Comparing External RAID Housings

In times of increasing memory capacities, backing up your data isn’t quite as easy as it was a few years ago. Optical media is totally unsuited for saving the volumes of data that are generated today. Well, what could be easier than backing up your data by simply copying the contents of an internal drive to an external one?

Hard drives are available at low prices, around 10 cents per gigabyte, and there are two primary ways of connecting an external drive to a computer: USB 2.0 and eSATA. We have already introduced some of the adapters that make connecting an external hard drive to a PC easier in this story on storage accessories.

Connecting via USB 2.0 or eSATA?

Connecting via USB 2.0 works without problems on the vast majority of computers. eSATA drives can also be connected to and disconnected from the computer without needing to restart the operating system, just like a USB memory stick. When using eSATA to connect, you must ensure that the controller is capable of AHCI mode—only then is it possible to connect/disconnect devices without restarting. The only thing missing with eSATA is an icon in the task bar which enables you to safely remove devices.

In order to be able to operate the external drives in an appropriate manner, it also makes sense to acquire a drive housing. It is now possible to purchase units that can support more than one drive. This article investigates what can be expected from a housing designed for multiple drives.

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  • rockbyter
    did i miss the part about heat and noise?
  • Aragorn
    Did anyone else think that the thumbnails of the charts were utterly useless. Why don't we get nicely sized images in THG reports anymore?
  • Discussion about external desktop storage and no mention whatsoever of Firewire? *yawn* call me when you have a serious storage article. Firewire is the defacto standard in the pro desktop market, and also of course with all Apple systems. It's faster than USB 2.0 in every benchmark. It's more flexible and mature than eSata. And with Firewire 3.2 Gb/s coming later this year, it's about to get reeeeally fast. I have five external disks (including 2 raid arrays) and all are Firewire 800 connected.
  • hawler
    I wish firewire would just die with the upcoming release of USB 3.0 which will be fast 4GB/s and more common. It really is annoying to have both of these on a computer when you could simply have just one of them. Id rather have 10 USB slots then 8 USB and two firewire on my computer. I knwo this isn't goign to happen but there simply is no need to have both, I realize currently it is faster but it won't be soon, and when it was first made they should have tried to make it a new version of USB so that there wouldn't be 2 standards.

    Thats just my opinion on it, im sure people who use a lot of firewire products (i only use it for my ext HDDs but) might disagree but the idea of having just one I/O choice to me is better...its like display port for monitors...why oh why didn't they just leave it with DVI/HDMI
  • @ hawler: USB is NOT a replacement for firewire! There's a reason that ALL pro audio equipment uses Firewire instead of USB. There's a reason that ALL camcorders can stream video only over Firewire and not USB.

    It's called "Isochronous transfers". Critical when you're dealing with real-time audio or video. USB doesn't provide that. Also makes bulk data transfer (like backups, for instance) perform more consistently.

    USB was never designed for bulk data transfer. That's why it sucks so badly at it. Ever wondered why a 480 Mbit USB2 connection (That's 60 MB/s) can barely achieve between 35 MB/s in real world transfers? That's because the protocol sucks at bulk data transfer. USB was designed for keyboards and mice. To replace low-speed serial ports. Not for high speed bulk data transfer. The USB protocol is inherently deficient in this regard.

    Firewire, on the other hand, was designed *specifically* for bulk data transfers. It's obvious when you look at its efficiency at these kinds of tasks. Firewire 400 (that's 50 MB/s) achieves around 42 to 45 MB/s in real world performance. Far FAR more efficient than USB at moving data.

    My vote would be for ALL external data storage, audio, and video devices to be firewire only. Make everything else USB.
  • njalterio
    For those of you asking about firewire, many companies do not like to use firewire because of security issues. Firewire devices communicate through direct memory access. There is no operating system intervention. This is why many companies will have their IT staff remove firewire expansion cards or disable them.
  • @ njalterio: Companies? IT departments? What kind of company IT department directs their employees to backup the PC's individually using external disks??

    Firewire does indeed use DMA. That's another advantage it has over USB, at least in terms of performance. Everyone knows from back in the PATA disk days, that DMA transfers are way faster than non-DMA transfers.

    But for professional audio/video, there is only one option and that's Firewire. No such thing as pro a/v products that use USB. They just don't exist. So when you say that "companies disable fw interfaces" I suppose it depends on what sort of company you're talking about. Not a production studio that's for sure!!
  • xxsk8er101xx
    There is this program called Hotswap 4.0.1 i think it is. or maybe 4.1.1. I forget. But it's called Hotswap and it allows you to have that add/remove icon for harddrives. It works for cd-roms, ide drives, fixed drives ... it's an amazing program and best of all - it's free!

    Again it's hotswap! 4.'something ... it's an amazing tool and it works very well. Solves the problem listed on page 1 about no add/remove icon.
  • GreenPower
    All my applications are installed on the C drive, which is a 500GB $79 WD unit. I buy a second identical drive and hook it up to an extra 18" sata cable and power right at the edge of the pc case chassis.
    I use Acronis True Image disk utility to make and exact copy when the system half way reboots. Then I turn off the power and swap disks. A few applications like Photoshop can still detect they have been copied. But besides this its a 5 minute replacement if my HD ever gets corrupted.

    Otherwise it takes about 4 LONG days to rebuild the system from scratch.
    Five minutes vs four days. Go figure!
  • GreenPower
    Always run the long format and surface scan any new disk to check for bad sectors. Then re-scan it after its been copied and re-booted with. Only then can you state that you backup is worthy.
  • @ GreenPower: No need for all that if you're using ZFS. ZFS has built-in CRC checking! No more need to worry about bad sectors or data corruption.
  • Luscious
    I tried backing up a laptop one time with a measly 80GB drive using USB2.0 and it took me hours.

    All laptops should have an eSata port, especially if you've got a 200GB or bigger drive, otherwise you'll be waiting HOURS for a full system backup to complete.

    Of course, it all depends on HOW MUCH data you need to get backed up.

    Hard drives simply suck at backup, they are slow when it comes to transferring their full capacity and just as useless when it comes to having a backup that is durable/removable. Tapes are still the best way to go, they stream fast but have limited capacity and the drives are very expensive.

    Tapes need to come is 1TB capacities, they should cost no more than $100 a pop and the drives should be selling for no more than $600. I would not pay anything more for a tape system for home use. The problem is tapes are still targeted at businesses, which can easily pay the $2000+ price for the best drives.
  • Wow, it's been awhile since I've ran into a firewire evangelist. Let's hope they have better luck getting the next generation of fw on whatever they can because it seems to be largely only used for direct connections to equipment and that's about it.

    We've been using Express card or internal sata/esata on most of our macs in house and use them for the direct hard drive connections or even being used as a boot drive on the laptops. So far we noticed better sustained reading and writing performance with ESATA and the increase in the amount of enclosures and drops in prices have helped quite a bit also.

    Personally USB 2.0 is only an emergency connector. Only for a last resort. I've been known to take drives out of enclosures just to connect them internally then deal with USB.

    If any other connectors get more of a hold on the dv camera/audio equipment then firewire could be rather pointless. They have a nice connector but that's all I can really say in their defence when it comes to esata which is still rather fragile in my opinion.

    Either way, it's always nice to see what happens with the newer technologies. Optical connectors on usb3 is intersting, 10Gb ethernet way down the line and who knows, maybe the next firewire will be amazing. Competition is nice for our pocketbooks sometimes.
  • kenyee
    timmah: if you've ever tried backing up to a hard drive w/ usb 2.0 and firewire, you'd know why I'm also a firewire fan though it sounds like you've tried backing up on usb 2.0 ;-)

    That said, esata is faster than firewire/400 (though only slightly faster than firewire/800 which most motherboards seem to lack)...
  • Another huge benefit of Firewire over USB is its power providing abilities. A firewire port provides roughly THREE times the power for external devices. You can run the latest, fastest, 7200 rpm drives bus-powered on a Firewire connection (several drives even!) but you definitely can't do that on USB. Heck, My HP laptop can't even power up a 5400 rpm 2.5" USB drive I have.
  • GreenPower
    ZFS is for Linux. I use Acronis True Image for creating an exact image on a second hard drive for Vista64.
    A second motherboard backup strategy is necessary because of Windows anti-copy protection. PLAN to buy a SECOND identical motherboard. Only make your decision to actually buy it when its being discontinued. If the MB goes bad then your main HD backup is only of limited value. But if you put in an identical MB then you should be good to go!

    Hard Disks get corrupted and motherboards wear out. Plan ahead for these two major failures. Its just a matter of time.
  • itadakimasu
    i suggested using an external sata solution for backups and was immediately shot down at work despite the cost and ease of data recovery vs tapes....

    the last time i need to restore something off the tapes, i needed to restore the server that the tape drives are located on and to do that I needed the tape software which had been lost, spent over 6 hours trying to re-install the backup exec software (alot of time due to it being an ancient machine w\ 10 minute restarts required periodically)
  • badboy4dee
    For home use yeah HD backup makes sense as long as you have more than one backup. Rule is have more than just one HD backup and do it offsite, encrypted etc... . I know you guys must have heard of tapeless backups right?

    You go "anonymous guy" YOUR KUNG-FU IS GOOD.

    The Silent Majority
  • badboy4dee
    GreenPower, I like using Winddows in a Virtual environment like VMware and the like and keep Micro$oft in it's place. Other option is to us Linux/wine/crossover and run Window appz on dat!

    The Silent Majority
  • badboy4dee
    Cobian or Comodo both are free backups if you need the software

    The Silent Majority
  • xxsk8er101xx
    sure give me a -1 but when you're trying to remove a sata drive and sick and tired of turning off your computer all the time to do it you'll thank me later! You can even use hotswap to hotswap ide drives. You just can't hotswap your OS drive.

    And btw esata is better than firewire for hard drives and esata is so easy to install. All you need is the $2.99 bracket to convert the sata port to esata.
  • neosoul
    Professional studios use another form of direct attached consumer storage than another and it's better somehow?

    Restoring from an external disk is better than tape - what?!?!

    If that external disk is corrupt, I assure you it's much more expensive. Yes, firewire is faster, but is it better? Well, since the extreme majority of systems have USB and not firewire - I'm saying no.

    On a production system, data should be shot to a SAN then off to tape backups for storage. How the hell can you irresponsibly recommend a form of consumer storage over another.
  • dark41
    I can't see using USB to backup anything anymore as it's too slow.

    Image backups are a good idea too, but we don't keep our data on the same partition as the operating systems, and frankly restoring an image with 1tb of data takes 10 times as long as copying the files over via E-SATA.

    We use firewire 800 for uploading from our video camera.

    We use E-SATA for backing up our systems for our home and small business.

    Our external hard drive bays are always connected with their own power. We simply turn off the power button on the external drive case when not being used, eliminating the need for a "safely remove hardware" button.

    We're quite happy with E-SATA for what it does and firewire for what it does, but I'd never use firewire for backing up my data. I've found E-SATA to be much faster and more flexible.

    E-SATA is more portable than firewire because it'll plug into any drive that has a SATA controller, which is standard on every computer now, although it won't be hot swapable without E-SATA. Firewire requires a computer with firewire.
  • I can't believe anyone wrote an article about external RAID devices and didn't even mention the Synology DS207+. Anyone looking for an excellent backup solutions needs to look into it.