ProRAID 4-Bay RAID Enclosure (now with USB 3.0 goodness!)

Behold the latest addition to my “how to schlep around tons of files” arsenal – the Mediasonic ProRAID 4-Bay RAID enclosure.

Mediasonic ProRAID 4-Bay RAID EnclosureMediasonic ProRAID 4-Bay RAID EnclosureMediasonic ProRAID 4-Bay RAID Enclosure Rear View

The problem I needed to solve was how do I back up and/or transport Terabytes worth of data? Once we start adding a couple of 1.5TB drives to a desktop or server, we’re pretty much locked into having to move these files from system to system using either a network connection or (goodness forbid) a USB 2.0 transfer cable or the like. Even at Gigabit network speeds, transferring a couple of Terabytes will take some substantial time. This particular enclosure, however, solves pretty much all of my problems.

Transfer Speed

This model of ProRAID enclosure supports both USB 3.0 (backwards compatible with USB 2.0) as well as eSATA. This means that I can copy TB worth of data in hours instead of days and that I have the flexibility to use USB 3.0 or eSATA add-on cards, both of which are relatively cheap (~$30 or so). If I’m in a pinch, it’s easy enough to drop back to USB 2.0 connectivity to the device, which pretty much everything supports these days. Modern motherboards are now coming out with USB 3.0 ports on them, so the investment should pay off going forward. Transfer speeds via eSATA can happen at up to 3Gbps and the USB 3.0 transfer speeds are billed as “up to 5.0Gbps”.

Storage Capacity

I use Hyper-V as a server virtualization solution, and on a monthly basis I will export each of my virtual machines and their virtual hard drives, 7-zip them up (encrypted of course) and store a copy both onsite and offsite. Even zipped, these files can consume anywhere from 5-30GB each. I am also a bit of a data pack rat, and I don’t like to delete datasets, source code, projects, etc until I absolutely have to. This means that my storage requirements are definitely not modest. Since the enclosure can accomodate up to four 2TB drives, it can theoretically handle up to 8TB of data. I say theoretically because unless you’re wanting to take a big risk with your data, you’ll want some form of redundancy across the disks (the “R” in RAID ;?) Since all of my servers employ RAID disks, they tend to hold more data than can be stored on any single hard drive – so this enclosure solves my drive capacity issue.

Data Redundancy

If you have only one drive, you’ve got all your eggs in one basket. If the drive fails, you run the risk of losing all the data that’s stored on it. Once you start adding multiple drives to the mix, you can start increasing your storage capacity, but you’ll also end up increasing your risk of data loss if a single drive fails UNLESS you employ the RAID functionality that’s built into an enclosure such as this. (Take note that this is the Mediasonic “RAID” 4-Bay enclosure and not just the Mediasonic 4-Bay enclosure – which sells for ~$100 less). I won’t go into the various forms of RAID – the Wikipedia RAID article does a good job of describing them all. I will list the ones that this enclosure supports, which are:

  • RAID 0 – Spanning
  • RAID 0 – Striping
  • RAID 1 – Mirroring
  • RAID 3 – Striped set with dedicated parity
  • RAID 5 – Striped set with distributed parity
  • RAID 10 – Mirroring + Striping

I tend to settle on RAID 5 as it has a comfortable mix of redundancy and I only end up losing the capacity of one of the drives – so in my current situation, four 1.5TB drives in a RAID 5 configuration leave me just over 4TB of usable storage. You can get up to 6TB or so by bumping up to four 2TB SATA drives.

Operating Systems Supported

One other requirement for maximum flexibility is to have a full spread of modern operating systems supported. This device is listed as being supported on Windows (XP, Vista, 7 and 2008 flavors) as well as Mac 10.x or later. Pretty much what I work with these days. Note: if you’re a Windows user, to achieve the full capacity of drives presented to the operating system that are over 2TB in size, you’ll probably have to set the drive to use GPT (GUID partition table) instead of MBR (Master Boot Record) when you configure it for its first use.

Cooling Fans

The one thing that bothers me about many of the other external enclosures is that they have no cooling fans on them. They list it as a “feature” that the enclosure has no fan and is therefore quiet. My experience has been that when I’m transferring files to an external drive (many times overnight since it can take that long or longer) – the drives get stinking hot. I mean so hot that you can’t even touch them, much less pick them up. As we all know, heat is not your friend when it comes to electronics, so the fact that this enclosure has a nice beefy fan is a definite plus. They list it as a “Smart Fan” as you can either manually control the speed (and thus the noise level) of the fan, or you can switch it over to smart-mode, wherein it adjusts the fan speed based on temperature sensors in the chasis. I like this flexibility as well.

Final thoughts

As you can tell, I think this RAID enclosure is the shizzle. It’s not much bigger than four hard drives stacked on top of one another – dimensions are 21.5cm (Depth) x 12.6cm (Width) x 16.6cm (height). It meets pretty much every one of my needs, is priced right (~$249) and was easy to configure the RAID by selecting the RAID level you want using the button on the front and accepting that RAID level by pushing an accept button in the back (covered to prevent accidental RAID level switchage and thus data loss).

I’ve only had it for a week, so your mileage may vary – don’t shoot the messenger and make sure you do your research before you spend your hard earned money on one of these. One thing that I didn’t mention in the redundancy side is that now instead of an individual drive failure being a weakness, the viability of the drive enclosure is that weakness. If the main board in this enclosure fries, I’m not quite sure how one would recover the data from the drives. Can you just plug the drives into another enclosure and have them automagically recognized? I’m not sure, so if you know, please add a comment to this post.

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