In my continuing pursuit to convert my edit bay from my old MacPro to my faster MacBook Pro…and any future computer…I’m looking at large hard drive storage solutions that utilize Thunderbolt.  I have my CalDigit HDOne working fine with the Sonnet PCIe Thunderbolt bridge, but it’s only 8TB (6.8TB Raid 5), and file sizes are only getting larger.  But the bridge is loud, and the HDOne isn’t all that quiet either.  Besides, I’d like to look to the future at some point…bridging with the past can only go so far.

So OtherWorldComputing (OWC – approached me asking if I’d like to review their new Thunderbolt RAID solution, the Thunderbay 4.  I was more than happy to test this unit, as I had a few projects coming my way and I would no doubt need the space. My CalDigit still has a couple ongoing projects on it and I use it as archival storage, so is getting full.  Plus, I can test the unit in a real world editing situation.  They agreed to lend me the unit for an extended period so that I could run it through the paces…the real demands of editing.

The projects are standard HD projects. Meaning all of the footage will be 1080i, 1080p HD…and then a slew of HD and SD stock footage. Nothing 2K, 4K, ProRes 4444…that high end. But they do have a TON of footage. One has about a thousand hours, and another a few hundred.  The third is just getting started, so just about 25 hours at the moment. But I do have some 4K footage to test on the unit, because I’m sure plenty of people out there will be needing to do just that.

The unit I received was a 12TB unit…plenty of space. Four 3TB drives. OWC does sell this unit without drives, or with drives.  It works with both SATA drives as well as SSD drives. The unit I tested shipped with SATA drives. Normally the Thunderbay 4 ships configured RAID 0. But this was a special unit…It was configured as RAID 5 using bundled SoftRaid software.  That is an optional way to buy the unit. You can buy it RAID 0 or JBOD…or you can buy it with the SoftRaid to enable RAID 5. Click here to see how to see what that is all about.  More on that later.  I opted for the RAID 5 version because as much as I like speed, I like being protected. And I didn’t have enough drives to have a “manual RAID 0,” a backup of all the imported media.  9TB was just right for my needs.

The first thing I want to point out is how the unit was packed. Because they take great care to ensure the drives they shipped with the unit were protected.  Just like CalDigit, they ship the drives wrapped separately from the unit.

All the drives were surrounded by pretty durable bubble wrap.

The unit itself was in a separate box.  And it shipped with the drive unit, a power cable (no power brick…which I prefer. I dislike power bricks), a thunderbolt cable (meaning I don’t need to shell out $50 for one from Apple), and a set of keys.  Why keys you ask? So you can lock the drives into the unit so a stupid editor doesn’t come along and go “What happens when I do this? Hey…why is everything offline?”  No…but it is for security. The unit does come with a standard locking port on the back, so that means the unit is pretty secure…no one can steal the drives.

So I took out the drive case, and manually inserted the drives…tightening the screws to keep them securely in place:

And locked them in tight

I then spent the next day filling the unit up with footage. Figured I’d give the drive speed specs when the unit had footage on it, instead of empty.  Now…did you know that copying footage via Thunderbolt is REALLY FAST? It was so fast I had to compare it to USB 3 and Firewire 800.  My fledgeling project took up 118GB, so I copied that first to a USB 3 drive.  It took 23 min.  Then to a FW800 drive.  That took 20 min.

Then to the Thunderbay 4…that took 5 MINUTES  That’s fast!

With the footage finished copying, the drive contained 6TB out of the 9TB available (12TB unit, RAID 5…four 3TB drives…one drive is for safety, so 9TB).  That done I ran the Blackmagic HD Speed Test.  But in order to be dramatic about things, I’ll first show you the results of the test on the HDOne first. The HDOne is 8TB, also has 6TB of footage on it…and is connected to my computer via a Sonnet Echo Express Thunderbolt bridge.  Here is that result:

173 Write, 350 Read. That’s slower than it directly connected to my MacPro. Those numbers are 280 Write and 430 Read. But I’m phasing out that MacPro because everything else about it is slow.  And sure, those speeds are plenty fast for the type of footage I am editing.  But not the best for 4K editing on my laptop.  OH…and that 88GB took 8 min to copy over to the HDOne. Good, but not Thunderbay 4 good.

OK, I think the dramatic pause has been long enough. Time for the Thunderbay 4 SpeedDisk test.

443 Read, 510 Write.  Much faster than the HDOne.  This’ll be good. And this isn’t RAID 0 numbers, those are faster.  But I’ll be even more dramatic and get to those later.

The Thunderbay 4 has two Thunderbolt 2 ports, so you can use it as loop through. Which is exactly what I did, as my laptop only has one Thunderbolt port. So I went from computer to Thunderbay 4 to AJA IoXT…and then with an adapter to a computer display.  Didn’t have one issue looped through this many devices.

I also want to point out that the small size of the unit makes it pretty portable.  At one point I needed to take it and my computer from my home office to a post facility, and everything fit in my backpack. Yes, it made it pretty heavy, but it was a lot more portable than my HDOne…or many other 12TB units I have dealt with in the past.

And the unit is very quiet. I barely notice it is on.  And it’s footprint is pretty small, so it can sit on your desk, or if you get a longer cable, under your desk of out of sight somewhere.

I had no issues while editing and onlining with the Thunderbay 4. No hangups, no freezing…no crashing.  And my test editing with 4K footage and ProRes 4444 in Adobe Premiere went smoothly.  Managed 3 layers of 4K playback. Not completely smooth, but that is no doubt due to my computer not having a CUDA card to enable the Mercury Engine.

Now that the second dramatic pause has gone on long enough, I’ll show you the numbers I got for the unit running RAID 0.  First thing I did was make sure I archived anything and everything I needed to archive, as I was going to be wiping the drive clean.  Then, to configure the unit to be RAID 0 instead of RAID 5, I unmounted the drive, opened the SoftRaid software, deleted the current configuration, and created a new one..this time opting for RAID 0.  The reformat took seconds.  I copied over 3TB of footage for this test (that only took about 2 hours…Great Scott!) and as you can see they are significantly better.

Their site does say that the Thunderbay 4 could get up to 1342 MB/s read/write…but I’m sure that’s with SSDs installed.  I’m sure that 639 Write and 760 Read is PLENTY fast for most anything.

I need to mention that there is a slight pricing difference between RAID 0/JBOD and RAID 5 capable units.  For example, the 12TB unit is configured for RAID 0/JBOD $969 …while the same unit (the one I tested) with the SoftRaid software enabling RAID 5 capability is $1099. For me the extra $130 for protection and piece of mind is well worth it.

In short…this is a terrific Thunderbolt solution for your large project, or large format project needs. Does great with lots of footage, handles 4K footage with ease.  Copying over data is lightning fast, and it’s whisper silent.  My only regret is that I needed to return the unit when testing was concluded.  But I’m sure I’ll be buying a unit when I get a large enough project that requires it. By then I might even throw in SSD drives.

For another great review for this product, check out what Scott Simmons had to say.