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Review: Sony PSZ-RA4T hard drive – A very portable rugged RAID

Decent size, acceptable speeds and fantastic portability make the Sony Rugged RAIDs a great choice for editing on the go.

When you think about rugged hard drives most of us probably picture the bright orange bumpers of a little Lacie Rugged or the blue case of a G-Tech G|Drive ev ATC . These are both small, single drives with slower mechanisms that aren’t terribly big or terribly fast. Now we can add the Sony PSZ-RA4T Rugged RAID to this list. The Sony Rugged RAID adds both speed and capacity to the portable hard drive category.

The Sony Rugged RAID sitting, ready to power and serve up media.
The Sony PSZ-RA4T Rugged RAID, ready to power up and serve media.

We’ve reviewed the Sony Rugged RAID before on PVC. I’m often the skeptic of anything that is a bit out of the norm and I was skeptical of this new RAID as well. One reason is that I don’t think of RAIDs as being either rugged or portable (maybe when they are SSDs). Another reason is I don’t think of Sony when it comes to storage. It was this skepticism that prompted me to ask Sony for a review unit for some editing travel as I wanted to try it out. I needed speed, capacity and portability. The specs of this RAID seemed to fit the bill.

rugged_raid-1
It’s great to see both Thunderbolt and USB 3 in one unit. This proved very versatile as I was able to drop it with clients who had both newer Thunderbolt equipped Macs and older non-Thunderbolt machines.

It’s important to note the PSZ-RA4T isn’t the only “portable” RAID out there in the market. I talked about my OWC Thunderbay 4 being “portable” but it’s certainly not so easily portable as the PSZ-RA4T and nowhere near as rugged. Jeff Foster looked at some other portable OWC products recently and while the ThunderBay 4 Mini is easily small enough to be portable it’s an SSD RAID so the cost is going to be much higher and the capacity much less relative to the cost of a spinning media RAID. There are a lot of other rugged drives out there but they are small and not fast. The PSZ-RA4T seems unique in this market.

Construction and operation

The PSZ-RA4T (Come on Sony, could there be a worse name than that?) isn’t an SSD system. Both the 4TB and the 6TB versions use spinning media. We don’t always think portability with spinning media but reading over the specs of the PSZ-RA4T shows vibration compensation both on the inside and the outer case of the unit. Sony expects you to move this thing around as there are feet on both the bottom and side so you can fit it into different situations. When editing with the PSZ-RA4T I sat the unit on its bottom but when being carried in my backpack the unit was on its side. I never dropped, smashed or kicked the Sony Rugged RAID but it has it has traveled a good bit over the 6 plus weeks I’ve been using it and it never blinked when asked to power up and edit.

The drives inside the PSZ-RA4T are full size desktop drives so power is required via a non-wall wart power supply. A rubber cage covers the exterior with a handle on top. The handle is a great addition that will get a lot of use.

The handle on this RAID came to be one of my favorite things. Considering this a "rugged" unit it is expecting to be moved and a handle helps with that. The paperwork that comes with the RAID details the internal construction and how it's built to be ... well ... rugged.
The handle on this RAID came to be one of my favorite things. Considering this a “rugged” unit it is asking to be moved and a handle helps with that. The paperwork that comes with the RAID details the internal construction and how it’s built to be … well … rugged.

There’s a power button/power light combo on the front as well as a disk access light. On the back are two Thunderbolt 2 ports that allow daisy chaining as well a USB 3 port. This is a very nice addition as there are a lot of Thunderbolt RAIDs (in fact most) that don’t have a USB 3 connection. This USB 3 port uses a standard-B plug but instantly makes the PSZ-RA4T more versatile. Versatility is important when portability comes into play.

Another unique feature of the PSZ-RA4T is the physical button on the back to change RAID configuration from a RAID 1 to 0 or a JBOD configuration. I haven’t seen that before on a Thunderbolt RAID. This will reformat the drive and lose all the data but don’t worry about accidentally hitting it and losing everything as there is a procedure to go through. That also involves downloading Sony’s Media Memory Utility software to help with the task. The downside of this reformat is you’ll have to deal with Sony’s terrible website and not so well designed software.

Changing the RAID mode

This Sony RAID is the only one I’ve encountered that has physical buttons on the unit to change the RAID level. I did notice a new Other World Computing drive recently that does have such a hardware RAID switch so maybe it’s a matter of not noticing until I had a reason to notice.

The hardware buttons on back are for changing the RAID level. You can't do it by accident.
The hardware buttons on back are for changing the RAID level. You can’t do it by accident.

To change the RAID level, it’s a multistep process that involves powering up the RAID (unhook from Thunderbolt or USB3 first) while holding down the SELECT button. Then select the desired level (RAID0, RAID1, JBOD) and hitting CONFIRM. If you begin the process but don’t hit CONFIRM it powers off. After confirming you have to then format via the Sony Media Memory Utility software.

sony-memory_media_utility_02

It goes without saying if you change the RAID level and reformat all data is lost.

It’s a handy feature to have as there’s some good versatility that comes from easy reformatting. At RAID0 and over 300 MB/second it’s a fast drive that you can edit from. If safety is important then RAID1 give that extra bit of security but that comes at half the space of full capacity of the drive. I love the thought of a DIT putting footage from the shoot onto one of these things in RAID1 and handing that to the editor when turnaround is quick. You’re not going to edit 4K natively for very long but at HD resolution you can do some good work from this portable.

Speed

If it’s a RAID, then it’s speed that is important. The PSZ-RA4T is only a two-drive RAID so speeds aren’t going to approach what you might need for realtime 4K but with read/write speeds that are hitting around 375 MB/sec in my tests it is a plenty fast for a lot of work. And work off of it I did. I never saw an issue working at 1080 and I had the 4TBs stuff pretty full.

sony_rugged_raid-raid0-diskspeedtest-thunderbolt

The ubiquitous Blackmagic Disk Speed test with the PSZ-RA4T Thunderbolt connection.

sony_rugged_raid-raid0-aja-test-old-thunderbolt

For comparison here’s what the AJA System Test was showing.

sony_rugged_raid-raid0-diskspeedtest-usb3

And for more comparison this is a USB 3 connection.

RAID1 is slower as to be expected.

sony_rugged_raid-raid1-diskspeedtest-thunderbolt

As I mentioned above this RAID isn’t an 8K speed demon but what it does have is very usable speed coupled with decent space so that takes it way beyond most portables as a very usable drive.

Real world usage of the PSZ-RA4T

I’ve had this rugged RAID in my possession for nearly two months and I’ve been able to use it in a number of different situations.

I flew the drive cross country to a conference and was able to take 3 large projects in their entirety and use those as demo media.

I’ve taken the RAID on the road for several long weekends when I’ve had to deal with some family issues, meaning I could easily copy a project or two in their entirety onto the PSZ-RA4T at the last minute and take that (along with my laptop) during some unexpected travel and work in some different locations as I had a few hours free.

When I mentioned non-Thunderbolt usage of the Sony Rugged RAID that was on old MacPro towers that had a USB 3 card added to the system.
When I mentioned non-Thunderbolt usage of the Sony Rugged RAID that was on old MacPro towers that had a USB 3 card added to the system.

I’ve had the opportunity to work on a reality show with a production company south of my office. This show had hundreds of hours of media but while the 4TB capacity wasn’t enough to take all of the raw media it was more than enough to take the 1.4 TB of proxy media to work with. The PSZ-RA4T was left at the facility, brought back to me, edited off of both at my office and my home and carried back to the production company for a screening of my episode. This was over a week so the PSZ-RA4T got a lot of moving around, from place to place, bag to bag.

Moving the PSZ-RA4T around usually meant shoving it into this GRUV GEAR backpack on its side so everything would fit, and then setting it up upon arrival. The RAID has feet both on the bottom and on the side so it’s built to sit either flat or horizontal so that help with carrying it too.

This demo unit got a lot of traveling into the couple of months that I've had it. Here it is shoved into a backpack where it logged many miles.
This demo unit got a lot of traveling into the couple of months that I’ve had it. Here it is shoved into a backpack where it logged many miles.

I do wish the power cable of this type of electronic product could be redesigned. While it doesn’t have a wall wart, there’s two pieces to the cable and power supply and I’ve found it takes time to bundle up this power supply when moving it frequently. I have cable ties so it can be cinched up into something portable but it’s a pain to do it several times a day.

rugged_raid-14
There’s the power cable. Someday someone will create a more revolutionary spring-loaded, self-rewinding power solution for these types of portable products.

I do wish Sony (or someone out there) would invent a better, more well designed power supply for portable drives like the PSZ-RA4T. God knows we have enough portable electronics these days and yet so little thought seems to have gone into these power supply designs.

Wrap-up

Overall the Sony PSZ-RA4T is a great choice for a medium-capacity, fast and portable RAID solution. Coming in at 4TB and 6TB I don’t think it will necessarily be the main studio RAID of choice for the busy editor but at $470 and $546 respectively it could be a great option for when you need to deliver footage from the shoot and plug-in to begin editing without transfer to a studio RAID. If you’re an on-set editor or a DIT that needs that sweet spot between portability and speed then the PSZ-RA4T could be a great choice. The capacity is on the smaller side today but I’m sure we’ll see bigger options in the future. Hard drive capacities only grow.

I do like that the Sony RAID is designed to sit both on its bottom and its side. You know it's designed this was because they put feet on both the bottom and the side.
I do like that the Sony PSZ-RA4T RAID is designed to sit both on its bottom and its side. You know it’s designed this was because they put feet on both the bottom and the sideI

Where I really see the PSZ-RA4T shine is in that video editing go-bag situation I wrote about a recently and it was that article that prompted me to seek one out for review. While I mentioned “portability” in a RAID with something like the OWC Thunderbay 4 that portability came from the fact it was a smaller 4-bay enclosure and I saved the foam packaging. That made the Thunderbay somewhat “portable” but I’d never consider carrying that along on an airplane and it’s impossible to put it in a single editing go-bag. The PSZ-RA4T Sony Rugged RAID on the other hand provides the speed, portability, affordability and ruggedness a truly mobile editor might need. It’s a market it might have all to itself.

And I can pay it the highest compliment: I’m going to buy one for myself.

Pros

  • It’s a RAID that is fast and rugged so that’s a big + right there.
  • The handle makes for even easier portability.

Cons

  • I guess the capacity might be too small for some but if you’re needing more than 6TB in a portable drive maybe portable isn’t the way you need to go with a RAID.
  • Like all these kinds of drives the power adapter will be your least favorite thing if you have to plug, unplug and have portability several times a day.

Cautions

  • The RAID formatting button on the back can reformat the drive but it takes more than a quick push so you won’t do this accidentally.
  • The power plug into the back is a little elbow connector that can sometimes get in the way of the connections.
  • Sony doesn’t yet have much of a track record with hard drives.

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PVC Staff
Scott Simmons was born in rural West Tennessee and didn't really realize that movies and tv had to be made by actual people until he went to college. After getting degrees in both Television Production…

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