ZOTAC RAIDBOX with 2×256 mSATA SSD Review
Over the last few years ZOTAC have built themselves a very impressive reputation with their NVIDIA based graphics cards and more specifically their factory overclocked AMP! Editions. More recently their Zbox range has been well received, offering a wide range of specifications in ever more compact cases… some now at the stage where an entire PC can fit in the palm of our hand.
Looking to diversify their business even more ZOTAC recently released the RAIDBOX, a compact USB 3.0 enclosure which allows us to install two mSATA hard drives then RAID them for enhanced performance/data protection. Today we have a sample on our test bench, along with two high spec 256GB mSATA drives from ADATA.
Packaging and Bundle
ZOTAC go with a familiar box design on the RAIDBOX, sticking with the orange and black that we know so well. A nice clear image of the enclosure is found in the centre and further down we get a note of the various configurations the "drive" can use. Inside we find two manuals and two cables, one USB 3.0 with two connectors at the system end to provide data and additional power and another separate power lead for systems which might not output enough to run the drive.
To use the RAIDBOX we also need at least one mSATA SSD and so we are going with two ADATA models in this review. The SX300 drive (50.95x30x4mm) is a Sandforce based model and ADATA pack 256GB into our review samples with read and write speeds over mSATA rated for 550MB/s read and 505MB/s write.
ZOTAC use an all plastic chassis for the RAIDBOX and it measures 13 x 77.2 x 120.3mm (HxWxD). The top surface is completely blank other than the company logo and flipping the device over we find a part information sticker. Also visible in the image above is the power input, activity LED and USB 3.0 connector.
Inside there is a 1/3 length PCB with space for the two mSATA SSDs side by side and ZOTAC provide thumb screws for drive installation. Also inside is a quick guide on how to configure the drive, speaking of which…
To begin the set-up of our RAIDBOX we first slot in one or two mSATA drives and then screw them into place. There are then two components inside which let us configure the enclosure for the mode we need. These are a set of two switches (middle of the left image above) and a single button on the left edge (centre of the right image).
To enable the mode we need, we set these switches to the appropriate location and then as the drive is connected we hold the left button for 3 seconds until the LED beside it flashes to confirm the profile is active. After that we close the case and no further configuration is needed, other than formatting the drive(s).
There are four modes available on the RAIDBOX. JBOD allows us to access individual drives inside, BIG allows us to combine multiple drives of different sizes for a total, larger drive. RAID0 combines two mSATA SSDs for capacity and performance. RAID 1 mirrors the content on one drive to the next meaning that if our main drive dies the content is still available on the second.
Generally the set-up process works well however in our testing, switching multiple times between the different modes, we found that Windows did not like multiple changes. So we recommend deciding which mode suits your needs and sticking with it. Or at least keeping with minimal changes.
Looking specifically at performance the JBOD results show that we are getting pretty decent performance from the mSATA SSD in our RAIDBOX. The drive isn’t hitting its limit though, so it seems our ZOTAC controller could be a little higher spec however we still exceed many other forms of portable storage. There is minimal performance impact from RAID 1 and BIG gives us near identical performance to the single drive which is great. For RAID 0 performance the enclosure manages to peak at 289MB/s, up 35-40MB/s though writes are locked at the limit of the enclosure.
So what do we make of the ZOTAC RAIDBOX? Well on the build quality front we would have liked to see ZOTAC go with an aluminium chassis. It would provide a more robust enclosure but also add an extra quality level to the device.
Configuration and install of the device is easy. Slot in some drives, screw them down, set the mode, turn on and close. Simple.
So that brings us to performance and value. As we need to install mSATA drives in the RAIDBOX this adds cost over the initial purchase and we feel that although we tested with two high spec models (needed for review purposes) this isn’t necessarily the best route for consumer use. We would look at the mSATA drives out there and balance cost and specification. For example two cheaper mSATA SSDs with read/write of 150-200MB/s in RAID 0 would hit the ideal level for the interface/controller used here while minimising cost. At that point the 290/190MB/s speed of the enclosure hits a better value point while still exceeding the speed of most traditional portable storage.
That said the ability to use RAID 1 for data protection in a portable device has its own benefits if that is required… all in all a decent performing, flexible offering in the portable storage arena.