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Review: OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini SSD RAID

Blazing fast Thunderbolt 2 connection interface.

By Brady Betzel

Since we are all experiencing gigantic increases in our multimedia projects, RAIDs are more important than ever. Footage coming from all sorts of different cameras with varying data rates, frame rates and file sizes put a very heavy strain on our computer systems.

For this review Other World Computing,  (@macsales), sent me its latest in external RAID solutions, the Thunderbay 4 Mini loaded with 2TB of SSD awesomeness that is connected via a Thunderbolt 2 connection. This is likely the fastest connection I have ever tested.

I’ve reviewed and worked with many RAIDs over the past decade, and I’ve always been of the mindset that hardware RAIDs are superior to software RAIDs. OWC often touts the use of SoftRAID, a software-based OSX RAID solution, but because I haven’t seen many Windows-based reviews on the Thunderbay 4 Mini SSD I decided to take it for spin without SoftRAID (an OSX only software).

I’ve read different reports from users on SoftRAID, some saying it adds a tremendous amount of Read/Write speed and usability to their RAID, and some saying they prefer to stick with a hardware RAID solution. For those interested, when purchasing the Thunderbay 4 Mini SSD you can add SoftRAID to your purchase, but it ranges from an additional $105 to and additional $200 – which to me seems like an odd pricing structure, but you can also purchase it outright from SoftRAID for $179. And remember, it is Mac-only product.

PR_TB4_mini

If you haven’t heard of OWC (Other World Computing) before, they are known for their Mac-based solutions. They have some great videos and tutorials on how to take your old MacBook Pro and bring it back to life by adding one or two SSD drives along with memory upgrades for a decent price.

If using these drives in a Yosemite-based Mac, you may want to do a bit of research on Google and make sure your drives will show up; there have been some interesting workarounds to getting non-Apple approved SSD drives to work properly. If you haven’t upgraded to Yosemite yet, then you are probably in the clear.

Getting Started
Inside the box you get a custom-branded OWC 1 meter Thunderbolt 2 cable (which I really like for some reason) keys to lock and unlock the front of the Thunderbay, power cables, drives (if you ordered it preloaded) and manual. The drives coming pre-installed worried me a little bit because of what can happen in shipping, but since they are SSDs I guess have nothing to worry about because there aren’t any moving parts, make sense?

My first impression is that the Thunderbay 4 Mini SSD RAID is extremely light and durable, even when loaded with 4 SSD drives. It doesn’t feel cheap, yet it looks and feels like it belongs on your desktop. Once plugged in and turned on it is relatively quiet since there are no spinning drives. Really the only moving part is the quiet fan, which never got too hot for my liking. The four drives that came pre-installed were OWC’s own 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro 6G SSDs, the highest quality drives that OWC sells with touted sustained read speeds of 559MB/s and write speeds of 527MB/s.

For those of you interested in what the warranty includes, you get a limited three-year parts and labor warranty, level 1 data recovery for one year (basically that means if they can get your data back relatively easy it will be free) and 30 days of drive advance/cross-ship warranty (will ship the drive after being diagnosed by OWC support before your drive is returned — you will have to put a credit card down just in case).

How fast of a connection will you really see with the Thunderbay 4 Mini using SSD drives?
Technically, OWC says that you will achieve up to 1284MB/s sustained speeds. Using my trusty AJA System Test as well as the Blackmagic Design Speed Test, here are my results:
RAID-0
AJA System Test – Disk Read + Write Test
1GB File Size – Read: 834.2 MB/s Write: 758.8 MB/s
16GB File Size – Read: 837.9 MB/s Write: 788.6 MB/s

Blackmagic Design – Disk Speed Test
1GB File Size – Approximately Read: 540.0MB/s Write: 780.8MB/s
16GB File Size – Approximately Read: 666.1MB/s Write: 764.7 MB/s

You may notice I only reported RAID-0 performance, that is because I strictly wanted to use built-in Windows RAID functions for simplicity sake. I’m not a big fan of having to purchase additional software to make the product you are purchasing perform “better,” although in this case it may be worth it. Windows 8 doesn’t have an extensive RAID set-up application, making the case to buy your own RAID software solution or go with an external drive that has the RAID controller built in.

I was a little disappointed by the speeds I was getting (considering it’s a Thunderbolt 2/SSD RAID). OWC and many others will probably call out the fact that I didn’t use Mac-only SoftRAID, or that my computer wasn’t set up properly, or any other myriad reasons. The fact of the matter is that I wanted to test this like a normal end user would with little technical troubleshooting.

While these Read/Write speeds are acceptable and far faster than many other external RAIDS I have tested, it definitely makes me think that you must purchase a software RAID solution in addition to your hardware. Technically I just went into the Windows Disk Management Tool, initialized my drives and went from there (I don’t really want to go into too much detail just in case someone accidentally erases all of their data). There are only a couple of options including RAID-0 (Striped) and RAID-1 (Mirrored, which can only use two of the four drives from my external RAID — basically useless). And yes I do know about Window’s Storage Spaces, but I chose to go the Disk Management route and just see straightforward performance. If you are wondering about my computer specs, I am using a very newly released HP workstation that is powerful enough to handle Thunderbolt 2. Let’s just say it’s one of the fastest workstations on the market right now.

Inside of Adobe Premiere I was flying (compared to other external drives I’ve used) while running over eight streams of ProRes 422 files simultaneously and without hiccups (If you are thinking about running ProRes 444 QuickTimes, while I am sure they would run they would likely bog down your connection much faster because of the substantial spike in data rate and file size). I even ran a few raw R3D files with minimal hiccups.

A nice way to judge just how small the Mini is.

A nice way to judge just how small the Mini is.

Moral of this story is that if you need an external RAID to complement your internal RAID, the Thunderbay 4 Mini with SSD drives is what you want. You will very rarely get bogged down unless you are trying to watch a 16 camera 5K group at full resolution. I’m pretty sure that’s ridiculous and you should probably research “offline/online” workflow or hire someone from Nvidia and HP to design a custom set up. Better yet email me (bradybetzel@gmail.com) and I can work with you on setting up an appropriate workflow.

All in all, I have been pretty impressed with the OWC Thunderbay 4 mini RAID with SSD drives. If interested, there are many ways to purchase this RAID:

SSD Configurations
– 4 x 120GB SSD Drives (500GB) = $799
– 4 x 240GB SSD Drives (1TB) = $1,179
– 4 x 480GB SSD Drives (2TB) = $1,699
– 4 x 960GB SSD Drives (4TB) = $2,399

Spinning Hard Drive Configurations
– 4 x 500GB Drives (2TB) = $599
– 4 x 1TB Drives (4TB) = $699
– 4 x 2TB Drives (8TB) = $895

No Drives
– 4 x Empty 2.5” drive bays= $379

Each of these configurations will go up if you decide to add SoftRAID to your purchase.

Summing Up
In the end, the combination of speed and build quality make the OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini with SSD a great choice for an external Thunderbolt 2-based RAID solution. You will definitely want to purchase a software RAID solution, SoftRAID if you are on a Mac.

While the price is a little high for 2TB of storage (this is not all OWC’s fault since the price of Thunderbolt 2 connectivity and SSD storage isn’t cheap), you will be hard pressed to find anything that runs as fast as this runs that will sit on your desktop quietly.

Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is currently editing The Real World, and is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.

 

2 thoughts on “Review: OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini SSD RAID

  1. Travis - Video Producer at Provid Films

    Impressive speeds indeed! I have the Drobo 5d and 5n and don’t hit nearly those speeds, granted I’m on a PC with USB but still – my internal SSD is slower than this setup. I guess this goes to show why the new Mac Pro doesn’t have internal space when they can get faster speeds storing the data in other devices 🙂

    Travis

    Reply
  2. Adam Cohn

    Great writ up but I have a couple comments/queston. I don’t understand how you are doing a proper test of a software raid set up without adding the proper software.

    I get that you want to see how the Windows native control is good enough but I don’t think it is based not he speeds you are reporting.

    I am essentially getting those speeds (a drop less) with the Thunder Bay IV HDD (not SSD) with the new iMac 5k 27″ and the SkyLake Chipset.

    I sort of want to get my hands on the SSD minis to see what sort of speeds I would get.

    Reply

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