If you are anything like me, you store everything on your computer. I have recently started ripping all my DVDs and CDs and storing them on a server and that takes up a lot of space. My motherboard only has 4 SATA ports and even though I have 4x 1TB drives, I am quickly running out of space. So what do I do? I really don’t want to upgrade my motherboard and case to fit more hard drives. My only other option is to get an external hard drive enclosure. One such enclosure is the Sans Digital TR8M-B 8 Bay JBOD Enclosure.
- Eight 3.5-inch SATA hard disk drives to two eSATA Port Multiplier interfaces.
- Accesses eight hard drives using only two cables.
- Supports JBOD, Spanning, RAID 0, 1, 1+0, 5 with spare in two volume sets via software utilities.
- Cable-less backplane design support hot-swappable SATA I and SATA II.
- Bundled with 2-port eSATA PCIe 1x Host Bus Adapter.
- Supports Plug & Play for easy installation.
- Compact enclosure with dust-free cover.
- 300 watts power supply (90V to 264V).
- Support PC, MAC up to 10.5.1 and Linux.
With the ability to add an additional 8 hard drives the storage capacity of any computer is increased tremendously. In addition, it supports the ability to hot swap both SATA I and SATA II, which means you can reuse some of your older drives. To top it all off, everything you need to connect to most computers is included. The Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B enclosure comes with a 2-port eSATA PCIe card and 2 eSATA cables. So even if your computer does not have any eSATA ports built-in, you can still use the TR8M-B.
Sans Digital manages to fit everything into a rather small package. The dimensions of the TowerRAID TR8M-B are 5.9″W x 13.4″H x 13.4″D and it weighs about 13 lb when empty. As you can see, it is a little bigger than the HP MediaSmart EX487 server. The MediaSmart server only has 4 drive bays while the Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B has 8.
The front has a door that opens to reveal the eight drive trays. The trays are locked in and you have to flip a switch to get them to unlock. The switch is the sliver part on the right side of the tray, just stick your finger in the hole and push it to the right. A handle will pop out, just push the handle to the left and pull out the tray.
Each tray is exactly the same, the trays don’t have any special capabilities and they require screws to hold each drive in place. For most people having screws is not a big deal, but I have become spoiled because the last few case I have bought have been tool-less and they did not require screws to hold in hard drives.
Below the trays is a single power button on the right and eight lights on the left. The power button obviously turns on the hard drives, and the lights show the status of each drive. When the hard drives are on, but not being used the light is green, when there is activity the light turns orange.
When you look at the back of the Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B enclosure you will immediately see the huge 4.7″ cooling fan, very nice for keeping the drives cool and the case quiet. Just below the fan are two eSATA ports and below the ports is the power supply.
If we take the cover off and look inside we can see how it is put together. The first thing I noticed is that there is a lot of space between the back of the case and the drive bays. It looks like the case could be made much smaller by eliminating that space.
The RAID management software which comes with the TR8M-B is very easy to use. Once you get it installed it automatically runs each time you turn on the computer. It shows the status of each drive and what mode they are in. Setting up a RAID is as easy a clicking a few buttons.
Performance of the Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B comes down to how easy it is to use and if it actually does what it is suppose to.
Installing the hard drives is not difficult, but it is fairly time consuming. I scrounged up 4 hard drives that I am going to test with. The case is split into two sections, the top 4 bays are linked to the top eSATA port on the back and the bottom 4 bays are linked to the bottom eSATA port. So I had to chose how I waned my drives to be spread out. For ease of testing and installing I chose to put all my drives in the bottom half of the case so they could all be accessed using only one eSATA port. My hope was to use the eSATA port that was built into my desktop computer.
Once I got the drives installed I proceeded to plug one of the eSATA cables into the bottom eSATA port on the TR8M-B and the other end into the eSATA port on my desktop. I was happy to see that Windows automatically deteced the new device and found drivers, but when it finished installing the drivers only one of the drives worked. I knew that all the drives were good because I had just taken them out of one of my old, but working, computers. So something else must be going on. I noticed that the CD that came with the TR8M-B had some drivers on it, so I tried installing them on my computer, but that did not help. I also tried installing the RAID software, but that also did not help. After fidgeting with things for a while I remembered that the Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B came with a 2-port eSATA PCIe card. It never occured to me that installing the card would be required, but because I had run out of other options I went ahead and installed it anyways.
Installing the card is not difficult, the only problem is that it is a PCIe card and many older motherboards may not have this relativly new slot. Luckly, my motherboard had one PCIe slot. Also lucky for me it was not being used. After installing the card and once again installing the drivers I plugged in the eSATA cable again. This time all 4 drives started working and were recognized on the desktop. So that confirms that there is some functionality on the card that is required for the TR8M-B to work completely.
Once the drives were working the RAID software also started working. There are a lot of options available with this software. The first thing I noticed is that there are slots for 10 drives, but the Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B only has 8 slots. Since I only have 4 installed only 4 of them were filled, but even if I had all 8 drive bays filled there would still be 2 empty slots in the software. It would be nice if the software was a little smarter so that it could remove those last two slots and prevent some possible confusion. As far as I could tell Sans Digital does not even offer a 10 bay enclosure.
As I mentioned above there are several modes that the drives can be put into. Most of the modes require more than one drive, and some require as many as 4 drives. So depending on how many drives are installed not all the modes may be available. Setting up each of these modes is very easy. Depending on which one you chose, and how many drives it uses, it may take a little time to format the disks, but the software takes care of everything.
One thing I was very excited to see is that this case works great with Windows Home Server. As I explained above my current server only has space for 4 drives and if I wanted more I would have to buy a new case and motherboard, but using the TR8M-B makes this much easier and give me lots of room to grow.
One other thing I was paying attention to was the power usage. The Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B has a base power usage of about 30 watts without any drives in it. As I added drives and started using them the power usage gradually increased. The TR8M-B with 4 drives maxed out at about 60 watts, which is what a single light bulb uses.
The one area that I wish more companies would improve is in the warranty. Sans Digital is not immune to this either. They offer a paltry 1 year warranty on the TR8M-B. I would be much happier if it were around 3 to 5 years.
I am very happy with the Sans Digital TowerRAID TR8M-B. It was easy to setup, despite all the screws I had to install, and it was easy to use. There are definitely improvements that could be made, and they would help make the user experience much more positive. I encourage Sans Digital to start moving to a more tool-less design and to also increase the warranty that is offered with there enclosures. With a retail price of $395.00 ($349.99 Newegg and Amazon) I think most buyers would appreciate a bit more protection. However, I can still recommend the TR8M-B and give it 5 stars because my experience was a positive one.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|