In the storage world, if you want a RAID array, you’re expected to also want a network attached storage solution and a wealth of features like remote access, bit torrent support, and various media servers. But what if you just want a no-nonsense RAID array? The Icy Dock Dual Bay RAID Enclosure might be the storage solution for you.
The Dual Bay (I looked at model MB662USEB-2S) offers high-performance, varied RAID arrays, multiple connection options and a respectable price for a RAID enclosure ($200). The Dual Bay is an upgraded version of its 3.5 inch MB662 line, adding eSATA to FireWire 800, FireWire 400, and USB 2.0 connectivity. Icy Dock boasts that the enclosure can achieve transfer speeds as fast as 3Gbit per second via eSATA, and 800 Mbits per second via FireWire 800.
The updated RAID controller also allows for 2TB drives to be used in each bay, ensuring users have 4TB of storage for their media needs. The Dual Bay can be set to be a “concatenated” JBOD mode that will allow for a combined storage volume without the risk of complete data loss. According to Icy Dock, this means that, “The data is written across a single drive, and when it becomes full, it moves to the next drive, so if a drive fails, only the data on that drive will be lost.” Additionally, the Dual Bay can be configured in a RAID 0 array for faster performance or a RAID 1 array for data redundancy.
The Dual Bay doesn’t ship populated with 3.5 inch drives; it’s simply shipped as an empty aluminum enclosure. The metallic enclosure is surprisingly light despite two white and metal bay doors in the front and a Sunon MagLev 40mm fan jutting out in the back. Next to the fan, the Dual Bay sports a power switch, a power outlet, a USB port, two FireWire 800 ports, and an eSATA port.
Additionally, the fan has an adjustment wheel so you can control the speed of the fan—a nifty and useful little feature. When turned on, the Dual Bay emits a faint humming sound that increases depending on the fan speed. Even at its lowest fan speed, the drive was always cool to the touch. We couldn’t get the drives to overheat despite putting the Dual Bay through our usual regime of benchmarking and turning the fan down to its lowest setting. Obviously, you’ll want to keep the fan turned on to a respectable level to ensure your hard drives aren’t damaged, but we’re not sure exactly what that minimal safe fan speed is.
The Dual Bay is interesting in that it doesn’t feature any software, widgets, applications, or Mac-specific interface options. Instead, manipulating the Dual Bay’s RAID controller can be done in the back of the enclosure with your fingernail or a screwdriver. You can also create volumes through Apple’s Disk Utility. The Dual Bay supports three RAID configurations: RAID 0, RAID 1, and JBOD as either Concatenation (both drives seen as one) or Spanned (all drives in one storage space, but no data protection in case of failure).
One of the best features of the enclosure is the ease with which you can remove and install drives—no tools are required, and the front release panel button flips open the front with a resounding “pop.” The lack of a tray makes hot-swapping incredibly easy.
The drawback of having everything on the enclosure is that while you won’t be bothered by lots of applications, you lose many common diagnostic options that other RAID enclosures have. The red/blue/purple LED pattern on the front of the drive bays is the only diagnostic tool to see the health of your drives. When it’s your data on the line, that’s not very comforting. Moreover, it’s hard to distinguish between the colors at times, and I can’t imagine that it’s useful for colorblind users or people with vision problems.
The Dual Bay’s strengths are also its greatest weaknesses. Some users will enjoy the lack of software and the streamlined approach to RAID data protection. Others will miss the diagnostic software, grow frustrated by the LED system, and prefer something with a bounty of features—including network connectivity. But at only $200, Icy Dock’s solution may be more affordable for some users. It’s hard to find a good enclosure with hot-swappable bays, diverse connectivity options, and such an easy-to use RAID controller.
[Chris Holt is a Macworld associate editor.]