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Tutorial: Building your own 1TB Sata Raid

April, 2005

Storage Solutions or -
- Building your own 1TB Sata Raid

Note: This is part 2 of a two part series
Part one can be found


by Ned Soltz

Let's welcome the arrival of the SATA raid!

For under $1000, I was able to roll my own 1 TB SATA raid with only a little frustration and a little humiliation to show for it. This was to be a quick process of assembling the MacGurus 4-drive Burly Box with 4 Hitachi 250 gig SATA drives and using the Sonnet Tempo-X 4+4 SATA card to control the drives. So, I put together a volunteer crew to do a 2-camera shoot to post on the web site. Four hours and many tapes later, I got it together. I have since swapped the Tempo 4+4 card for the Tempo-X eSata 8 card, with 8 external connections.

The Burly Box is a wonderful metal enclosure with a heavy-duty fan, heavy-duty power supply and a sturdy feel. MacGurus bundles mounting brackets for the drives as well as all necessary cables both for creating the enclosure and connecting to the Mac. The problem arose with my general inability to assemble anything. I find now that if I merely had a magnetized screw driver and had used some petroleum jelly or soap on the screws, the multi-hour multi-cursed enterprise of screwing the brackets into the drives would have taken no time at all. So, let's assume that the typical do-it-yourselfer is smarter than I am when it comes to assembly. The Burly Box is then a snap to assemble. Start running the tab: $254 plus $11 shipping for the 4-enclosure BurlyBox. MacGurus also supplies 2, 5 or 8 drive enclosures. Additionally, there are hot-swap enclosures but they will not do you much good with the Sonnet as of yet since the Sonnet does not yet support hot swapping. Sonnet engineers are looking into this and plan to deliver a firmware upgrade which will allow hotswapping.

Newsflash-On April 13, 2005, Sonnet released version 1.1 of the Tempo-X firmware which updates both the SATA 4+4 and the eSata 8 cards to include hot swapping drives!

Now, back to the construction of the boxes.

Along with the introduction of the Tempo-X eSata 8 card, I added another identical Burly Box and four more Hitachi drives. Installation was somewhat smoother this time since my purchase of the screwdriver magnetizer. In fact, getting the screws in the holes was a snap. The only problem was identification of the screws and it is in this area that the Burly Box packaging needs improvement. Assembly requires drive screws to attach the brackets and bracket screws to mount the drive/bracket assembly in the box. The two types of screws are mingled in the hardware bags. It would be very simple, I think, just to include one bag of drive screws and one bag of bracket screws.

In constructing the second box, my only gaffes consisted of destroying one 250 gig drive by breaking off the SATA data connector on the drive and then in the assembly of the unit, breaking one of the drive to external port connectors. The first problem was solved by begging the vendor to swap the drive (they did) and the broken connector was solved merely by connecting the Burly Box to eSata 8 cable internally in the Burly Box directly to the drive and then running out of the box directly to the card. Not very elegant, I note, but I did work.

I chose to use the Sonnet Tempo 4+4 card to control my raid since that was what was available in early February when I built the first raid, and it receives a Circle N seal of approval. Unlike other products on the market, the Sonnet requires no drivers. It is true plug and play. You can also configure the Mac with multiple Sonnet cards. The 4+4 card ($199) has 4 external and 4 internal ports. My Burly Box is connected, of course, to the 4 external ports. Each drive occupies a separate channel, so there are 4 external SATA cables between card and box. It is possible to add 4 internal drives to the card using any of the internal products for G5 (such as ProMax solution, Wiebetech or Transinternational products). Personally, I think that is too much heat for the G5, but others have not reported problems. The other option is to use a slot on the Mac and add the $25 internal to external connector from MacGurus. That would allow 8 drives.

I now have installed the Tempo-X eSata 8 card. If there is such a thing as a 2-N seal of approval, this card gets it. It is hard to imagine running eight external drives from one card occupying one slot.

My test G5 system now includes a Kona 2 board occupying the PCI 133 slot and the Sonnet Tempo-X eSata8 card in Slot 3. Note something about the eSata8 card. It requires different external connectors, called eSata connectors. They are only available from one manufacturer at the moment, so they are a few dollars more per cable than external SATA cables. Both Sonnet and MacGurus sell the eSata cables and, since the release of the eSata8 card, MacGurus offers the BurlyBox with an option of cables. Sonnet maintains that the eSata cables provide a more reliable connection and are rated at a greater number of insertions than standards SATA cables.

Also note that the eSata8 has a slightly raised daughter card to handle the extra ports. It cannot be used in Slot 4 (the PCI-X 133) slot of the G5. That makes little difference, in my opinion, since most likely you would want to put a capture card in the 133 mhz slot.

Creating the raid with Apple Disk Utility is as simple as just clicking raid and dragging the 4 drives into the raid window.

Below are benchmarks for this 4 drive raid using AJA's Test Utility and the eSata8 card. The Tempo 4x4 card returned similar results. My own tests have given me 6 layers of realtime in DVCPRO HD 720p from footage captured from the Varicam as well as the ability to playback 8-bit 1080i HD. Granted this is from footage which was supplied to me and not captured on this system form HDCAM deck. It also was tested on a relatively empty drive. I would not recommend 8-bit uncompressed HD on this configuration. Based upon these benchmarks for a 4-drive raid, I do believe that an 8-drive raid would handle HDCAM.

Now, note the same benchmarks for the Tempo-X eSata 8 running two Burly Boxes, each containing 4 Hitachi 250 SATA drives. By the way, these drives in RAID configuration format to 1.8 TB.

The difference between a four drive and an either drive RAID is apparent. The data rate which exceeds 200 mps with 8 drives makes this array able to handle 8-bit and quite possibly 10-bit HDCAM.

The downside here is something to note very strongly. We are talking raid 0 configurations. There is no parity as in raid 5 meaning that losing one drive takes with it all of the data. When dealing with a higher end raid with a dedicated controller, that raid controller allows a hardware-based raid 5 as well as hardware-based integrity checks on the media. Sometimes the least expensive solution is not the best. So, I offer this solution of the inexpensive roll it yourself raid as an example of where the technology is taking us.

In addition, I suspect that performance will decrease as the drives fills up. As a result, I would avoid filling the drive to more than 66.33% capacity, the amount recommended by SoftRaid as constituting the largest suggested video partition.

The absence of parity requires careful backup procedues. While it is sound FCP procedure anyway, make certain not to store project files on the media drive. Store those on your system drive (and back them up, of course). With regard to the raid, back up any graphics, music, or other files which have been created on the drive. In that manner, the worst case scenario in the event of losing the RAID is just to restore the files and recapture from original tapes.

Both Sonnet cards can be used to control individual drives or drives configured as a raid. They are solid worthy performers and can form the basis of this inexpensive raid for both the capacity and the speed that raid storage provides us. At $299, the eSata8 is $100 more than the Tempo 4+4. It is worth the difference if you wish to create an 8-drive raid and still use only one slot. And the whole exercise led me to my nearest home improvement warehouse to buy a screwdriver magnetizer. Even if I break connectors, I still get the screw in the hole.

In terms of practical tests, I have been able to edit 1920x1080 8-bit HDCAM on this raid without dropping a frame. It integrates well with the Kona 2 card currently in my machine, courtesy of my good friends at AJA. And very special thanks to Martin Muggee and others at Sonnet for the use of these two excellent cards.

Bottom line price:

Sonnet Tempo-X eSata 8 $299
8 Hitachi 250 SAYA drives $1080
2 Burly Boxes $508
Extra for SATA 8 eSata cables $120
Shipping $ 11

Total cost of 1.8 TB formatted $2018

The SATA raid is here to stay and promises to be a strong competitor to SCSI. All of the products mentioned here receive the Ned Seal of Approval and are worthy additions to your edit station.

Ned Soltz

copyright©2005ned soltz

Ned Soltz is a passionate advocate of technology which enhances the creative process. He only wishes that he were more creative. Ned is among the founders of lafcpug, as well as a published author of numerous articles and reviews on all things NLE. The author of several books and technical editor of still others, Ned is often on the road with his Powerbook G4 and mobile FCP studio. Catch him at home or on the road at Ned also moderates several forums on

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