In a world where there is so much dependance on the accessibility and security of digitally stored data, the corporate scene is crying out for substantial methods of holding it. Even small businesses can rack up terabytes of data, and unfortunately in few cases, without even a second thought for backing it all up. What we have here today is the Startech Infosafe RAID enclosure with four SATA hard drive bays, which aims to help you achieve just that.
The setup supports up to 4 drives, and though maxing it out isn’t necessary you can have as few as you like in there. My tests proved that the unit can handle any capacity of SATA drive up to 2 terabytes, giving you a maximum of 8, however I won’t rule out at this point that the unit will handle the newer 3TB drives just emerging onto the market at the time of writing.
The unit supports all the typical raid levels as follows: RAID0, RAID11, RAID5, RAID10, BIG, CLONE, JBOD.
It only connects to your PC via eSATA, again typical amongst corporate units, although my tests proved it can also be operated through a USB adapter, however this obviously creates somewhat of a bottleneck on transfer speeds so if possible, I’d advise against it.
Design and Durability
With it being almost exclusively aimed at the corporate customer, design and style isn’t exactly top of the priority list. However, it’s worth noting the enclosure, which is crafted from aluminium around the top, bottom and sides, isn’t particularly ugly. I only tested it at home, to save creating a small startup for the purposes of a single review, and I have to say the unit itself did look unexpectedly comfortable in such casual surroundings. Although perhaps more in the same way that a model tank would, rather than an original Monet or a Ming vase. Of course, that’s suitable. Give me rugged, bullet-proof armour protecting my storage over porcelain or canvas any day.
Much in the same vain, the structure is extremely solid, and weighing in at a hefty 3.5kg only adds credence to my faith in the rigidity of the enclosure, and portability, again, isn’t exactly the number one concern for a stationary RAID enclosure. Suffice it to say, I’d wager it could take a bit of a beating before it packed up and disappeared to that place where RAID enclosures go when they die. I’m not, however, going to throw it from the rooftops and put that to the test.
The face of the unit is where all the interaction happens. A solid black plastic frame in contrast to the aluminium shell, contains four ejectable slots in which you’ll inevitably put your hard drives lining up vertically from the left hand side, and down the right you have a series of LED’s including a large round power button, and five indicators representing the power, the state of the hard drives (ready or error), and the eSATA configuration.
Setup and Accessibility
Gaining access to the drive bays is certainly not a difficult task; a simple push of the round eject buttons at the top of each bay will launch the spring loaded clasps into action and allow you to simply pull it out.
Once you’re in, you’re faced with a solid metal frame (stainless steel, my metal detection senses are telling me), which feels sturdy enough, and a plastic placeholder which simply acts to keep the frame and screws in place until you want to fill it with a hard drive. Should you wish to do so, which I’d imagine you will after splashing out on this unit, you need to remove four screws (a pair on each side of the frame) to take out the plastic placeholder, and then slide on your hard drive in the direction which becomes obvious, and using the screws to fix your drive in place through the accurately positioned holes, which are a standard on all 3.5″ hard drives.
Once it’s screwed into place, you just need to make sure the clasp isn’t re-attached, and slide it back into the tray from whence it came, and then reattach the clasp. You should feel a slight resistance at the end of the push, which shouldn’t be alarming, it’s just the drives slotting into the SATA connectors at the back of the unit.
Generously, Startech even includes a PCI card into the bundle, along with the power adapters, software CD and eSATA cable, which you can put into your PC if necessary to prove a single eSATA port. This is especially useful considering how infrequently most businesses do upgrade their PC’s due to the typically extortionate expense of doing so.
Once you’ve connected up all your hard drives, and found the necessary ports and cables, you might believe you’re all good to go, however with RAID enclosures being usually quite complex setups compared to a simple external hard drive, you’re going to need to install the bundled software drivers first, which provides a handful of tools for managing your RAID configuration.
Whilst it’s not a huge problem in terms of functionality – the be all and end all of this product really – the interface of the software is somewhat ludicrous, with the close and minimise buttons positioned symmetrically in the middle at the top of the window, looking more like the triggers on an Xbox 360 controller than the typical Windows UI; strange representations of vents at the bottom; illuminating tabs positioned down the side with rotated vertical text labels, and a host of bright colours, it’s hardly the best looking software you’ll ever set eyes on.
It automatically detects the hard drives, capacities and even brands once they’re entered and gives your a visual indication of the usage of each, and information on the RAID level and other probably vital RAID management tools.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that this software isn’t vital if you simply want to use the enclosure to stack up hard drives, only if you wish to make use of the options and versatility that RAID typically gives you, particularly in a business environment.
Before I elaborate on the performance tests and resulting speeds, it’s worth nothing for reference-sake that the drives I used were both 1TB in capacity running at 7200RPM. Typical of a modern drive, likely to be stuffed into one of these beasts I would guess.
Anyway moving on. Of course I could sit here and reel off a load of theoretical speeds for the drives in this enclosure, but that’s not really a lot of good to anyone, it’s the real life speed tests that are important to any potential buyer, so as ever in my most generous of moods, that’s what I’m going to give you.
I ran several tests on the unit to ensure there were no anomalies in the pair of results worth mentioning, which were as follows: As a media backup device, it would prove moderately useful, copying my 8GB 720p movie rip in MKV format in either direction provided read/write speeds of 42.3mb/s and 24.8mb/s respectively, which is a fair result to say the least, taking between just 2-4 minutes to entirely move the folder in either direction again respectively.
Another test, which proved much faster, and more representative of the typical backups a company would be doing with one of these I would imagine, is a simple folder which contained an amalgamation of documents, photos, audio files and datafile backups, totalling just over 1.5GB, managed respective read/write speeds of 60mb/s and 42.1mb/s. A far more impressive result undoubtedly, and one that will place this unit as a solid-good performer, without particularly setting itself apart from the competition in the field.
From most perspectives, this would be a wise choice if you’re in the market for something of the likes, however you need to bear in mind that the fan does make a fair amount of noise, making it completely impractical as a media hub, for example. Keeping it with an HTPC was an environment in which I tested it and the noise made it almost impossible to hear the TV without a sneaky hum causing a droning undertone. If you can get past the noise, however, which will most likely be the corporate users who simply need something easy to throw a load of critical data onto every day, perhaps, then the build quality of this unit will provide that with aplomb.
The speeds make it a worthy competitor, as does the design, specs and software usability, but more importantly so does the price, with it being quoted as around £130 from sites such as eBuyer. Of course this is probably out of the price range of most personal consumers, considering the hundreds on top of that for top notch hard drives, however for a business desperate to get some data backed up, then I can’t recommend this unit enough. Great value, relative to the competition.