If you’re like me, you have a lot of external hard drives on your desk. Some are there to back up others. And it’s a messy tangle of wires and cables, between the power cords and their various transformer parts (often wall-warts that have to use a Power Squid or similar because they’re too big for UPS power strips). Sure, they’re cheap. And you keep buying more and bigger drives. Some of us replace the drives inside the cases with larger drives as we need to, saving a precious buck or two. But it gets confusing. Which file is where, and just how many duplicates do we have of what, where?
This method of filing is called JBOD, or Just a Bunch Of Disks. Can refer to hard drives or optical media, or (gulp!) both. I’ve read The DAM Book, and thought it a good idea. But did I do anything about it? No! Who has the time? Consolidating all that stuff, and having much of my work live on one drive setup with redundancy, is a dream of mine.
I finally decided to do something about it. At PMA, I checked them all out. I decided to try Wiebetech’s newest, the RTX 400-QR. It’s versatile, offering Firewire 800 (two ports), USB2 and eSATA. Figured I’d give the Firewire 800 a shot first to see if it was fast enough. It’s also portable, in case I ever want to take it with me (If there’s a fire and you’re evacuated, as happens sometimes in Southern California with wildfires, the first thing you grab is your family albums and photos, right?). It’s also easy to set up, with trayless disk bays. It can be set up in any RAID flavor or even as a JBOD, still gets you down to ONE case and ONE each power and data cables for up to four drives.
I started mine out with four 1.5 TB drives. Mine were all matched, but in talking to Brandon Busey at the company afterward, he does suggest using different brands or at least different lot numbers, just to reduce any potential for two or more drives to fail simultaneously. I’m running RAID 5, so it basically spreads the data across and if one drive fails, you’re still ok. RAID 5 takes this 6TB of drives down to 3.66TB of useable space. That’s plenty for me so far, still loading a lot of my stuff from my JBODs. It’ll be so amazing to have it live, hoping to make a proper library of the images in Lightroom or Aperture (still haven’t decided which one I like, leaning toward LR).
I’m also using it for editing in FCP, have a few projects that have 1-3 hours of footage live plus all the related media (images, music, graphics) and with the Firewire 800 connection it hasn’t hiccuped once. My one problem has been that I want to also use my Sandisk Firewire 800 Extreme reader, but it won’t daisy chain properly since the RTX’s Firewire ports are unpowered. I called Brandon about this, he said they’d likely have powered ports on future products. They take input from photographers and other users seriously and sound committed to improving products based on that input. Certainly makes me feel good about it.
The lack of power in the Firewire port makes me think I may switch to eSATA for the interface, though that requires adding a PCI card with an external eSATA port to my G5 that I use for this work. It’ll be temporary until I upgrade to a Mac Pro which will have eSATA built-in. Or a powered Firewire 800 hub, but those are more expensive than the card as well as unneeded for anything else, since the only thing I use Firewire 800 for is the reader.
The RTX’s case has a handle on top for portability, the trayless bays make installing drives a snap (see the animated GIF of them going in), and the on-board diagnostics are easy to understand. You have to format everything when you first set it up, but once it’s up and running you can see the temp of the drives, status, etc. right from the front of the case. I like seeing that. It’s a small footprint, barely larger than the four drives themselves stacked. When you power it up, it spins up one drive at a time to keep the power flowing smoothly and cause less stress to the drives and case. Two months of use and it’s speeding along like a champ! And quiet, too. Even when things are really cranking in my office and the temp is high from all the computers, monitors and drives, it keeps cool and uses the fans very efficiently.
The RTX has taken everything I’ve thrown into it (ok, carefully organized into it) and seems to perform really, really well. Feels like I have a nearly 4 TB drive inside my computer, with the safety and security of knowing it has redundancy.