When was the last time you saw a hard drive designed with the iMac (or even the Mac mini) aesthetic in mind? Raidon addresses this by offering a RAID 5 solution with the Stardom DeckRAID DR4. The quad interface, four-bay, hot swappable external storage device can provide up to 6TB of easily installed storage that is sure to please audio/visual professionals and high-end users.
The first thing you’ll notice about the DeckRAID DR4 is its shape. Instead of a conventional desktop tower, the flat four-bay design is meant to fit underneath your display or iMac. Setting it up is as easy as populating the drives and then plugging the device into your computer with your connection type of choice. The DeckRAID DR4 is a quad interface drive, supporting eSATA, FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and USB 2.0 connectivity. Though ideally suited for your iMac or Mac Mini, Mac Pros with eSATA expansion cards can take advantage of the DeckRAID DR4’s eSATA connectivity.
The DeckRAID DR4 is stackable and its aluminum design is designed to coordinate with the metallic shades of the recent line of iMacs. The DeckRAID DR4 has multiple fans on the back of the unit, so the unit is cool to the touch but a bit noisy. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t block the back of the unit against a wall or else the unit may overheat.
The default RAID 5 alignment provides data redundancy and added security for your data. As of press time, other RAID configurations, even pedestrian RAID 0, cannot be enabled. A possible firmware update may address this apparent oversight, but we’ll cut the company some slack since the unit is designed to be a dedicated RAID 5 solution to the iMac.
When booting up the DeckRAID DR4, you’ll hear the four 3.5-inch SATA drives spin up. While not loud, you’ll notice the humming sound whether the drives are active or inactive. The hard drives will occasionally spin up during periods of particularly intense activity and power down into idle mode if inactive. This helps saves energy so the unit has a lower carbon footprint than you’d think, but it does make the unit noisier than I’d like. For example, the Hitachi drive mechanism we had placed in the unit will go into sleep mode after several minutes and then power up in order to wake up. During this waking period, my entire system ran noticeably slower.
Part of the appeal of the DeckRAID DR4 is that it’s one of the only RAID 5 units available for the iMac and Mac Mini. Drive mechanisms are easy to install; just insert the drives, plug in the unit to your computer and you’re ready to go. Raidon has admirably made a unit that is a synch to set up and instantly provide a great deal of storage for your computer.
But it comes at a cost. The DeckRAID DR4 comes without SATA II 3.5-inch drive mechanisms, meaning you’ll have to supply your own–a pricey venture. The unit itself retails for $500, an awfully high sum compared to other RAID solutions on the market today.
The quad connectivity features of the DeckRAID DR4 promise speedy transfers of data. The press materials boast of speeds of 800mbps with FireWire 800 enabled (100MBps) and a staggering 300mbps with eSATA. My 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo iMac with 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive never achieved those speed levels, nor would I expect it to. If it’s designed for the iMac and Mac mini, the inclusion of eSATA seems to suggest the unit would be better served connected to a Mac Pro. When I did test the unit with our usual 1GB copy test, the FireWire 800 connection to my iMac was slow, taking over five minutes to complete the test. While the DeckRAID DR4 is Time Machine compatible, the process of backing up was so long and so taxing on the iMac’s processor that I had to leave it going overnight.
To give the DeckRAID DR4 the benefit of the doubt, I also tried a similar 1GB copy test with the unit connected to our standard Mac Pro testing unit. Even connected via eSATA, the unit produced abysmal times. This is not because the unit is particularly slow, but likely a result of the RAID 5 configuration. If I wanted a fast transfer speed, I’d have configured it for RAID 0. But configured as RAID 5 out of the box, the unit is not built for speed.
Macworld’s buying advice
The DeckRAID DR4 has a solid premise: offer a flat, stylish, easy-to-use RAID 5 solution for Mac users, particularly the oft-forgotten iMac and Mac Mini crowd. The 6TB of storage space and quad interface connectivity all sound great. But the price tag will place this unit well out of the range of most consumers and the default RAID 5 configuration, while providing plenty of security and integrity for your data, will automatically hamper any hopes for reliable speed. The noise generated by the constantly sleeping/waking drives will also perturb audio/visual experts, the very crowd most likely to purchase something like this.
[Chris Holt is a Macworld assistant editor.]