Low End Mac Reviews

Sonnet Tempo UltraATA Card

Dan Knight - 1999.07.27

One of the great finds at last week's Macworld Expo was a US$99 hard drive controller card from Sonnet Technologies. Billed as "simply fast," the PCI card supports up to four Ultra66 hard drives in any PCI Mac.

That's a great value. Most similar cards cost $159 and up! I was hoping to order a review unit after things settled down a bit.


IDE (also known as ATA and Ultra33 or Ultra66) hard drives are much less expensive than comparable SCSI hard drives. In fact, the price difference can be so great that users of pre-IDE PCI Power Macs (7200-7600, 8200-8600, 9500-9600) and clones can sometimes save money buying the less costly drive and a PCI controller card.

I have a Umax SuperMac S900 at home with a ProMax TurboMax card, which was pretty much the only game in town a year ago. The card then sold for $129. Combined with a $119 15.2 GB hard drive, it beat far smaller SCSI drives in terms of price. Performance has been excellent.

But that card has been upgraded to support Ultra66 and now sells for a lot more. The two other similar cards are also in the $150-200 range, so you can see why I was excited about the Sonnet Tempo.

Easy As Pie

Yesterday I learned that one of our designers was out of drive space and desperately needed more in a hurry. I did a little research on drives and controllers, including a quick email conversation with Rob Art Morgan of Bare Feats, who hopes to have a Tempo review up shortly. Since we weren't going to use RAID, we determined that the Tempo provided the best value, as did the IBM 75GXP series of hard drives.

After some discussion with the director of design, we decided on a 30 GB drive, which would give Heather 40 GB total storage space. That should last her a while.

I ordered the units from Outpost.com, which had them in stock and shipped them overnight (free shipping, of course). They arrived a bit after 11.00 on Thursday.

I had to make a few trips between my office and Heather's to get my tools and dig up a set of screws for the hard drive, which didn't include mounting screws. Installation was as simple as putting the drive on a base plate, screwing that in place, popping in the Tempo card, connecting power to the drive, and attaching the data cable. I did glance at the manual, but that was hardly even necessary.

Then close the G4/400 (Sawtooth), power up, find Drive Setup, and format the IBM Deskstar drive. Then pop in the MacBench 5.0 CD and benchmark the drive.

Bare Feats had already indicated this was the fastest sub-$200 drive on the market. I was comparing it to the stock 10 GB drive, which was an older IBM Deskstar - and no slouch.

DETAILS: Power Mac G4/400, Mac OS 9.0.4, 384 MB RAM, virtual memory off, cache at default setting of 8160K, normal user complement of extensions on.

As the above graph shows, the Sonnet Tempo with the IBM 75GXP drive was 56% faster than the stock drive. I also tested the stock drive with the Sonnet controller, but it scored the same.

For a total investment of $290, we not only added a substantial amount of drive space, but also provided Heather with faster storage. She's going to love that when she needs Photoshop scratch space.

In terms of price alone, the Sonnet Tempo is a winner, giving Mac users a very economical way to add IDE drives. But Ultra66 provides icing on the cake, allowing users to get all the performance newer drives are capable of.

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