Saturday, July 31, 2010

SANS DIGITAL TowerRAID TR4M-B






- I picked one up from newegg when they were on sale for $100. (UPDATE: That model might be discontinued now. Here is one that seems similar.)
- My current main server was maxed out on drives (5 hdd and 3 optical).
- I wanted a cheap but speedy solution to further expand my storage space. This was mostly for media that was already archived so redundancy/raid wasn't import.
- The key thing I wanted out of this was esata port multiplier.
- The case/fan is very quiet. I can't hear it over my PC at all. I threw in a 2TB seagate 5900 rpm and a 2TB samsung 5400 rpm drive. Drives are barely warm to the touch.
- Drive installation was a snap using just a few thumb screws. Install the drives from bottom to top.
- The pcie 1x card that came with it was: SiI 3132 CN, bios r7.5.07. You can grab the latest bios and drivers from here. 7.7.03 were the latest ones at this time. I flashed the "r" version (update: flash the "b" version if you don't need raid which is what I'm using now.  Monoprice also sells the cards for around $13). The cool thing about how you flash the bios update is you do it right from device properties (device manager, storage controllers, siI 3132, flash bios tab). That is way slick. No need to mess with any bios flash utilities.
- I didn't even bother to install the drivers. If you just want 4 extra drives you don't need to. Though I am burning through a lot of drive letters. If I run out I can simply start using ntfs volume mount points.
- Performance was exactly what I expected. With one drive going I got around 88 MB/sec which is what I expected from these slower spinning hard drives. If I hit both drives at the same time I get around a combined total of 150 MB/sec. From what I understand that is a pcie X 1 bottleneck.
- The esata card has two ports so I still have one port free. I can easily drop in another one of these raid towers for another 4 drives in the future.
- I would stay away from RAID on these cheaper software based raid cards. Performance can be quite unbearable.

Highly recommended! For $100 it's hard to beat. You get full sata speeds if you only hit one drive at a time and even 150MB/sec is plenty for what I need if I happen to hit more than one drive (which is rare in my situation). This totally demolishes the performance of cheaper NAS systems like the dlink 323 (which btw still costs more). If you already got a pc on 24/7 and don't need raid this solution is a no brainer.

UPDATE 4/29/2012:
Power supply blew on it.  A spare one seems to be $60 so I'm not sure if it is even worth it.  I've contacted support to see what my options are.  Luckily, I had a second one and was able to get things back up and running.  I also decided to flash with the "b" for base version of the 7.7.03 bios.  After a reboot you will need install the BASE version of the driver.  After another reboot my drives came back up just fine.

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