While I'm generally quite happy with the capability of our On Set Lab there are times when something with a much smaller footprint would be a better fit.
One of the many advantages of Epic-M is it's compact form factor and it would be great to have a smaller but still capable playback, offload, and render station based on a laptop cpu that didn't require MovieTruck to transport.
The new Thunderbolt technology holds promise here (pun intended) and this week we took delivery of the fist Thunderbolt raid array to come to market, the Promise Pegasus R6 12TB edition.
My first impression was at $1999.00 it was less expensive than I'd anticipated. Similar SAS based raids from reputable manufactures run about twice that, so while pleased with the price point, I had some concerns about build quality.
Those concerns were justified. The build quality of the unit is "meh", not cheap computer case rivets and plastic trays like the lowest end products, but nothing approaching the rock solid build quality of Caldigit or Sans Digital .
The Good News
- It Works With ExpressCard
There has been some concern / FUD that the Thunderbolt port can't be used concurrently in conjunction with an ExpressCard/34 e-sata adapter.
Currently my preferred adapter is the new SeriTek/6G 2-port e-sata model from Firmtek, but I can verify that the Sonnet Tempo Sata Pro model also works. Both units will connect to the e-sata interface of RED's RED Station products, in this case the RED Station REDMAG 1.8" that we use to offload footage from our REDOne MX and Epic-M cameras.
- It's Fast
The default configuration is a Raid 5 array across six disks. After initializing the raid and offloading a couple of ~70GB magazines AJA's System Test reported read numbers close to 600 MB/s and write numbers just under 700 MB/s.
The key take away here is speed, there hasn't been a technology that allowed a laptop access to anything near this speed before, and it is a real game changer.
While disk speed is just one component of a well designed DIT or edit station, it's more important than most people realize and in this area, the R6 really delivers.
- It's Quiet
I don't own a sound meter, but suffice it to say that while not dead silent you won't notice it running, which is more than I can say for most raid enclosures.
- It's Dead Simple
The unit comes pre-configured as a raid 5 array, which is going to be the right choice for most people, and the user interface is straight forward. You won't need much of an understanding of the underlying technology to get it up and running. The simplicity of the interface however doesn't limit the usefulness of the R6, as there is full control over raid levels and migration for those who need that capability.
The Not So Good News
It Uses Consumer Level Drives
Given the price point I wasn't particularly surprised to see it populated with consumer grade Hitachi drives instead of enterprise level drives that are specifically designed for raid utilization.
This isn't a show stopper, and it certainly held down price, but it makes more sense to me to use real raid level hardware. I've already ordered an additional spare from NewEgg to cover a drive failure.
On a move to save time and therefore money the unit shows up configured as raid 5 but with the raid uninitialized. This means you need to set aside a big chunk of time, in my case better than 12 hours to initialize the raid before it's ready for use. I get it, yes it saves time and money, but it also means that the chance of Promise catching and resolving infant mortality issues on drives in the raid is lower, and given the choice to use consumer drives, that's not such a good thing.
Really? Seriously? Yes I understand that these cables are $50.00 retail but still I think it's unconscionable that a Thunderbolt cable isn't included.
While not particularly important if this is going to set under a desk, if you are planning to utilize it in a mobile production environment, you are going to need to pamper this thing a bit.
The Cutting Edge Cuts
Thunderbolt is in its infancy as a technology, and this is a first generation product. While I've been able to offload footage successfully from a RED Station connected via the ExpressCard 34 slot using R3D Data Manager to the R6, it hasn't been without issue, and further testing and use it require before I'd want to bet a production on it.
I've seen a marked increase in system hangs mostly with the Finder becoming unresponsive that requires forcing a reboot to resolve. I can't specifically blame Thunderbolt or the R6 for this as I just don't have enough information to make such a statement. Right now with a pre-release camera, early firmware, new SSD media, and both the ExpressCard slot and the Thunderbolt port being used concurrently there are way too many factors to point fingers just yet, but they call this the cutting edge for a reason.
Would I buy it again, yes. But I have the need right now for a more compact solution so that I can get out there with my Epic and not have to take the truck along. It's hard to be inconspicuous with a full production vehicle on site. Given that the Epic doesn't do on camera playback right now, it's even more important to have a mobile way to review footage, so for me it's a good fit.
If you don't have a pressing need, I'd advise that you wait a bit and evaluate products that are on the way from other manufacturers to see if they might be a better fit. That way you'll also benefit from the maturation of both the products and drivers that will take place in the coming months.
On balance Thunderbolt holds a great deal of promise, and I'm eagerly awaiting Sonnets PCIe enclosures to allow for Rocket use in a more mobile platform as a Rocket plus fast storage make for a pretty compelling mobile solution... if the technology delivers on it's promise.
So far it's looking pretty good.