CalDigit VR Mini

My buddy Jared over at CalDigit sent me a drive and asked me to give it a test run. This drive was the CalDigit VR Mini. I own the big boy, the Caldigit VR, and I used it on a recent project that required me to travel (see my JFK post for the details on that). The drive was big and bulky…not fun to travel with, but had the speed, and the connection types I needed. Jared said “Why not test out the smaller model, and see if it would help you when you need to travel.” (I’m paraphrasing) Sure, why not, I’m always up to testing things (note how many drives I have tested lately). The VR Mini sports a quad connection interface: USB, FW400, FW800 and eSATA.

The drive I received was the 1TB model. I loaded the drive with footage from a promo project I was hired to do. Shot on XDCAM EX, converted to ProRes 422, 1080p24. The footage took up 644GB of the 1TB. The drive was set up as RAID-0, for speed. (The unit was very quiet. No fan, but rather heat dissipation via the case…one big heat sink.)

When I connected it via FW800, I got these numbers:

59 Write, and 82 Read. Pretty much what I expected. Firewire 800 has a 85MB/s limit (800Mbps…give or take), even with RAID-0. Just for comparison I wanted to see what a SINGLE drive, FW800 drive would do. So I grabbed my G-Drive Mini…single drive in an enclosure…and connected that via FW800. I ran the test and i got 52 Write, and 58 Read. So there is a difference between a two drive enclosure and a single drive one. Two drives are faster.

So I spent two weeks editing the promos. Not one dropped frame. Straight cuts, a couple of layered shots (to cover up a grips ugly head), a couple filters I got two layers of ProRes 422 to work just fine. It performed admirably. But hey, lets see how fast this can go. If I need to capture ProRes 422, I want more speed, so I can hit that comfort zone.

So I attached the unit to my computer via eSATA (via the CalDigit Express34 eSATA card). With the VR Mini, you first connect the eSATA cable, THEN you connect the FW800 cable. What this does is tell the drive that the data will go out via eSATA, but power will come from the FW800 cable. This keeps the drive bus powered, but gives you the speed of eSATA. Let’s see what I got for numbers:

156MB/s Write, 158MB/s Read. NOW we’re talking. TWICE as fast. VERY nice indeed. Good for 3-4 streams of ProRes 422. And for ease of mind when capturing ProRes…even on my laptop. And CalDigit informs me that their 2TB unit can get up to 180MB/s. If someone gets that model, can they run the AJA test and confirm? That’s a lotta speed for a couple small 2.5″ drives.

Alrighty then…let’s switch things to RAID-1 and see what we get for performance. Doing this is relatively easy.

The VR mini has this digital readout on the front that has menus…navigate through the menus to set up a Raid configuration of your choice. What I liked about it was that it warned you like 3 times that “what you are doing will erase the drive…are you SURE?”

I copied some footage back to the drive (from a backup), until I had the unit filled to around the 60% mark again.

61MB/s Write, 78MB/s Read. Yup…still very similar to what I got with it configured Raid-0…hitting that 800Mbps limit.

Just for yucks I thought I’d try the RAID-1 setting with eSATA. How fast is RAID-1 without the 800Mbps limit?

78MB/s Write, 79MB/s Read. About the same I got with FW800 RAID-1. No advantage there…so with RAID-1 might as well just stick with FW800. Less cables anyway.

The VR Mini is slightly more expensive than other similar drive units. But, there are many features that this unit offers that make that price worth it.

- The front LCD. With this you can monitor the temperature, RAID configuration, version numbers, and RAID degradation (if any were to occur). You can also use it to change the RAID configuration, like I mentioned earlier.

- The VR Mini ships with monitoring software. In case you like to monitor things like the heat and other information, you can do it within software. An IT persons dream. I hear there’s a lot you can do with this software, but I’m not that much of a tech head to use it myself. Nice option to have though.

- The drives inside are accessible via a removable rear panel, and the drives can be removed. This serves many purposes. If a drive were to fail, you can take out only the failed drive, and replace it. Instead of shipping off the whole unit to be serviced. This is also very useful if you use the drive to offload tapeless media onto. Set the unit up as RAID-1, and offload the dailies, you have the footage on both drives. You can then take one drive out and ship that back to the office, keeping one on set. That leads us to…

- The unit can be set up as JBOD. This means that you can read the drives individually. You aren’t limited to RAID-1 and RAID-0, in both cases the drives show up as one single drive. With JBOD, you can get the one drive from the field, put it into another unit at the office, and access the drive…copying it to your main archive solution.

If you want something to carry your VR Mini with you can order a small hard case on the site for $15, that holds the drive and ALL the cables, including power, that ships with it. (http://www.CalDigit.com/store.asp#VRmini).

CalDigit always comes out with great products with features that go beyond the competition. This is why I not only like and use the drives, but always put them at the top of my recommended list.

(The 1TB unit retails for $499 US)

(I was offered to and did keep the review unit. But this in no way swayed my decision.)