Jun 21, 2010

ATTO 42ES Fiber HBA for the Mac Pro


High-end networking cards aren't often reviewed by anyone simply because the people who use them typically know all about how they work and what they're worth.  But in fact I can't find a recent review anywhere on this venerable card so it seemed worthy of my efforts to share my own experiences.

For those that aren't sure what this a fiber HBA is, it's one type of various interfaces created for either connecting desktop machines to a large server network in an office or, to an external RAID array which hosts either large databases or more relevant, large files for audio and video editing, the latter being how my company and my clients have used it.

To give a relative comparison there are 3 main different connectivity schemes for connecting to an external RAID array:  SCSI ("skuzzi" is how the acronym is commonly pronounced), eSATA (external SATA) and Fiber.  See my page about RAID arrays and setups for more detailed info.

Fiber as you might imagine, is the fastest connectivity type and, the most reliable and stable.  And unlike SCSI or eSATA you can have unbelievably long cable-runs with fiber measured not in feet but meters or yards.  One systems integrator that I've worked with has even connected a fiber network between two offices that were almost a kilometer apart from each other!

ATTO has had a long reptuation for making well designed and bullet-proof stable HBA's (host bus adapter) and the 42ES continues that tradition.  It's a two-channel fiber-optic data-card in PCIe interface that's compatible with both Windows and Mac towers, both G5 and Mac Pro using the 4 Gb Fiber standar.  At full capacity and limited to the PCIe interface that equates to approximately a maximum data-rate speed of 800 MB/s, assuming you have a large enough array that can push out that much data through the pipeline.

Like any fiber card each of  the two ports on the business-end of the 42ES require an SFP (small form pluggable) optical transceiver to move the data in-and-out from the card to the array tower, and most retailers that sell the ATTO cards include the SFP connectors with the card as a bundle.

Setting up the card is as simple as installing the drivers from ATTO, installing the card and then connecting your external RAID and completing the configuration process.  ATTO also includes a free Configuration Utility for monitoring the card status and connectivity speeds, and also allows for updating the card firmware as needed.


I've been using ATTO fiber cards for more than 5 years and have never had so much as a hiccup in any of them.  On top of that the guys at ATTO tech support are ultra-fast with technical questions and even help trouble-shoot problems right over the phone.  Having that kind of direct support is priceless especially in the middle of a mission-critical deadline.

There are other fiber HBA's on the market but none have been directly associated with Avid, Apple and other hardware developers more than ATTO has, which makes them my primary - if not only - choice for a fiber HBA.

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