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OWC Thunderbay FLEX 8: Overview
Related: hard drive, noise, Other World Computing, OWC Thunderbay, OWC ThunderBay FLEX 8, PCIe SSD, RAID, RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID-5, SoftRAID, SSD, storage, Thunderbolt
MPG tested the OWC Thunderbay Flex 8 with four 2TB SSDs and four Toshiba 4TB MG04ACA hard drives. Configurations up to 128TB (8 X 16TB) possible.
The OWC ThunderBay FLEX 8 houses eight hard drives or U.2/M.2 SSDs of either 3.5" or 2.5" form factor along with an 8-port dock with 85W charging port and a 4X PCIe card slot. .
It is an incredibly flexible high-performance multi-drive enclosure, using SoftRAID.
The magic of an eight-drive enclosure plus ports and PCIe card solves all sorts of add-on challenges:
- Single power cable and Thunderbolt 3 cable eliminates considerable mess and power waste vs single or dual drive solutions.
- Massive storage expansion potential: up to 128TB per enclosure ( 8 X 16TB drives). Up to six enclosures can be daisy-chained off a single Thunderbolt 3 bus = 768TB! Larger hard drives (20TB drives will arrive on the market soon) can push that close to a petabyte!
- Up to 16TB (4 X 4TB) SSD with option for up to 16TB PCIe SSD in PCIe slot.
- Outstanding flexibility with eight drives: eight single volumes, four 2-drive mirrors, one 8-drive RAID-0 or RAID-5 or RAID-1+0, two 4-drive RAID-0 or RAID-5 and so on!
- Up to 4 SSDs instead of hard drives.
- 4X PCIe card slot for any kind of PCIe card, such as a GPU or a PCIe SSD.
- Thunderbolt certified for Mac and Windows
- Plug-and-play ready: no drivers needed and includes Thunderbolt 3 cable
- DisplayPort 1.4 for connecting up to an 8K display3
- Eight Universal 3.5/2.5-inch Drive Bays Use SATA/SAS1 and U.2/M.22 NVMe drives for up to 128TB of capacity and real-world speeds up to 2750MB/s.
- Front mounted USB-C and (2) USB-A 10Gb/s ports for peripherals and mobile devices.
- Front CFExpress and SD card slots.
- Supports RAID 0, 1, 4, 5 and 1+0 (10) via OWC's advanced SoftRAID engine
- Daisy-chain expansion: second Thunderbolt 3 port for adding up to five additional Thunderbolt devices
- Up to 5 Year OWC Limited Warranty.
The Thunderbay is a JBOD* solution (not a hardware RAID): the system sees all drives individually and thus it can be utilized that way using Apple’s Disk Utility (not advised) or preferably SoftRAID.
The JBOD approach is flexible in that it allows RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID 1+0 and RAID-4 or RAID-5 or independent drives or any combination of these.
Partitioning can be done whether using RAID is used or not. For example, in an 128TB unit, it is possible to configure eight separate volumes each itself a RAID-0 or RAID-5 and so on, all sharing the same drives. Or any other similar combinations.
With 4 hard drives, OWC ships the unit as a single large volume in RAID-5 configuration for the hard drives, and a single volume for the 4 SSDs. Many other configurations of RAID are possible in total mix and match of RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID-5/RAID-4, RAID1+0 or individual drives, and mix 'n match of for example, 6 hard drives and 2 SSDs and a GPU or PCIe SSD in the PCIe slot, and so on.
* JBOD = Just a Bunch Of Disks, meaning each drive is seen independently.
RAID is not a backup
With four or more hard drives, the chances of a single drive failure are significant over time. For that reason, an eight drive RAID-0 stripe configuration should not be used unless rigorous backup procedures are in place. With the modest 12% reduction in speed with RAID-5, the smart move is to use RAID-5, which can survive failure of one of the eight drives. Perhaps at some point SoftRAID might offer RAID-6, which could survive failure of two drives.
Note that RAID of any kind is NOT A BACKUP and should NEVER be counted on fully, because theft/fire/flood, hackers and viruses, user error, and software bugs are other risks. It is also wise to use a data integrity validation program like diglloydTools IntegrityChecker.
OWC has done a strong job in minimizing noise while maintaining excellent cooling, particularly given the large volume which must accommodate up to 8 spinning hard drives and a PCIe card. Moreover, the noise is not in any way unpleasant as to frequency—just a steady 'white' fan noise, and the Toshiba 4TB drives mixed into that. At an inch or so away from the front of the OWC ThunderBay 8, noise levels measure 49 dB, dropping to 40 dB a foot away, according to the DecibelXP Pro app on my iPhone 7 Plus.
Still, I prefer as close to silence as I can get, and presumably some video users do to. I would want to locate the OWC ThunderBay FLEX 8 under my desk (just as I do with my OWC Thunderbay 8 and OWC Thunderbay 4 units). For this purposes, a 0.75m cable (supplied) is two short, order a two-meter cable for under-desk usage.
See also Choosing an OWC Thunderbay FLEX 8 Configuration.
Apple 13.3" MacBook Pro M1 Chip with Retina Display (Late 2020, Space Gray)