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Three New FireWire RAID Boxes.

Originally posted 10/04/02 by rob-ART morgan,
Bare Feats webmaster and mad scientist (


Three new FireWire RAID storage products got my attention: The Miglia MediaBank, Wiebetech RAID, and Granite Digital FireVue Hot-Swap RAID system. The idea is to put two drives in one box to create a compact, all-in-one dual drive striped or mirrored RAID. Being a speed guy, the striped RAID 0 results are posted herein.

One key distinction about the Wiebetech RAID is that it is bundled with a fast FireWire PCI card. Why do you need a FireWire card if you already have built-in FireWire? Because to get the fastest transfer rates with a FireWire RAID pair, you have to have two channels. Not two ports. Two channels, or controllers, if you will. Adding a FireWire PCI card to built-in FireWire, in effect, creates a second channel. You'll see in the charts below what a difference that makes. (PowerBooks can do the same thing by using a CardBus FireWire card in addition to the built-in FireWire.)

I understand that Miglia will be offering a dual channel FireWire PCI card in November as an option to buyers of the MediaBank. Can't wait to test that one. Granite Digital already offers a FireWire PCI card as an option (haven't tried it, yet). For this round of testing, I used Wiebetech's FireWire card to create a second channel on all three test units.

All three systems used IBM 120GXP drives. And just for "fun," I threw in the test results for a three drive RAID using three FireWire channels.



Duplicating the 457MB "pak0.pk3" file from Quake3 is my favorite test since it forces the drive to read and write to itself at the same time.


By setting Photoshop's memory size to 41MB and having it rotate a 45MB document, I force it to write to the scratch disk... which is defined as the RAID pair being tested.


I have a 5 second uncompressed movie (177MB). In this test, I force QuickTime Player to playback all frames. As you can see, even the triple drive array can't play back in true real time.








Needless to say, the 3 channel triple drive RAID was fastest but of the 2 channel dual drive RAID's, the WiebeTech RAID had the edge in all but one test. The speed advantage would have been even greater than other two RAID setups if they hadn't "borrowed" the Wiebetech fast FireWire PCI card for their second channel.

The Granite Digital Hot-Swap RAID came in at a close second in speed. Actually, I didn't test their 2 bay RAID system. I used two Hot-Swap case kits to create a dual drive array. But results are valid since the "guts" are the same as the Granite's 2 bay FireWire Hot-Swap RAID system.

You might want to take a look at Granite's SMART RAID system. It displays the drive status on an LCD panel and tells you when a drive is about to fail. That's invaluable when reliablity is as important as speed. Plus it supports the new 180GB+ drives.

The Miglia MediaBank MT-R came in a close third. As you can see from the graphs, if you run it just like it comes from the factory (with no FireWire PCI card creating dual channels), the speed gain over a single drive is negligible. (Watch for Miglia's optional dual channel FireWire card in November.)

Now for a little perspective. Not only are FireWire drives slower than the same drive on an Ultra ATA interface, but FireWire RAIDs are slower than Ultra ATA RAIDs. Yet if you want something external, portable, and hot-pluggable, they are definitely the way to go for auxillary storage.

For Digital Video jockies, you might consider a dual channel, dual drive setup for capturing analog video and audio on separate drives (or together on a RAID array), thereby minimizing the loss of audio sync.

If you plan to use a PCI FireWire card as a second FireWire channel, be advised that not all FireWire PCI host adapters are created equal. I tested 12 cards recently. Although the read speed with an IBM 120GXP was 33MB/sec, the write speed varied from 16MB/sec to 29MB/sec. None of them were as fast as internal FireWire. The two fastest cards had a Texas Intruments (Ti TSB43AB23) host controller (and well-written firmware).




The Miglia MediaBank MT-R is a FireWire RAID case kit built like a Brinks truck. Being a guy who likes to diassemble and reassemble, I'm very impressed with the contruction materials and design. The stiff, rounded metal case is held together with four machine screws. The dual 80 conduction ribbon cables are split longitudinally so you can contort them to fit the drive connector location. It sports dual FireWire bridgeboards, one for each drive plus two FireWire ports per card. (See photos of the insides on the MediaBank web page.) Installation of your the drives is a breeze using thick brackets. It includes a cooling fan even though the power supply is external. It comes bundled with CharisMac's RAID software for both OS 9 and OS X (plus RaidToolBox for Windows).

The WiebeTech RAID is a smaller and lighter aluminum case I affectionately call "The Blazing Brick." It could actually fit inside the Miglia case. It sports dual bridgeboards like the Miglia but adds separate power supplies for each board. That provides added reliability in a case where you are running a mirrored array 24/7. One half can "die" and the other half keeps going. Although it only has one FireWire port per bridgeboard, the bundled FireWire card comes three ports.

The Granite Digital Hot-Swap RAID is made of heavy plastic with metal liner. It is larger than the other two tested. I call this one the "HumVee" of FireWire case kits. The drives sit in removable trays. A neon light lets you know when the tray is installed correctly. A tumbler lock and key is included to secure the tray from "unauthorized removal." It sports two fans: one to cool the drives and one to cool the internal power supply.

You might want to take a look at Granite's Hot-Swap SMART RAID system. It displays the drive status on an LCD panel and tells you when a drive is about to fail. That's invaluable when reliablity is as important as speed.

You can "build" a "do-it-yourself" FireWire RAID system similar in speed to those I tested if have the following:
1. Two or more "Oxford 911" (or equivalent speed) FireWire case kits,
2. Two or more fast Ultra ATA drives (IBM Deskstar 120GXP's were the fastest),
3. One or more FireWire PCI/CardBus cards or (in addition to built-in FireWire).

WHY IBM DRIVES INSTEAD OF WESTERN DIGITAL? I tried the Western Digital WD1200JB's with the 8MB buffer. Inside the FireWire boxes, the sustained read speed was 19% slower than the IBM 120GXP's. The WD pair was the same speed or slower in every test except the Photoshop Rotate in which they were 30% faster. (Jumbo buffer?)

Since this article, I've tested the IBM 180GXP and WD1800JB, both with 8MB buffers. The 180GXP was faster even in the Photoshop Rotate test.



The WiebeTech RAID can be ordered directly from Weibetech in four different drive configurations. Prices start at $499.

The Miglia MediaBank case kit is available from MacMall for $249 (BYOD - bring your own drives).

The Granite Digital Hot-Swap RAID systems are available with 2, 4 or 8 bays direct from Granite. (Drive not included.) You might want to take a look at Granite's SMART RAID system. It displays the drive status on an LCD panel and tells you when a drive is about to fail. That's invaluable when reliablity is as important as speed.

For good prices on the IBM 120GXP and 180GXP drives, check with GoogleGear.

The fastest FireWire PCI card is available direct from (part# BTFWUSBPCI). They have a new model (U2FW-PCI01) with the same controller chip that includes USB 2.0 ports. The second fastest card is available from WiebeTech.

My favorite FireWire cables are the white flexible ones from the Apple Online Store. (See cables section -- free ground shipping currently)



FireWire RAID vs ATA-133 HW RAID

Which drive works best in an ATA RAID: WD1200JB or IBM 120GXP?

Listing of archived storage tests from Bare Feats



The test "mule" was my trusty Apple G4/1000 MP "SDR" Power Mac with 1.5 1GB of PC133 CL2 SDRAM and 120GB IBM 120GXP boot drive running OS X (10.2.1).

Software used to create the striped RAID 0 pairs was Apple's Disk Utility RAID function. (It also supports mirrored RAID 1 pairs.)

REAL WORLD TESTS included...

1. Rotating a 45MB document in Photoshop 7 with application size set to 41MB... thereby creating a low memory condition and forcing Photoshop to write to the scratch disk.

2. Duplicating a 457MB document on the test drive(s).

3. Playing back every frame of a 5 second 177MB uncompressed movie using Quicktime Player


QuickBench X was used to measure Random Read/Write (1M blocks) and Sustained Read/Write (10MB blocks). Then a special version of QuickBench X was used to measure Sustained Read/Write with 100MB blocks.




LINKS to SPEED tests on other sites

HOT DEALS on speed upgrades


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© 2002 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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