capsule review

Promise SmartStor DS4600

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At a Glance
  • Promise Technology SmartStor DS4600

Promise’s SmartStor DS4600 is a direct-attached storage (DAS) enclosure that can house up to four hard drives. It’s suitable for a direct connection to servers or workstations, it supports RAID arrays, and its design allows you to hot-swap the hard drives. Its management interface and build quality leave something to be desired, however.

The DS4600 can be connected to a Mac or server through the single eSATA, USB 2.0 or FireWire 400 ports or one of the two FireWire 800 ports. It has the same physical design as the Promise SmartStor NS4600 ( ) network-attached storage (NAS) device. Four drive bays sit behind a lockable front panel. Instead of caddies, the SmartStor DS4600 uses plastic rails that surround the drive in order to prevent vibration during operation. We didn’t notice any vibrations, but the rails’ lack of rigidity makes installing drives painful.

Promise includes its SmartNAVI software to manage the SmartStor DS4600 DAS device, and it’s available in Mac and PC versions. Using SmartNAVI, you can configure RAID volumes, monitor hard drive health and upgrade firmware. Media Centre and Photo Album functions are also available, but these are of questionable usefulness without the ability to serve media over a network.

SmartNAVI provides backup and restore features for any of the drives on the connected computer. Backup is as simple as dragging and dropping the desired folder onto SmartNAVI.

The four hard drives can be configured in a RAID array; there is support for RAID levels 0, 1, 5 and 10. However, even if all four drives are inserted, the SmartStor DS4600 external hard drive only allows you to treat them as one volume. This means you can’t configure the four drives in two or more separate volumes or in multiple RAID arrays.

Holding down device’s one-touch backup button will automatically configure a RAID array when new hard drives are installed. If there are two drives, it will configure a RAID 1 array; for three or four drives it will use a RAID 5 configuration. It formats the array using the NTFS file system; Mac users will have to format the volume to HFS+ after the process is completed.

The SmartStor DS4600 will automatically detect when it has been disconnected from a computer and stop the hard drives from spinning.

We tested the SmartStor DS4600 on a RAID 0 setting, and the drive tested moderately well. Copying a 1GB file via eSATA connection took 26 seconds. On USB and FireWire 400, it took 45 and 36 seconds, respectively. On FireWire 800, the same task took 28 seconds. To duplicate the same 1GB file, eSATA took 28 seconds altogether, which is 19 seconds faster than the G-RAID 4TB’s ( ) time it took to execute the same task, but 7 seconds slower than the EZQuest Thunder RAID 6TB ( ). On USB and FireWire 400, the SmartStor took a little over a minute to finish duplicating the 1GB file, while it took 42 seconds over FireWire 800 .

In comparison to other RAID drives, the SmartStor DS4600 test times were faster than the G-RAID, whose copying and duplicating times always came in a few seconds behind the SmartStor except for one category: the Photoshop test, which we will expand on later.

Timed trials

Copy 1GB file: USB 2.0 0:45
Copy 1GB file: FireWire 400 0:36
Copy 1GB file: FireWire 800 0:28
Copy 1GB file: eSATA 0:26
Duplicate 1GB file: USB 2.0 1:10
Duplicate 1GB file: FireWire 400 1:04
Duplicate 1GB file: FireWire 800 0:42
Duplicate 1GB file: eSATA 0:28
Low-memory Photoshop: USB 2.0 4:00
Low-memory Photoshop: FireWire 400 3:36
Low-memory Photoshop: FireWire 800 2:45
Low-memory Photoshop: eSATA 2:24

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

AJA tests

Write Read
USB 2.0 26.6MBps 36.7MBps
FireWire 400 32.1MBps 39.9MBps
FireWire 800 49.5MBps 85.3MBps
eSATA 108.8MBps 124.1MBps

How we tested. We ran all tests with the drive connected to a Mac Pro dual quad 3GHz Xeon with Mac OS X 10.6 installed and 1GB of RAM. We tested the drive with each available port. We copied a folder containing 1GB of data from our Mac's hard drive to the external hard drive to test the drive's write speed. We then duplicated that file on the external drive to test both read and write speeds. We also used the drive as a scratch disk when running our low-memory Adobe Photoshop CS3 Suite test. This test is a set of four tasks performed on a 150MB file, with Photoshop's memory set to 25 percent.—Macworld Lab testing by Lynn La

The EZQuest Thunder RAID is also comparable, despite only having a USB 2.0 and an eSATA port. In general, it is slightly faster than the SmartStor DS4600 across the board. Copying and duplicating a 1GB file through either connection consistently proved a few seconds quicker on the EZQuest.

Our low-memory Photoshop test we administered on the SmartStor saw some of the slowest times for a RAID drive. On eSATA, it took 2 minutes and 24 seconds to finish the test, while the EZQuest Thunder RAID took 48 seconds to do the same task, and the G-RAID 4TB was ten seconds shorter than that. Through FireWire 400, the Photoshop test took 3 minutes and 36 seconds, and with FireWire 800, it took 2 minutes and 45 seconds. On USB, it took a whopping average of four minutes to finish the task. Compared to other drives’ USB times, the G-RAID took only 1 minutes and 18 seconds and the EZQuest Thunder RAID took 1 minutes and 36 seconds.

We also ran the AJA system test, which replicates writing a full scale, high quality, HD video, with a video frame size of 1920-by-1080 10-bit RGB and a file size to 2GB. Through USB, the write speed was 26.6MBps and the read speed was 36.7MBps. On FireWire 400, write and read results were 32.1MBps and 39.9MBps. Writesfor FireWire 800 was 49.5MBps and reads were 85.3MBps. Through eSATA the speeds for the AJA test were 108.8MBps for writes and 124.1MBps for reads.

These AJA readings for the SmartStor were on par with other RAID drives. The same AJA test with eSATA on the G-RAID had results of 107.1MBps for writes and 126.6MBps for reads. On the EZQuest Thunder RAID, writes were 108.1MBps and reads tests were 123.5MBps.

Disregarding the slow Photoshop times, SmartStor lies somewhere in the middle: Although it is faster than the G-RAID 4TB, it cannot beat the USB and eSATA connection times of the EZQuest Thunder RAID. However, when considering the Photoshop test, the SmartStor’s curiously slow times puts itself at the bottom of the pack.

Macworld’s buying advice

For data storage, the SmartStor DS4600 suffices, but high-performance data processing tasks would benefit from a faster hard drive. Furthermore, there is something to be said about the aesthetics. Because the SmartStor includes four drives, each with 1TB of space, it weighs close to ten pounds. Although there are plenty of drives that weigh more than that, its smooth design and rounded edges make it difficult to handle and a bit physically cumbersome.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Impressive read and write speeds
    • Smart NAVI software makes configuring easy
    • Multiple RAID levels


    • Slow
    • Physically bulky
    • Noisy during startup
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