StarTech.com specializes in gadgets performing niche, yet handy functions. We have reviewed a few of their products such as the USB 3.0 to SATA IDE HDD docking station and portable SATA duplicator before. Technology-wise, there are plenty of similar options in the market. StarTech.com hopes to differentiate itself by acting as a one-stop shop for all these miscellaneous needs.

Since the beginning of the year, StarTech.com has launched two interesting products in the DAS (direct-attached storage) space. On the high-end side, we have the S354SMTB2R, a 4-bay Thunderbolt 2 enclosure. It comes with a hardware RAID engine (only JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 10 - no RAID 5 or RAID 6) and brings with it all the advantages of Thunderbolt 2 (including daisy chaining).

On the chipset side, we have the Marvell 88SE9230 bridge chip, enabling four SATA 6 Gbps ports over two PCIe 2.0 lanes. It also enables the hardware RAID functionality. The PCIe side obviously talks to the Intel Thunderbolt 2 controller.

One of the interesting aspects of the StarTech.com Thunderbolt 2 enclosure is the availability of HyperDuo (thanks to the usage of the Marvell bridge chip). This is a feature that automates SSD / HDD tiering (further details available in Marvell's technology brief - PDF). The benefits of Thunderbolt 2 in DAS units are brought out mainly when SSDs are used, and this type of transparent tiering can enable users to easily gain SSD-like performance while retaining HDD-like capacity at reasonable price points.

StarTech.com has priced the S354SMTB2R at $693 ($543 on Amazon). Other options for diskless 4-bay Thunderbolt 2 solutions are listed below.

  1. AKiTiO Thunder2 Quad (MSRP of $499, available for $370 on Amazon): This unit doesn't come with hardware RAID or HyperDuo features, allowing for the lower price point.
  2. OWC ThunderBay 4 (Available for $419): This unit is similar to the AKiTiO Thunder2 Quad - no hardware RAID, but does come with a special software RAID program for OS X (allowing for high-performance RAID 5 on Mac systems)
  3. HighPoint RocketStor 6324AS 4-Bay RAID Solution with Thunderbolt 2 Adapter  (available for $949): The premium for this unit is due to the presence of hardware RAID (JBOD, 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and 50) and support for both SATA and SAS drives. In addition, this DAS has the added flexibility of being a two component solution - the main drive bays enclosure have two mini-SAS ports (with a second port used for daisy chaining another enclosure or LTO tape drive to get support for up to 8 drives). A SFF-8088 cable connects the enclosure to the external mini-SAS port of a Thunderbolt 2 adapter (which is available for $288 separately, if needed). The adapter has two Thunderbolt 2 ports for standard daisy-chain operation. All in all, this is a very flexible configuration, but tends to create a lot of cable clutter - a possible issue, depending on the workspace.
  4. HighPoint RocketStor 6324LS 4-Bay JBOD Solution with Thunderbolt 2 Adapter (available for $649): This configuration uses the same Thunderbolt 2 adapter as the 6324AS described above, but the 4-bay enclosure supports only SATA drives and there is no hardware RAID.

CalDigit, G-Technology and Promise have 4-bay Thunderbolt 2 solutions too, but they don't seem to be available in diskless configurations.

A few days back, the HDD enclosures lineup was also expanded. The last time we looked at a multi-bay external enclosure was in our review of the Mediasonic Probox. A couple of years have passed since we checked out the JMicron JMB321 port-multiplier (PDF) coupled with a JSM 539 SATA to USB 3.0 bridge. These JMicron parts have been discontinued and it is now time for a new platform for economical multi-bay direct-attached storage enclosures.

StarTech.com has introduced a $315 5-bay (S355BU33ERM) and a $392 8-bay (S358BU33ERM) enclosure. These units support both 3.5" and 2.5" drives. Hot-swapping is also supported. Similar to the Mediasonic Probox, they come with both eSATA and USB 3.0 host connections. UASP is now supported, thanks to the usage of the JMicron JMB575M SATA port multiplier / selector (PDF) and JMS567 SATA to USB 3.0 bridge controller (PDF). The 5-bay unit comes with a 80 mm cooling fan, while the 8-bay unit has a 120 mm cooling fan. There is no hardware RAID support.

The units seem to be much cheaper on Amazon, with the 8-bay coming in at $300 and the 5-bay coming in at $245. The number of options for 5-bay and 8-bay enclosures seem to be numerous compared to that for Thunderbolt 2, so we won't go into the trouble of listing everything here. The key takeaway from the announcement is that we now have high bay-count USB 3.0 enclosures with UASP support.

Source: StarTech.com

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  • DanNeely - Sunday, March 01, 2015 - link

    "The 5-bay unit comes with a 80 mm cooling fan, while the 8-bay unit has a 120 mm cooling fan. There is no hardware RAID support."

    Are you sure about this, it looks like the 5bay model has a 120mm fan too.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, March 01, 2015 - link

    Just going by whatever is in the 'Technical Specifications' tab of each of those product pages... Might get one of them in for review, let us see. Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Sunday, March 01, 2015 - link

    Nothing with a mini-SAS (SFF-8087 or SFFSFF-8644) to 4xSAS/SATA support? This makes those of use with SAS HBAs and expanders for high-performance and proper SMART reporting quite sad :( Reply
  • milleron - Monday, March 02, 2015 - link

    You're in error about the OWC ThunderBay 4's included RAID software. There is a software bundle (of debatable worth), but the $419 bare enclosure (delivered without drives) does NOT include any RAID software. OWC does include that proprietary software with their models that include drives, but, of course, you're then paying a stiff premium for those drives. The software they include with them costs approximately $180 retail, however, so it may not be a bad deal if one needs RAID and SMART monitoring, which are not features of the RAID software baked into OS X's Disk Utility's RAID. (I don't know enough about this to comment on the speed of these two software-RAID solutions.) Reply

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