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OWC Thunderbay IV / 4 Thunderbolt Enclosure

OWC Thunderbay, front

Various configurations starting at about $499 without drives. Thunderbay RAID-5 edition also available.

The OWC Thunderbay IV (Thunderbolt) or Thunderbay 4 (Thunderbolt 2) houses four hard drives or SSDs in an aluminum case via Thunderbolt connectivity. OWC supplies a one-meter Thunderbolt cable with the Thunderbay. The unit is bootable for OS X.

Unlike its 2-bay Mercury Elite Pro Dual sibling which offers hardware RAID, the Thunderbay is a JBOD* solution: the system sees all four drives as separate drives. This JBOD approach is used by many external enclosures including the CalDigit T3.

JBOD is flexible in that it allows RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID 1+0 and RAID-5 via software, but also supports single drives/volumes, which is highly attractive for backup. And of course, partitioning can be done whether RAID is used or not.

Software RAID is achieved via Apple’s Disk Utility or via Soft RAID, including RAID-5 (SoftRAID 5 only).

* JBOD = Just a Bunch Of Disks, meaning each drive is seen independently.

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JBOD and backup

Because OWC sells additional drive carriers, it is possible to use the Thunderbay to insert/backup/remove backup drives. Just bolt the spare drives into carriers, and swap at will (unmount drives and power down the unit first of course).

For example, one might use dual Thunderbay units: one unit for always-attached “master” storage, and a 2nd unit for swapping external backup drives (multiple sets, at least two copies strongly recommended) in order to backup the drives in the “master” unit: power off the unit, insert the drives, power up and backup, unmount and power off, remove drives.

It’s quite fast and easy and cable free. The drives can be removed from the unit or kept inside the Thunderbay unit, as one wishes. One might contemplate extending this idea to use 2/3/4 Thunderbay units for backups, each containing four backup drives. The number of redundant copies should reflect the value of the data to be protected. Use a tool like IntegrityChecker to verify data integrity for an additional sanity check.

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Acoustics

Update April 7, 2014: the fan noise is now quelled. A quiet fan went in on March 10, and an ultra-quiet fan in early April 2014 builds. For early 2014 units, an ultra quiet fan for $9.99 can be had.

No longer applicable:

The Thunderbay is a 4-bay enclosure with beefy power supply and oversize fan to keep even hot-running drives cool. There is fan noise, and the fan is not variable speed, so it runs the same whether the drives are idle or busy. That is one area that could be improved (variable speed fan by temperature requirements).

Your author is very sensitive to noise and would prefer a quieter fan, but has yet to find a 4-bay unit that can be called whisper quiet or even anything close to that. The nearest thing is the CalDigit T3, but it has three bays; the requirements for cooling rise significantly with a fourth bay. Moreover, the OWC Thunderbay has no restrictions on drives that can be used; it is built to cool drives well.

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Visuals

Finished in a black semi-smooth finish which should hold up well to wear.

Front

The front grill can be locked if desired using the supplied keys.

Status lights on the front indicate the status of each drive, labeled A/B/C/D.

Visible through the front grill are the four bays. OWC sells extra drive carries, and the unit can be used to swap drives out, e.g., for backup purposes.

OWC Thunderbay, front

Rear

Dual Thunderbolt ports allow daisy-chaining.

A Kensington locking slot is provided. The power supply is internal (no power brick).

OWC Thunderbay IV Thunderbolt solution, business end
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