by Nikita Nikolaichev
09/18/2006 | 12:37 PM
I believe that nothing depraves the today’s computer users more than unlimited Internet access. The high-speed broadband Internet channels available anywhere these days offers the users so much freedom, that they do not have enough time and desire to actually decided what to do with it. Of course, it is so hard to fight the temptation when all the treasures of the world are only one mouse click away.
The users got often so much carried away with collecting all sorts of extremely useful, important or just interesting files that only the system warning “there is not enough free space on Drive C:” can stop them.
Of course, the hardware manufacturers do their best to help the users satisfy their desires. Because their business aims at convincing the users that their freedom is non other but dependence on the goods they offer…
This way the mainboard makers are gradually increasing the number of SATA ports, while the hard disk drive makers raise the storage capacity of the drives. However, the more hard disk drives are used to store data, the higher are the risks of losing some of this data, since all hard disk drives are in fact mortal.
In order to ensure the quantity to quality transformation, i.e. to provide the users not only with the higher storage capacity of the disk subsystem but also with some data security guarantees, they introduced RAID technology that allowed uniting the HDDs into reliable arrays.
And today this technology is widely available for everyone. There are very few mainboards out there that do not carry an onboard SATA RAID controller these days: the controller is either integrated into the chipset, or is placed as an onboard chip.
The problem is that RAID technology entered the mass market at a very low cost and very quickly – without all the accessories necessary for more efficient use of SATA RAID, such as well-designed swap-enclosures and bug-free software.
Sometimes you can stumble upon very funny issues. Take a look at the screenshot below taken on my home computer:
As you can see from the screenshot, the SATA controller integrated into the nForce4 Ultra chipset made all the hard disk drives connected to it removable. Even though all these HDDs are part of a RAID array!
I can hardly help myself asking the Nvidia guys why on earth they would allow me to remove the drives from a RAID array? Am I and enemy to myself? I can hardly put up with the situation when there is a potential threat to my data, and here we have clear encouragement to take apart working RAID arrays. Assume I decided to remove a flash card… One false move and my favorite RAID1 has degraded. And what if it were a RAID0?
Of course, it is a great thing that SATA has the electrical ability to support installation and removal of the devices “on the fly”. However, this feature shouldn’t be idealized…
If we are talking about a single HDD, it can really be a freely removable device. Of course, the hard disk drive should be dynamical in this case. However, if it is a part of the array, it should disappear for everyone and everything except the controller BIOS and its own software tools.
It is the controller BIOS that really needs the HDDs to support hot swap and installation. In this case you can easily replace the failed HDD in the array, change the array type or array storage capacity without shutting down the system.
On the one hand, you may think that it is pretty simple: shut down the system, replace the HDD, power on the system and synchronize the array. On the other hand, how high is the risk of a mistake? What if you remove the wrong HDD or connect the wrong SATA cables.
It is much more convenient to work with those RAID arrays which hard disk drives are installed not into the standard internal bays of the desktop PC system, but in the so-called Hot-Swap enclosures. And against the background of the total RAID array cost, the price of an enclosure like that will not be too high, while the benefits it brings will be more than evident.
Today we would like to introduce to you an external HS solution like that from ICY Dock.
The product arrived in our lab in a very sturdy box:
This is regular carton box, without much exterior design. The info on the box suggests that ICY Dock MB453SPF module can accommodate three hard disk drives, while taking the space assigned to two five-inch bays of the system. I would like to specifically stress that it was a great idea to use 5-inch bays. Now that we have very affordable DVD burners supporting all formats at the same time, we do not really need the whole bunch of old CD or DVD drives in the systems. However, the system cases for high-performance remained the same size, and most of the time their five-inch bays remain empty.
This is what the module looks like: aluminum case, silverfish-black front panel. The modules can be easily mounted into the system case: there are rows of holes on the sides of the module that are standard for five-inch devices. The module comes with the sufficient amount of M3 screws to fasten it in the case.
Besides the user’s manual, the module is also shipped with the set of HDD status cables that are used to connect the drives to the front monitoring panel. You may need them if you are using the drives that do not support SATA II specification (i.e. that do not support HDD Access signal) and the controller features separate signal outputs to indicate the HDD status.
At the back of the module there is a removable (for service purposes?) 60mm fan and a set of connectors. Let’s take a closer look at it:
First of all our eye catches very different types of connectors that are available there: there are two “outdated” power supply connectors and one SATA connector. I didn’t quite figure out the hidden intention behind this, however, I am one of those people who cannot be confused that easily, so let’s move on.
And next we discover three standard data connectors for SATA cables and a row of pins for signal cables indicating the HDD ready status, activity or failure (some nice controller cards have signal outputs like that), and a three-phase switch. As the installation guide suggests, this switch sets the temperature threshold. Once this threshold is reached, the module will send the “overheating” signal to the front panel. You have three choices for the threshold: 45, 55 and 65oC. The default switch setting was 55oC, however, I felt better when I moved it down to 45oC.
It is important to know that the alarm sound can be shut down from the front panel of the module by pressing the Reset button.
When we extract the HDD slides from the chassis, we find a transportation cross-piece inside:
You will have to remove the cross-piece before installing the hard disk drive into the slides. At the bottom of the slides there is a spring mechanism that helps absorb the vibrations that may occur during the HDD operation.
Inside the chassis there is nothing interesting: three SATA connectors and a hardly visible thermal sensor (in fact the thermal monitoring is based not on the actual HDD temperature, but on the temperature of the airflow going through the chassis).
The HDD can be very easily removed from the chassis. Just press the blue button:
The handle will jump forward:
You pull the handle and the slides with the HDD eject forward easily:
Well, now we should simply test the modules at work. I installed three WD4000YR HDDs into the modules and ran the random seek test on all of them, i.e. put the storage system under the maximum workload.
As you see, the diode indicators on all of the drives lit up orange. It means that the drive is being accessed. Green color indicates that the HDD is working, but there are no incoming requests, and red color indicates HDD failure.
The noise generated by the chassis fan was noticeable but not irritating. The HDDs didn’t generate that much noise either (these are pretty quiet models).
Despite my expectations, no thermal alarm sounded. However, I still removed the HDds from the module and measured their temperature with the infra-red thermometer. All thee drives were 40-41oC warm.
Of course, this is not the ideal solution yet, however, the compromise between the noise and reliability is quite acceptable.
ICY Dock MB453SPF module is very nice and useful product and I would strongly recommend it to all the users who need to ensure the safety of their data and convenient work with the storage arrays.
And of course, it looked just awesome in my system case :)