Home Server enthusiasts with storage needs that exceed the built-in 4 drive capacity of the MediaSmart Server have welcomed the recent release of the EX490, EX495 and the X510 DataVault that brings the return of port multiplier support to the eSATA connection. This allows the user to connect an external eSATA storage enclosure with up to 5 hard drives to greatly increase the storage capacity of the Home Server. An added benefit is that these drives are often hot-swappable, which means drives can be easily added and removed from the enclosure. This makes it even easier to create backups of your shared folders or Windows Home Server client backups and take those backups off-site for protection against disaster.
With the recent release of the EX490, EX495, and DataVault Home Servers, it was good timing that iStoragePro contacted me with the opportunity to evaluate one of its eSATA storage enclosures.
iStoragePro is a design and manufacturing company based out of Irvine, California and has been in business since 1983. It started as a designer and manufacturer of personal computer peripherals and has evolved to providing server and storage enclosure solutions.
From browsing the iStoragePro site, it appears the company has so far targeted its line of enclosures primarily at video editing professionals and enthusiasts. The manufacturer specs show very high performance that is well suited for those data intensive tasks, and the design and appearance of the enclosures make them appear right at home sitting next to a Mac workstation.
I chose to evaluate the iStoragePro iT4ESA JBOD enclosure, which is a 4 bay unit that presents all the drives as “Just a Bunch Of Disks” (JBOD), rather than a single RAID managed array of disks. This configuration will be preferable to almost all Windows Home Server users, since they will be using the built-in Drive Extender functionality to manage the drives in the storage pool, and may want to rotate a backup drive in and out of use in the enclosure.
Here are the manufacturers specifications of the iT4ESA.
- 3Gbit eSATA interface – single cable to host
- Up to 8TB of Disk Capacity
- Four hot-swappable disk modules, supporting 3.5″ SATA II drives each with up to 32MB cache and higher
- Removable Low Noise cooling fan
- Universal Power Supply: 120-240VAC auto switching
- Unique design, aluminum enclosure finished
- Standard 3-year Factory Warranty
- Mac OS X, Windows compatible and Linux
- 19″ x 18″ x 13.5″ dimensions, 32 lbs weight (when loaded with 4 drives)
- MSRP $425
iStoragePro also provides a list of Qualified Host Bus Adapters that are known to work well with the Storage Enclosure.
- Addonics – ADSA3GX4R5-EM RAID/JBOD (PCI-X SATA)
- Addonics – ADEXC34R5-2E Express Card 34 RAID5 (SATA)
- Highpoint Technologies – Rocket RAID 2314 (PCI-e SATA RAID)
- Addonics – ADEXC34R5-2E ExpressCard 34 RAID5 (SATA)
- Addonics – ADSA3GX4R5-E RAID/JBOD (PCI-X SATA)
- HighPoint Technologies – RocketRAID 2314 PCI-e (SATA)
Interestingly, the Silicon Images SiL3531 chip in the EX490/EX495/Data Vault is not on this list, fortunately I experienced no compatibility issues. I also tested it with a Silicon Images SiL 3132 based PCIe card in my desktop PC, as well as the Marvell 88SE6111 chip in the EX470 and EX475 and the enclosure worked fine with all of them.
The Suggested Retail Price for the iT4ESA is $425 with no drives included which is more expensive than some other consumer enclosures, but is competitive when compared with similar higher-end products targeted at the video editing professional.
Hardware and Packaging
The iStoragePro is packaged very securely, arriving double boxed with generous foam inserts that protect it from the hazards of shipping. The package contains the iT4ESA enclosure, a power cable, 1 meter eSATA connector, 4 sets of screws for the drive trays, keys for the door of the enclosure, and a quick start guide. The included eSATA cable is not of the type that locks into the connector which is a more reliable connection to the server, however I experienced no issues with the included cable in any of my testing.
After removing the enclosure from the packaging, I was a bit surprised at the size of the enclosure which appears to be roughly 25% larger than comparable units I’ve seen. I was also uncertain of the curved “handles” on the top of the unit, however I quickly acquired an appreciation for the ease of handling they provided when moving the enclosure. My strongest initial impression was with the quality of construction of the iStoragePro. The powder-coated aluminum finish is quite attractive, and all aspects of the enclosure feel very sturdy and well made.
The iT4ESA includes several features that I found appealing and are not present on some of the other storage enclosures that I’ve used. The exterior door has a round key lock to deter theft of the drives in the enclosure. However, I did not see the Kensington Lock slot on the rear of the enclosure that can be found so commonly on consumer electronics. There are also 6 LEDs on the rear of the server that indicate eSATA connectivity, as well as connectivity and activity of the internal drives. These cast a blue glow behind the server that flashes when the drives are active.
The most obvious feature on the rear of the enclosure is the two thumb screws that provide easy access to the exhaust fan. After removing the cover there is a quick-disconnect fitting where you can replace the stock component with any standard 80mm fan that utilizes a 3-pin connector. The fan is thoughtfully covered by a grill on the inside which protects from wires or even fingers coming into contact with the spinning blades.
Inside the front door are the four drive bays, with each slot numbered and a matching numbered drive tray. Each tray has a green power LED, and blue disk activity LED.
The hard drive trays do require screws to attach the drives, which is something that always disappoints me after being so accustomed to the screw-less drive trays of the MediaSmart Server. The drive trays are metal which should aid in heat dissipation, and they also feature a lock mechanism to prevent the accidental ejection of a drive. In practice, I think this feature is nice but not critical, since simply pressing the blue activation button didn’t forcibly eject the drive. The user is still required to pull on the lever to remove the drive from the enclosure. There is also the fact that the drives are already protected behind a locked door, however having the extra security can never hurt.
On the bottom of the inside panel is a bright blue power LED, a red fan error LED, and a button that can be pressed to disable the audible alarm triggered by a fan failure. The LEDs are bright, especially the large front Power LED and the rear connectivity and activity LEDs. I appreciate the configurable brightness of the lights on the MediaSmart Server, and would love to see options available to dim or even turn off the LEDs in many of the products that I use. I did test the warning mechanism by unplugging the exhaust fan while the enclosure was running, and it worked well. The red Fan Error LED blinked on and off slowly, and the audible alarm sounded in a similar intermittent pattern. The alarm was loud enough to be easily heard, but not so loud as to be unpleasant or painful to listen to. The alarm silence button worked as expected and disabled the audible alarm, though pressing it again did not re-enable the alarm.
Home Server Storage Expansion
I’ve been using the iStoragePro enclosure with my EX495 for the past couple of weeks, and have been very pleased with its performance. Two drives in the enclosure were added to the Windows Home Storage pool to expand the storage capacity of the Home Server and allow me to enable duplication of the shares, and I added another drive as a Server backup drive. I created several backups of the Shared Folders using the built-in functionality of Windows Home Server, and also performed several backups of the Client Computer Backup Database using my WHS BDBB Add-In.
I also copied approximately 40 gigabytes of music files across the network and was unable to observe a performance drop of storing the files on the enclosure when compared to internal storage of the MediaSmart Server. I made sure the files would be stored on the enclosure by moving all secondary storage drives from the MediaSmart Server over to the enclosure, since Windows Home Server will not store data on the System drive unless the other drives are at capacity. We’ll see some performance charts later in this review, but from a subjective view the enclosure performed very well.
Throughout my time using the enclosure with the EX495, I was regularly hot-swapping drives in and out of the enclosure, both Windows Home Server storage drives and also backup drives. While it is not recommended to do this with the Storage drives, the system was very quick to identify drives when added to the enclosure, and did not experience any hangs as we’ve observed in the EX470 and EX475 servers. I attribute much of this to the new Silicon Images chip used for eSATA connectivity on the MediaSmart Server versus the Marvell chip used in the EX47x servers.
I also tested the iT4ESA enclosure with the EX470/EX475 MediaSmart Server utilizing a Marvell chip for eSATA connectivity. There are some know quirks with the Marvell chip, such as only seeing 4 of drives when the Silicon Images chips will recognize 5 drives, and some occasional issues with hot swapping drives. Hot-swap seemed to work, and I was able to add and remove drives from the storage pool. Here is a screenshot of the Server Console with 4 drives loaded in the enclosure. The “Unknown” location is a due to the EX475 not being able to differentiate external drives properly, this is resolved in the EX48x, EX49x and Data Vault servers.
Computer Storage Expansion
Another valuable use of an eSATA storage enclosure is via direct attachment to your client computer. This can be particularly useful for the unlikely scenario of recovering data off of your Windows Home Server hard drives in the event of a catastrophic system failure, such as a failed motherboard.
I connected the iT4ESA containing several Windows Home Server drives to my primary desktop computer via a Silicon Images SiL 3132 powered PCIe card that offers two eSATA ports. The drives were quickly and easily recognized by my 64bit Vista Ultimate PC and I was able to browse the Windows Home Server shared folders from my EX495. I took this opportunity to run a simple performance test comparing the read and write performance of a 1TB drive both in the iT4ESA enclosure and directly connected inside my PC via the motherboard SATA port. As you can see the enclosure was a little slower in the read tests, and performed comparably in the write tests.
Sound and Power Consumption
I’ve not yet come up with a reliable way to measure the sound output of the products I use, so my observations on the noise level of the iT4ESA are entirely subjective. I found the iT4ESA to be a bit louder than the MediaSmart Servers, especially the newly improved and more quiet EX490 and EX495. The exhaust and power supply fans themselves were fairly quiet, and I believe the noise I was observing was primarily caused by air moving through the enclosure. This leads me to believe that a switch to allow the user to selectively slow down the exhaust fan might mitigate the noise of the enclosure.
The positive aspect of the high rate of air flow is that the drives contained in the enclosure stayed up to 10 degrees Celsius cooler than when they were in the MediaSmart Server, as observed by Sam Woods’ excellent Disk Management Add-In.
I used my Kill-A-Watt P3 to measure the power consumption of the iStoragePro enclosure. For general usage testing of the enclosure I utilize a variety of drives ranging from 500GB to 1.5TB, however for the power consumption measures I used four identical 500GB Seagate drives, none of which were “Green” drives such as the Western Digital GP series.
- 0 drives: 9 watts
- 1 drive: 20 watts
- 2 drives: 29 watts
- 3 drives: 38 watts
- 4 drives: 48 watts
The iStoragePro iT4ESA storage enclosure is very attractive, has a high build quality and excellent performance. It also provides some design features that differentiate it a bit from other similar products that I’ve used. However these features, quality, performance and 3-year warranty do come at a price premium. I’m very pleased with my experience with the iStoragePro enclosure and definitely recommend it for use with your Home Server.
- Attractive, with very high build quality
- Useful design features such as locking door, easy fan access, hardware alarm, and locking drive trays
- Fantastic drive cooling performance
- Excellent performance
- 3-year warranty is longer than many other consumer products
- Screws required to mount drives to the trays
- No “Kensington Lock” to deter theft of the enclosure
- Enclosure is a bit more noisy than I would prefer, and fan speed not adjustable
- LEDs more bright than I would prefer, with no dimming adjustment
The iStoragePro products are currently available through the resellers listed on their site. The portable drive products are also via Amazon.com and I’ve been told that iStoragePro may be making more products available there.
I’d like to thank iStoragePro for providing me with the opportunity to evaluate the iStoragePro iT4ESA eSATA storage enclosure.
iStoragePro is currently running a sweepstakes where it is promoting a new portable storage drive. You can register here for your chance to win one of eight 2.5″ Portable USB/Firewire 320GB drives, the promotion code to use is PKT1006.