Recently I needed to add more video storage to my G5 editing system and I faced several options, below are the three options I considered. Apple would love to have you buy their XServe RAID, and it’s a beautiful, high performance box, but it’s overkill for the indie filmmakers and others doing tight-budget video editing. If several people were sharing the same media, maybe FibreJet and Xserve RAIDs would make sense for an economical SAN arrangement. But back to my own needs at home, I was deciding between internal SATA expansion, external SATA expansion, or external FireWire 800 expansion.
I ended up going with the internal solution using the Sonnet G5 Jive internal drive mounting system to save space, but I like the option of later adding four more external drives, which the Sonnet Tempo-X 4+4 SATA PCI Card can supprt, so the Sonnet Tempo-X 4+4 with four internal and four external SATA ports is an excellent choice if you plan to expand at some point to a total of 8 drives of additional storage. Larger capacity drives are another option if you need the space. Prices will vary, below are my ballpark figures. I’ve started with two drives, but plan to add two more shortly, this also played a factor in the decision making process, the ability to quickly expand to 1TB by simply adding two more drives when the need arose.
Note: If you have a newer G5, the G5 Jive will not fit, however, you can use the G5 Jam or G5 Jam Express.
My experience with the current project I’m onlining with Final Cut Pro using 10-bit uncompressed standard definition video is that a twin SATA drive raid configuration is fast enough for playback of rendered video. Don’t expect excellent performance with multiple layers, or uncompressed high definition video, for that you’ll need to configure an even faster RAID.
Once nice thing about putting together your own storage system is you can choose the drive brand you like, I’ve been partial to Western Digital for a long time, but I thought I’d give the Samsung 250MB/SATA/8M drives a try for the first two drives in the internal G5 Jive arrangement becuase they are very quiet and I could take them home right away (being right in the middle of a project), however, they only come with a one year warranty, so maybe the Western Digital Cavair RE 250MB/SATA/16M is a better deal with their 5-year warranty (or the quieter Western Digital Caviar SE with a 3-year warranty) so the next two drives I get are likely to be Western Digital once again, as they have an excellent record in terms of reliability and performance.
If you’re not familar with S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) it’s a technology built into modern hard drives that reports statistics on their performace. Some performance anomalies indicate impending drive failure, so in effect it’s a early-warning system for predictable drive failures. While monitoring S.M.A.R.T. status can’t predict all drive failures, not all drive failures can be predicted, some warning is better than none. It’s unfortunate that you can’t check S.M.A.R.T. status of drives connected via FireWire, only on those drives connected via ATA or SATA. Therefore, SATA drives have this advantage over FireWire connected drives.
Check out SMARTReporter, a great utility you can use to monitor the S.M.A.R.T. status of your SATA drives. More info on S.M.A.R.T. In addition, with SATA drives you can configure a RAID for Mirroring (offering data redundancy for ultra- reliability) or Striping (increased drive performace) using Apple’s disk utility.
So here are the three options I considered, and some of my thoughts on the pros and cons of each. Of course, for ease of transportability, flexibility of interface, and good looking design you can’t beat the LaCie drives, which is why I already have three of them. But when it cames time to add more raw, fast storage for video editing, especially when it comes to capturing, rendering, and playback, SATA drives in a RAID configuration is the way to go. Both the G5 Jive and Granite Digital options are appealing.
- OPTION ONE: INTERNAL SATA Solution using Sonnet G5 Jive: This option allows use of S.M.A.R.T. monitoring and optional configuration as RAID array (using Apple Disk Utility, or better yet, SoftRAID) for faster performance (install one drive in the G5’s internal drive slot, the other three in G5 Jam, includes 3 internal SATA cables, card includes 2 internal SATA cables). Very cost effective, the disadvantage is you can’t take advantage of the hot-swap capability of the Granite Digital solution or the transportability of the LaCie external drive solution. This option consists of a Sonnet G5 Jive internal mounting bracket and cables (99.99), a Sonnet Tempo-X 4+4 SATA PCI Card (189.99) and four 250 MB hard drives (Samsung, Maxtor, or Western Digital) for a total price of $729.94.
- OPTION TWO: EXTERNAL SATA Solution using Granite Digital 4 Drive Enclosure and Sonnet 4+4 SATA PCI Card: Advatange of hot-swap capability, additional trays are only 19.95, allowing to use different drives for different projects. Advantage of S.M.A.R.T. monitoring compared to FireWire 800 external drive solutions. Not easily shared with other system unless it too has the same external drive setup. Note: there are several manufactureres offering nice external enclosures, and both Granite and others offer more sophisticated options with LED monitoring of drive performance. If you’ve got the budget for it, the extra information is nice to have. But this here is a basic bare-bones option. This option consists of a Granite Digital SATA II 4-Bay Hot-Swap enclosure (299.95), a Sonnet Tempo-X 4+4 SATA PCI Card (189.99) four eSATA to SATA Shielded 3 ft. Cables (4 @ 24.95 ea) and four 250 MB hard drives (Samsung, Maxtor, or Western Digital) (4 @ estimated 109.99 ea) for a total price of $1029.74.
- OPTION THREE: EXTERNAL FIREWIRE Solution using the popular and versatile LaCie 250GB d2 External triple-interface (USB 2.0 and FireWire 400/800) drives: This option offers flexibility of transporting drives between systems but you can’t set these up in a RAID configuration using Apple’s Disk Utility (but you can do it with SoftRAID), however, through the FireWire 800 interface there is no ability to take advantage of S.M.A.R.T. monitoring for your drives. This option consists of four LaCie 250GB d2 Ext. USB2/FW400/800 external hard drives (4 @ 219.00 ea) for a total price of $876.00.
Update (June 22, 2006): I’ve re-arranged my system a little bit. I have replaced my original 80GB SYSTEM volume with two 250GB Western Digital Caviar/SE drives in a RAID-1 mirrored pair configuration, and I’m still using the, two 250GB Samsung drives a RAID-0 striped set as my MEDIA volume. I’ve also added a fifth 400GB drive as a scratch disk, since I had one more slot available in the G5 Jive. The RAIDs have all been created using SoftRAID, this utility rocks and is far better than Apple’s disk utility.