Promise Ultra 33

by Anand Lal Shimpi on July 17, 1997 2:07 PM EST
So you've invested a few hundred in a great motherboard, you have an excellent processor, the best and fastest RAM, you've overclocked it to death, have a Monster 3D, and you only have $400 left for a hard drive...looks like that Cheetah is out of the question, and the only other option is that "value priced" 540MB SCSI 2 and controller. Sounds like your stuck with 4GB of reliable, SLOW EIDE storage...or are you? The new Promise Ultra33 Controller Card gives you support for Ultra-ATA (UltraDMA/33) hard drives, without having to trash that wonderful motherboard for a limited TX model. And in some cases...provides faster performance than a TX based motherboard with an Ultra-ATA HDD!!!

Bus Type: PCI 2.1

EIDE/Ultra ATA Channels: 2 Channels (4 - Devices Total)

Price: $70 MSRP

The Good

Open the box...take out the card...pop it in...that's all it takes to install the completely Plug 'n Play Ultra33 controller card. Upon bootup, Win95 detects the card as a PCI Raid controller (no that's not a misprint!), however when you use the supplied device driver everything runs smoothly. The Ultra33 includes its own PnP BIOS, which initializes upon startup, configuring all attached devices. It accurately detected my Quantum Fireball ST, and configured it as a UDMA Mode 2 Hard Drive. No setup function is necessary with the Ultra 33 for true PnP operation. And because of its advanced on-board BIOS, the Ultra33 breaks the 8.4GB barrier present on some motherboards. Promise even includes an excellent utility for getting the most out of your Ultra ATA hard drive, UltraTune. UltraTune allows the user to select which type of application to optimize the Hard Drive's performance for, Business, Desktop Publishing / CAD, Audio / Video Editing, or Games. This utility does have a positive effect on your system performance, as you might be able to tell from the Test results below. When using the 2 Channels on the Ultra33 you free up the 2 Channels you have on your motherboard, making it possible to use a total of 8 EIDE Devices (provided you have a few extra IRQ/DMA channels free). Don't feel restricted to Ultra ATA drives when using this controller card, for the first time you can have that 4 Hard Drive + 1 CDROM drive configuration which you've been longing for. Performance wise, you can't tell the difference between a Ultra33 with an Ultra ATA HDD and a motherboard with Ultra ATA support and an Ultra ATA HDD. In some cases, the Promise Ultra33 provided faster performance in my real world tests than the AOpen AX5T (TX based motherboard with Ultra ATA support)! My Quantum ST when paired with the Ultra33 controller came as close to SCSI performance as you can possibly get for the amazing price ($70 for the Controller + < $300 for the drive). If you're looking for near SCSI performance without the cost...consider this combo.

The Bad

The Ultra33 does have its flaws, although most of them can be fixed by a little tweaking. First of all, if you happen to have a SCSI boot device, be sure to have the SCSI Card's BIOS load before the Ultra33's BIOS, otherwise the Ultra33 will assume that it should be the designated boot device and will boot...regardless of your configuration. This can be done simply by moving your Ultra33 to the last PCI slot (usually the slot furthest away from the ISA slots) or at least closer to the last PCI slot than your SCSI card. This will allow the SCSI BIOS to initialize before the Ultra33's BIOS, therefore fixing any problems you may have there. Secondly, the Ultra33 did not appreciate the fact that I had an AWE64 in my system. From the minute I installed the Ultra33 to the minute I removed it, my sound card would simply not function. It was a simple device conflict not mentioned in Win95's Device Manager, however I'm just giving you fair warning that this may happen. The final problem I experienced with the Ultra 33, was its design. There is really nothing that can be done about it, but the Hard Drive Channels on the small low profile PCI card are placed in such a way that after you install the HDD cables, any PCI cards located directly beneath it may be pushed down a tad. To avoid this you can simply move the card to a slot without a neighboring card below it. Overall, the Promise Ultra33 is an excellent add-on to the power hungry, speed crazed user's system...with a few minor flaws.

The Test
Comments Locked


View All Comments

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now