Digi AccelePort Xp
Digi is well known for its multiport cards. The AccelePort Xp is the latest in a long line of fast, easy-to-use multiports. Succeeding several other AccelePort models, the Xp provides anywhere from two to sixteen ports on a small PCI card. The high-speed capabilities of previous cards has been improved upon with the AccelePort Xp by the addition of an 80MHz RISC processor on the expansion card, making it potentially the fastest multiport card available today (we couldn’t find any that competed with all 16 ports running at 920kbps biderectionally).
The market for multiport cards has dwindled enormously from the earlier UNIX-server days, but these cards are still in demand for retail operations such as point-of-sale device controllers, remote access servers, and data collection from dumb terminals. With the AccelePort Xp’s ports all capable of 921.6kbps bidirectionally, the AccelePort Xp can provide almost any device with more than enough bandwidth. Digi makes the AccelePort Xp in two-port, four-port, eight-port and sixteen-port versions. The card itself is purchased separately, with break-out cables at additional cost. The advantage to this approach is that the breakout cables can be chosen to suit the application. Digi offers breakout cables with DB-9, DB-25 and RJ-45 connectors on a fan-out cable (affectionately known as octopus cables to UNIX veterans), breakout boxes (much neater for cabling), or in a rack-mount chassis (for server rooms). All the cables connect to the card with a standard 68-pin SCSI cable, although there is no SCSI support on the card. Several operating systems are supported by the AccelePort Xp, including SCO OpenServer and UnixWare, Linux, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, as well as Windows 2000, Windows NT, and Novell NetWare.
We were supplied both the sixteen port version of AccelePort Xp and an eight-port along with several cables. The small 16-port PCI card has two connectors on the back panel allowing eight-port cables of two different types to be used, while the 8-port card is smaller and has a single connector on the backpanel. The cards themselves are clean and contain surface-mounted components with no bare wiring. Both install easily enough, and the accompanying CD-ROM has the software drivers for the supported operating systems. A nice touch is a complete manual with the card: we much prefer physical documentation to CD-ROM based documents! We were supplied with two eight-port breakout boxes with DB25s, and a cable octopus with DB25s. We could mix and match the cables on either of the cards with no problem. Total installation and configuration time on our RedHat server was ten minutes.
Digi has a new software bundle accompanying the AccelePort Xp which consists of the PortAssist Manager. It’s Web based allowing it to run from any machine on the network. Remote diagnostics were launched on the AccelePort Xp even across a VPN from another state, a handy feature for managing remote offices. We managed our Linux-based AccelePort Xp setups from both Linux and Windows machines with equal effectiveness.
To test the AccelePort Xp, we loaded up the 16-port card with connections to a rack of workstations, connecting through serial ports. We forced the ports to faster and faster speed, using a script to handle file transfer and Web server requests through the AccelePort Xp. While Digi claims a bidrectional speed capability of 921.6kbps, we couldn’t force sustained connections from our clients above about 600kbps. This is not a limitation of the Digi cards, but with the nature of our rack of workstations! Connecting a single serial port to a test workbench, we did manage bi-directional speeds of 875kbps, at which point our measuring equipment became unreliable. In real world terms, the AccelePort Xp will provide more speed then most people will need.
To test Remote Access Server capabilities, we hooked up a bank of eight ISDN models running at 128kbps into a PBX (looping back to other ports). We used all eight modems at full speed with no problem, all with complete modem control and hardware handshaking (better than software handshaking). We did connect two T1 adapters to the card in place of two ISDN modems, and again looped them back to each other, and measured 760kbps transfers through the modems.
A neat feature of the AccelePort Xp is a built-in surge protector. Although it’s unlikely anyone would power a server without a UPS, modem lines and other terminal devices are often left to the forces of nature. By putting surge protection on the card, Digi protects the server. The AccelePort Xp cards we tested are excellent multiport cards, and Digi has done a lot to provide flexibility and operating support. You can’t go wrong with any of these cards.
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Summary: Blazingly fast multiport card with many port and cabling options. Excellent administration software and choice of operating system support.