[ This article was first published in the July, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]
The folks at Dulce Systems sent me a Pro Q RAID to review. While I don’t make a living as a hardware reviewer, I wanted to share my impressions with you.
NOTE: By the way, if terms like RAID 0 or RAID 1 confuse you, read this short explanation of how RAIDS are defined.
First, this thing is FAST! Because it connects via PCIe, rather than eSATA, it gets double the speed compared to an eSATA RAID. That’s even more impressive when you consider that this is a RAID 5, which provides data protection, as opposed to the eSATA RAID 0, which is optimized for speed with no data protection.
The Pro Q I was sent provided 2.73 TB of protected storage and retails for between $2,100 and $2,600 depending upon interface and storage capacity. Dulce Systems RAIDS are sold through dealers; you can get a list of them at Dulce’s website (www.dulcesystems.com). You can find more information about the drive here: http://www.dulcesystems.com/html/pro_q.html
There are three reasons why you purchase a RAID, as opposed to a single hard drive:
1. You want greater speed.
2. You want greater storage.
3. You want to protect your data in the event of disk failure.
I did my testing on a MacBook Pro laptop using an ExpressCard/34 which is how the RAID connects.
Note: PCIe is not the same as eSATA. Both use an ExpressCard/34, but the connections and speeds are not the same — more on this in a bit.
As I said at the beginning the Pro Q is fast. In pure speed tests, when totally empty it clocked in at 186 MB / sec reads and 164 MB / sec writes. (In comparison, my eSATA system ran at almost half that speed.) After I copied 31 GB of data to the system, the numbers were essentially unchanged. This is one quick device.
(While my numbers were not as fast as the numbers reported by Dulce on their website, these are still very respectable. Different testing software will also yield different results.)
To get a better sense of file handling, I decided to copy 31 GB of files from a FireWire 800 drive to the RAID. The file copy averaged 47 MB / second to copy, with the FireWire drive slowing down the speed.
Then, I decided to copy the same 31 GB of files on the RAID. The file duplication average 64 MB / second, probably because the files needed to be sent from the RAID to the computer back to the RAID. I was surprised these numbers were this low.
On the other hand, this performance is fast enough to support every HD video format except HDCAM. I tried to time how fast it loaded a project, but it took longer for FCP to get the project organized than to load it from the RAID.
Then, I did something I haven’t done before. I turned off the RAID, pulled one of the drives out to simulate drive failure, and powered up the unit. I must confess to a feeling of trepidation here, because I need to return this unit when I’m done and I was somewhat fearful of the whole thing blowing up. On the other hand, the reason you buy a RAID in the first place is to make sure you data is safe.
When I powered the system on with the drive missing, it did not appear on my desktop, nor did it give me a warning that a disk was missing/inoperaable. However, when I restarted my computer, the system started beeping incessantly and would not appear on the desktop.
When I reinserted the drive, and restarted the system, everything appeared as normal. My lesson here is that my data was safe, but I couldn’t access it until I got a replacement drive.
IMPRESSIONS AND THOUGHTS
When the drive arrived, it came in two boxes – one with pre-formatted drives and the other with the RAID unit itself. Neither box contained instructions so I set this up making my best guess where things went.
The drives were clearly labeled as to which one was drive 1, 2, 3, or 4. However, the RAID itself did not label the drives. While it seems obvious that the drives would be labeled from top to bottom, I’ve seen enough weird numbering in our industry to make me worry. It would not be hard to label the RAID itself to help users make sure they are putting the right drive in the right slot.
All drives were on sleds, which meant they easily slid into the unit. Assembling everything was a matter of minutes.
I REALLY like the long, flexible data cord. No longer am I forced to park the RAID within inches of my computer. There was at least nine feet of cord to play with.
I was very confused, initially, by the PCIe connector. While the unit ships with both an ExpressCard/34 card for laptops and PCIe card for MacPros (this won’t work on G-5s), I originally thought this connected the same as an eSATA RAID. This was totally my fault in not understanding the specs, however, it means that I need one ExpressCard/34 card for my eSATA devices and a second for PCIe devices. Be sure to not lose either one of them.
Another feature I like a lot is that the RAID automatically powers down when the computer goes to sleep or shuts down. It also automatically powers up. First, I like this because it saves energy. But I also like it because I don’t need to remember to turn it on or off.
When I first plugged it in, nothing happened. After contacting tech support, I learned that I needed to instal drivers which could be downloaded from the Dulce Systems website (www.dulcesystems.com). After the drivers were installed, the system worked flawlessly.
Robert Leong, tech support at Dulce Systems, deserves special mention for the timeliness and accuracy of his support. I was very impressed.
While the RAID itself looks pleasant enough, it won’t win awards for industrial design. On the other hand, you don’t buy a RAID for its looks.
The fan is a bit noisy for my taste and until everything warms up it emits a mid-frequency hum that I found annoying. Putting the unit on acoustical speaker pads helped some. Moving it farther away from my ears helps more. I would not have this unit powered on in the same room that I’m doing audio recording, but this is FAR quieter than the old XServe.
I don’t have the ability to test the unit for long-term reliability, so I can’t provide specific guidance. However, the drives are industry-standard, so if a drive dies, you can replace it, and if the RAID enclosure dies, you can easily move the drives from one enclosure to another.
All in all, if you are looking for serious speed at a reasonable price with a unit designed for video editing, you deserve to take a close look at the Pro Q from Dulce Systems.
CONVERSATION WITH DULCE SYSTEMS
In learning more about this unit, I sent some questions off to Bill Berry, executive sales manager, and Robert Leong, director of technical stuff, both at Dulce Systems.
Larry: Are performance specs different when connected to a MacPro vs. MacBook Pro (I’m using it on a MacBook Pro)?
Robert: Yes, [the MacPro will be faster because it supports a faster data transfer across the PCIe bus.] The numbers on a Mac Pro (or computer using the PCIe x8 card is 400MB/sec in RAID 0 and 300MB/sec in RAID 3).
Larry: Do you have any RAIDs that are FireWire only for laptop users that don’t have an ExpressCard/34 slot?
Robert: Our FireWire devices are the PRO Duo-FireWire, it is a two drive device in a small enclosure, RAID 0, 1 only, no RAID 5. Supports FW 800, and USB 2.
Larry: Why should someone buy a Dulce Systems RAID vs. another company that designs RAIDs for video production?
Robert: There is no equivalent product that we know of for the PRO Q, being RAID 5 protection that works on the fast PCIe interfaces (compared to eSATA) on a laptop or a desktop. PRO Q has the benefit of high speed data rate (300MB/sec in RAID 5) using on a desktop and the flexibility of using it on a laptop.
UPDATE – July 21, 2009
Robin Harris, from Storage Mojo, writes:
In the Dulce review they mentioned that they support RAID 5 on their 4 drive array. I don’t encourage people to use RAID5 on 4 drive arrays – well, on any SATA arrays – because of the risk that you won’t get your data back if a drive fails.
My article at http://blogs.zdnet.com/storage/?p=483 explains why in some detail, but here’s the short version:
SATA drives have a specified Unrecoverable Read Error (URE) rate of about 1 in every 12.5 TB of capacity. If you have a 4 drive RAID5 with 1 TB drives, and a drive fails, the system will have to read all of the remaining 3 drives to reconstruct the data from the lost drive.
During that read of those 3 drives, there is about a 20% chance that the system will encounter a URE. When that happens, the RAID controller can’t reconstruct the data and the recovery stops. Then you have to get out your backup. You have a backup, right?
Note that with larger drives – 1.5 or 2 TB – you have an even greater chance of getting a URE.
What I recommend is one of two strategies with these 4 drive arrays:
- Configure the array as RAID 1+0 – which gives you 2 complete copies of your files with the performance of 2 striped disks, i.e. roughly double a single disk; or
- Configure the array as RAID 0 – which gives you the roughly 4x the performance of a single disk, with no redundancy. In this case you should store a copy of your files on a cheap set of USB disks, because if a disk fails in a RAID 0 you lose all your files instantly.
All the big array vendors now support RAID 6 – which will keep working even after a disk failure AND a URE – even though they often use less error-prone (and more costly) enterprise drives.
Larry replies: Thanks, Robin, for this insight.
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