SCSI - in fact I'm currently in the process of copying all my SCSI volumes onto SATA drives on the same system. I'm then going to remove the SCSI card and see how things look.

The point was more that there should be an option to run SCSI, on a good quality motherboard, without the issues I'm seeing. The HP system you refer to Rail has been discontinued, which means there's currently only one certified system - the Dell 670. Whilst that was being certified (until very recently), there was none. I'm also looking at this as an option, but you can probably imagine how I feel about buying one, having spent £1600 and the last three months trying to get the Asus rig running - ditching it amd buying an overpriced, off-the-shelf box from Dell really doesn't appeal. I also don't think it should be the only certified option.

Personally I still believe SCSI offers better performance, and more importantly longer disk-life and greater reliability than the IDE/SATA alternatives. Of the 20 or so SCSI drives I have owned over the last 7 or 8 years, I am yet to have one fail on me. Of the IDE drives I've used (and SATA are just IDE drives with a different interface), I have returned 4 in the last year alone. Maybe we're a bit behind you guys in LA, but alot of Pro's in the UK, in audio and video, still use SCSI and I believe for good reason.

Either way, I think there's a good case for choice, and also a good case for better motherboards (particularly dual Xeon boards) to be supported and ideally certified.

Thanks again for the feedback. Anyone have any alternative motherboards to report on?

Jules
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  #6  
Old 12-15-2004, 07:48 PM
Riad Riad is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

Quote:
Thanks Rob, Rail

I don't doubt the system will run fine without SCSI - in fact I'm currently in the process of copying all my SCSI volumes onto SATA drives on the same system. I'm then going to remove the SCSI card and see how things look.

The point was more that there should be an option to run SCSI, on a good quality motherboard, without the issues I'm seeing. The HP system you refer to Rail has been discontinued, which means there's currently only one certified system - the Dell 670. Whilst that was being certified (until very recently), there was none. I'm also looking at this as an option, but you can probably imagine how I feel about buying one, having spent £1600 and the last three months trying to get the Asus rig running - ditching it amd buying an overpriced, off-the-shelf box from Dell really doesn't appeal. I also don't think it should be the only certified option.

Personally I still believe SCSI offers better performance, and more importantly longer disk-life and greater reliability than the IDE/SATA alternatives. Of the 20 or so SCSI drives I have owned over the last 7 or 8 years, I am yet to have one fail on me. Of the IDE drives I've used (and SATA are just IDE drives with a different interface), I have returned 4 in the last year alone. Maybe we're a bit behind you guys in LA, but alot of Pro's in the UK, in audio and video, still use SCSI and I believe for good reason.

Either way, I think there's a good case for choice, and also a good case for better motherboards (particularly dual Xeon boards) to be supported and ideally certified.

Thanks again for the feedback. Anyone have any alternative motherboards to report on?

Jules
Actually, a small correction to what you said... SATA are actually SCSI drives with a different interface

Years ago, I would have agreed with you, today I'm not so sure. And the one thing I really dislike about SCSI drives is the noise. I certainly believe that SATA will be the death of SCSI. Not only are the cables really nice to work with, but the speed of the drives are approaching SCSI, we'll have to see how reliable they are.

I'm really not sure of any other Mobo's other than what's listed on Digi's hardware list that Rail linked to.

Rob-
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  #7  
Old 12-15-2004, 10:42 PM
Stukface Stukface is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

This probably wont help considering my computer is a few years old. I have been running my hd 3 accel system with a control 24 for the last year, On an Asus P4B533 with an Adaptec 29160 scsi card. I have been able to run at least 50 tracks .(which is way higher then Digi recomends.)at 24bit 96k off of one hard drive. I can run my system 12 hours a day 7 day a week and its rock solid. The only thing that sucks is, I have been planning on upgrading my system to an Asus P4C800-E, To take advantage of a faster processor. I guess I cant go that route.
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  #8  
Old 12-16-2004, 02:14 AM
Trailerman Trailerman is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

Well Stuk,

Digi UK are telling me the certified Digidesign SCSI card (from ATTO) will solve the problem. I'm going to try and order one today and see if it makes a difference - obviously it would be the perfect solution if it did. I have some slight doubts, as I suspect Windows XP will assign it the same IRQ as it's currently assigning the Adaptec card, but Digidesign seem to believe it has some way of ensuring it doesn't share IRQ's with Digidesign hardware on the system. I'll report back as soon as I have tested it.

Riad - I'm pretty sure you're wrong about SCSI and SATA drives being the same . Check any of the main drive manufacturers (Maxtor, Hitachi, Seagate), and you'll see their SATA and IDE drives are all from the same family, same speed etc. - just different interfaces.

All current SCSI drives are 10K or 15K (ie. faster rotation speeds than all but the 10K Raptor SATA), have different mechanisms and are in totally different product ranges to the SATA and IDE families. I'm not saying SATA drives are bad, but they are an evolution of the consumer IDE/ATA ranges, not SCSI - hence the name. Personally, I use Seagate Barracuda's and Fujitsu AV SCSI drives, and don't have noise or heat problems. Maybe I'm just lucky.

Jules
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  #9  
Old 12-16-2004, 02:22 AM
Rail Jon Rogut Rail Jon Rogut is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

SATA drives and SCSI drives have the same MTBF rate which is somewhere like 123 years.. IDE drives have a MTBF rate of 5 years... I believe that SATA and SCSI share the same mechanism with different electronics.

Rail
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  #10  
Old 12-16-2004, 03:59 AM
Trailerman Trailerman is offline
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Default Re: TDM Motherboards - yes, again.

Hi Rail

I'd hoped this wouldn't turn into a SCSI vs. SATA debate, as I said in my original post. I think part of the problem is that SATA drives vary in quality. There's no doubt that many are just IDE drives with a different interface - I have Maxtor drives here which have both IDE and SATA interfaces on them, which are subject to typical IDE warranties and MTBF rates (which are much worse than SCSI drives) - they're the same drive.

Western Digital seem to be manufacturing workstation-class SATA drives, which run at 10K RPM and have better MTBF rates. I haven't used them, but I'll concede these may be up to SCSI quality in terms of performance and failure rates. Unfortunately they aren't available any larger than 74GB.

Maxtor's SATA range is identical to it's IDE range aside from the interface, and warranty and failure rates are therefore the same. They clearly look at SATA drives as a consumer option and SCSI as the pro option - rightly or wrongly.

Basically, IMHO SCSI at 10K or 15K is still perceived by many as the high-end option, with MTBF rates up to twice as good as SATA alternatives, and better access times. SATA currently seems to vary between consumer drives of IDE equivalent quality and failure rates, with some superior drives, aimed more at high-end users offering SCSI type performance, albeit mainly with slower spindle speeds. I have no doubt that the trend for SATA drives to encroach more upon the top end will continue. Currently though, they are not SCSI drives with a different interface and are often IDE drives with a different interface.

I'm off to Sheffield to try and get hold of the Digidesign recommended SCSI interface so I don't have to abandon my SCSI drives. One thing's for sure - they're still a damn sight more expensive than SATA drives !!

I'll report back later. Any feedback on other motherboards still greatly appreciated.

Jules
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