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G-RAID with Thunderbolt - part 1 of 1 2 3

by Mark McNamee Published 01/06/2013

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The golden rule for data security is to transfer a copy of your images to another discrete storage device, and to do so before you do anything else - for some that includes even having a cuppa after you return from a shoot! There are a number of ways of increasing data security but the basics are that the copy should preferably be both elsewhere, and on a different device.

Two hard drives in the same machine is not as secure as two hard drives in adjacent machines - is not as secure as two hard drives, one at home and one in the office. There are variations to the theme when it comes to failure rather than theft or destruction (by fire for example). Connecting a number of hard drives in what is known as a RAID Array can make data more secure against drive failure. Conversely it can also make data less secure but make the data transfer faster, it just depends on the RAID arrangement. No RAID array is secure against the computer going on fire or being stolen though, only against a drive failing in service.

Now leaving aside the mechanisms of storage and back-ups, an everpresent characteristic is that backing up is a pain in the proverbial, most especially when it is being done late at night and at the end of a long day.

Any benefit in 'speed of data transfer' is therefore extremely welcome.

As camera files have become larger, the technology has almost kept pace for processing the data and moving it around. Take the humble CompactFlash card. I have on my desk a 2001 vintage 12x speed 256MB CF card. It has recently been joined by a 32GB CF card with a speed of 90MB/s. The nomenclature ran aground once they reached 800x and they started specifying in MB/s. Beware though, although 90MB/s is a 'newer' specification, it is not as fast as 800x (it's about 600x), once again they are trying to bamboozle us with jargon! Even so the new card has 50-times the speed and 125-times the capacity.


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These larger files have knock-on effects when it comes to storage on the computer; a two TB (terabyte) drive was once a rare species but is now commonplace. If you have not kept up your computer specification but have, say, moved to a Nikon D800, you are going to have lots of time to drink tea while you transfer that wedding across to your secure back-up!

This is the background to the review we are carrying out. The G-RAID systems attempt to speed up the file handling aspects of video and photography workflows. A number of new file transfer protocols have emerged recently with ever-increasing speed. USB 2, once the saviour of many photographers, is now old hat. Firewire 400 and 800 also exceed USB 2 performance and so USB 3 was brought out. For Mac users, this has now been topped by Thunderbolt.

USB was designed for simplicity and low cost, while FireWire was designed for high performance, particularly in time-sensitive applications such as audio and video. Although similar in theoretical maximum transfer rate, FireWire 400 is faster than USB 2 Hi-Bandwidth in real-use, especially in high-bandwidth use such as external hard-drives. The newer FireWire 800 standard was twice as fast as FireWire 400 and faster than USB 2 Hi-Bandwidth, both theoretically and practically. The chipset and drivers used to implement USB and FireWire have a crucial impact on how much of the bandwidth prescribed by the specification is achieved in the real world, along with compatibility with peripherals*.

*The New York Times decided to test the '10 times faster' claim, so it used brand new USB 3 hard drives and a desktop computer with an ideal configuration for transferring data over a USB 3 cable. In the test, writer Rik Fairlie copied a folder containing 10GB of files. He did this once over USB 2 and once over USB 3. The USB 3 connection took 6 minutes, 31 seconds, and the USB 2 connection took 22 minutes, 14 seconds. That's a dramatic improvement (USB 3 was about 3.5 times faster), but it doesn't live up to the marketing hype. This is typical of today's computer advertising and especially true of claims for Broadband speeds - it's always been like this; monitors were always graded on the size of their diagonal including the bit under the bezel!


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1st Published 01/06/2013
last update 01/08/2018 14:48:24

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