capsule review


MicroNet’s SANcube800—designed to be a centralized storage hub for as many as four users—is a huge step up from the original SANcube. Significant performance enhancements make the SANcube800 far more robust and reliable than its predecessor. The original’s otherworldly style also has been replaced by a no-nonsense yet sleek enclosure.

A midlevel hard-drive storage device for multimedia or video producers, the SANcube800 fills a unique niche between FireWire 800 RAID drives such as the LaCie Bigger Disk Extreme or the Medea G-RAID, and more-powerful and more-expensive Fibre Channel SAN (storage area network) devices such as Apple’s Xserve RAID with Xsan.

Speed and Reliability Boost

The obvious difference between the SANcube800 and its predecessor is the addition of FireWire 800, which transfers data faster to each connected computer. In our tests, the SANcube800 had no problem moving several simultaneous streams of DV video to separate Final Cut Pro 4 users. While we were able to capture and edit 8-bit uncompressed Standard Definition (SD) video, the SANcube800 did drop frames while playing back simultaneous, complicated, uncompressed SD projects on two separate G5 computers running Final Cut Pro (using RAID 5, which is slower than RAID 3 and 0).

But concentrating on the FireWire 800 angle doesn’t tell the whole story. The SANcube800 has a hardware controller that can format the five hot-swappable drives together as RAID level 0, 1, 0+1, 3, or 5 arrays. Typically, FireWire RAID units offer only RAID 0 (striped) or 1 (mirrored) formatting, so users must choose between high data rates and redundancy protection. Configured as RAID 5 by default, the SANcube800 balances data transfer speed with safety—so even if a drive fails, you can continue working. This instills a lot of confidence.

As a SAN, the SANcube800 supports four simultaneous users: all can have read access to the volume, but as with many simpler SANs, only one user at a time can write. Curiously, the unit has only two FireWire 800 ports. If there are four users, two need to route through a desktop Mac with a PCI FireWire 800 expansion card (which acts like a FireWire hub with extra ports). While this is somewhat inconvenient, it does work, even when the intermediary computer is off.

The SANcube800 uses Intech’s MicroSAN software to control the drive mounting and read-write permissions. It worked well and was relatively intuitive. As with other SANs of this type, read-only users can’t see newly written data unless they remember to refresh their index of the shared volume. This can be a drawback.

The SANcube800 is a noisy beast, with a fan that’s reminiscent of a hair dryer set to medium. The included FireWire 800 cables are only 10 feet long, so sound baffling may be required.

Some people may balk at the $4,995 price, but storage area networks are not cheap. Indeed, four seats of Xsan or comparable SAN software can set you back $4,000—add a Fibre Channel switch, Fibre Channel cards, and Xserve RAID storage, and you could spend $12,000 or more. From that perspective, the SANcube800’s price, though nothing to sneeze at, is competitive.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

For small multimedia firms or collaborative DV environments, the SANcube800, with its improved reliability and speed, is a perfect fit. Having RAID levels 3 and 5 available in a FireWire 800 product is a fantastic enhancement that provides plenty of peace of mind.

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