OK, time for another review for a hard drive enclosure: the RAIDAGE GAGE104U40SL-SAUF 1U 4 Bay RAID Enclosure from iStarUSA. This one is cool…it stands out. That’s why, when the makers asked me to review the unit by commenting on a previous post, I leapt at the chance. Well, after first starting to compose the email gently letting them down… “Thank you for your interest in my blog. I’m sorry, but I no longer do hardware reviews for drive enclosures as I find them dull and the same old same old…” But then I got a wild hair and clicked on the link to look at the thing.

I liked what I saw.

Here’s why I liked what I saw. This is a slot loading TRAYLESS hard drive enclosure. I can take bare SATA drives I buy off the shelf at Fry’s or order at newegg.com and put them in the unit right away. No trays to screw onto the drives first. Pop open the door, and in they go.

I’m a HUGE fan of this type of enclosure, because I use bare SATA drives to archive all sorts of things. Camera masters, media managed show masters, show outputs, stock footage, music, and sound effects. And I also use them on occasion to edit from, although that is rare. You see, I currently have a SansDigital unit connected via eSATA that I use as a trayless enclosure, although it isn’t designed to be one. Yes, you can slide the drives in, but the unit wants you to then screw them in, to keep them in place. The drives aren’t as snug in their beds as they should be…they are only held in place by the connectors. So it isn’t the best solution, which is why I mainly use it only for archive solutions.

But this unit is designed for the bare drives. It holds them in place without the need for trays.

And it has nice release handles to aid in getting the disks out.

And it’s VERY quiet. There are fans for cooling, but I don’t hear them. I hear the drives more than them, and when you close the big front door…even that sound becomes very minute. Barely noticeable. My MacPro is louder.


And there are indicator lights on the front so you can see which slots have drives in them, and if they are active.

OK, so we have one cool feature… that the unit takes bare SATA drives without trays. Let’s add a couple more cool features.

CONNECTIVITY.

This unit pretty much has it all. It covers nearly all the bases. It has eSATA (my current connection of choice), Firewire 800 (two connectors), Firewire 400 (one connector), USB 3.0. You can connect this to just about anything (Yes, for Thunderbolt you will need an adapter). Perfect! I can connect it to my MacPro via eSATA, or to my 2012 MacBook Pro via Firewire 800 or ultra fast USB 3 and use it to back up tapeless media or files from my laptop. Or use it as my media drive. Macs used to lack USB 3, but now they are available on their laptops…and they are a Windows workstation standard, so on a Windows PC you have ultra fast USB 3 connect-ability as well.

To answer your question before you ask it…no, you cannot connect it to your tower via eSATA and another computer via Firewire or USB 3 and have it show up on both at the same time. It won’t work, I tried. And why two firewire 800 ports? Loop through. Daisy chaining drives is possible with this.

FOOTPRINT.

Well, it does have a pretty major footprint. Meaning that it does take up a big part of your desk. But you can set one of your monitors on top of it, or put it off to the side under your decks. Unlike my SansDigital that stacks the drives vertically, this design has the drives side by side. But that is to enable it to do the other cool think I liked about it.

IT’S RACK MOUNTABLE!

It takes up 1 U of rack space. That stands for ONE UNIT…one width high. In that respect, it takes up very little space. And since I happen to have a rack or two under my desk, it fit in perfectly. So perfectly that I’m most likely going to buy the unit when testing is over. I like it that much.

RAID TYPES

The unit can be configured in many ways.
- JBOD (Just a Bunch of drives), meaning that each drive shows up as a separate drive. Put four drives in, you see four drives appear on the desktop.
- RAID 0
- RAID 1
- RAID 3
- RAID 5

Don’t know what those all mean? Then go here for some light reading:

Most people use JBOD like I do, for archiving, RAID 0 for speed, or RAID 5 for speed and redundancy.

SPEEDS

Yes yes…”how fast is the thing?” I know that’s what you want to know. Alright, I tested it only as a JBOD unit. That’s the default setting it ships with. I tested it in this manner as I didn’t have four drives of the same make/model/size in order to test the other RAID types. Those are all in my other RAID. I did have four drives of varying size, so I tested the speed of the unit in JBOD mode via firewire 800 and eSATA. Those being the fastest and more common connector types.

With eSATA I got speeds in the 98MB/s to 108MB/s range. A bit faster than I get with a G-Raid connected via eSATA, or my SansDigital. VERY nice.

Firewire 800 resulted in between 69MB/s and 82MB/s…which is typical for the other drives I have as well.

For the RAID 0 and RAID 5 testing, I relied on the manufacturer to provide the numbers. I’m sure if I had the 4 drives to test with I’d get the same numbers they did. I’m confident they were truthful in their reporting. They connected it via eSATA to a windows machine.

Here are the RAID 0 numbers:

Between 111MB/s and 123MB/s using the AJA test…but upwards of 140MB/s using the ATTO benchmark. I think I trust that one better on a PC.

And the RAID 5 numbers:

RAID 5 gave pretty much the same numbers as RAID 0. Between 111MB.s and 119MB/s, and upwards of 140MB/s using the ATTO test. Now, the reasons the numbers are a LOT higher like 300MB/s, is the limitation of eSATA connections. That’s near it’s limit. For faster speeds, look at GigE Ethernet, Fibre and SAS connection speeds. But for the connection types it has, that’s pretty dang decent. Perfectly fine for multiple layers of compressed video formats like ProRes and DNxHD. 3-4 streams in my tests.

No, it isn’t a speed demon, but what it offers is ease of use. Easy to get drives in and out, so you can buy bare SATA drives (cheaper than ones with enclosures) and swap them out for archiving camera masters, show masters, or going back and forth from project to project. And because it is rack mountable taking up only 1U of space…it’s compact and out of the way.

By the way, they have a pretty cool video that shows off the unit on YouTube. Check it out.

Now that I have a laptop with USB 3, and my Tower sporting eSATA…this is on my wish list.

The units run for $375, and can be found on Newegg.com

(The unit was returned at the conclusion of the review)