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dataTale RS-M4QO Four-Bay Raid System review

Verdict:

Good FireWire 800 performance and even better results over eSata.

Review Date: 30 Jun 2009

Price when reviewed: (£745 ex VAT for Four 1TB disks; four 1.5TB disks £1018 (£885 ex VAT); four 2TB disks £1570 (£1365 ex VAT)

Reviewed By: Alan Stonebridge

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

This four-bay Raid enclosure from dataTale is naturally a little larger than two-bay systems such as the My Book Studio II, but it's only a few centimetres bigger in each dimension.

It offers basic striping and mirroring modes and, by virtue of the extra bays, some extra ones on top. On the back of the unit are all of the common interfaces. There's a single USB 2 port, one 3Gbit/second eSata port (if you have a suitable expansion card), and a generous helping of one FireWire 400 port and two FireWire 800 ports that enable you to daisychain other FireWire devices.

Alongside these are two sensibly recessed cavities that contain banks of switches. The first bank controls the Raid mode: striped (0), mirrored (1), striped with parity across all disks (5), the same with one drive kept spare, and a mirrored stripe (0+1). The last option is claimed to offer the best combination of speed and safety overall, although it halves the usable capacity.

Lights on the front of the case indicate power and Raid status, while pairs for each disk show whether the disk is connected and when it's being accessed. The latter changes colour if a disk is in poor health. It's easy to spot a problem as the lights are large and bright, but you'll need the manual to decipher their meaning as there's no LCD display to explain the status in plain language.

With so much storage, you'll probably want to secure it to a desk, and there's a slot for a lock near the bottom of the back panel. It's positioned a reasonable distance from the bottom edge of the case to make it hard for a thief to forcibly remove the drive.

Access to the disk bays couldn't be any easier. Apply a little pressure and the top panel slides backwards and lifts off, revealing vertically mounted bays that hold 3.5in disks. Once inside, you'll need a screwdriver to remove the handle from one disk and attach it to a replacement, and the process isn't unnecessarily fiddly or complex.

The metal handles attach to the screw holes on the sides of a disk and enable disks to be slid in or out of the bays. Our only concern is that the lid can't be locked to prevent malicious damage to the array.

Flip over the unit and you'll find two 8cm vents with fans behind them to get rid of heat generated by the disks, helped by feet that raise it off a desk. In addition, there's a vent at the top of the back panel so that rising heat has an escape route.

The fans are meant to be silent, but we could hear them when the drive was sitting nearby. Moved further away, its noise became lost among the background hum of other equipment, but it's not the best choice if you need a strict, noise-controlled environment.

Our review unit came with four 1TB disks fitted. Over FireWire 800, performance was consistent for write operations whether it's configured as a stripe, mirror or mirrored stripe, fluctuating between 59.8MB/sec and 61.4MB/sec. Performance veered in favour of a Raid 0 stripe in the random read test, increasing by about 15 to 16MB/sec to 47.8MB/sec, on par with expectations. The system can be bought without drives, in which case results will depend on the disks you use.

eSata outshone FireWire 800 but began to highlight speed differences between the various types of array. Random writes were roughly on par for the basic and mirrored stripes, peaking at 154MB/sec, while the basic mirror fares more poorly at 94.7MB/sec. The basic stripe performed best at reading, notching up 76.6MB/sec compared with 40.1MB/sec on the mirrored stripe and 36MB/sec on the basic mirror.

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