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OWC ThunderBay 8: Overview
Related: backup, hard drive, noise, Other World Computing, OWC Thunderbay, OWC ThunderBay 8, RAID, RAID-0, RAID-1, RAID-5, SoftRAID, SSD, storage, Thunderbolt
Configurations up to 128TB (8 X 16TB). Larger capacities might become available later in 2020. Various drive choices available including standard and enterprise drives. Includes SoftRAID Lite or SoftRAID XT, which can also be used in non-RAID configuration.
The OWC ThunderBay 8 houses eight hard drives or SSDs of either 3.5" or 2.5" form factor. It is not a hardware RAID system, but an incredibly flexible high-performance multi-drive enclosure, using SoftRAID.
The magic of an eight-drive enclosure solves various limitations and headaches of enclosures with 1/2/4 drives:
- 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 (16TB drives) and 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!
- 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!
- Thunderbolt certified for Mac and Windows
- Plug-and-play ready: no drivers needed and includes Thunderbolt 3 cable
- See your work: DisplayPort 1.2 for connecting up to a 4K display
- Daisy-chain expansion: second Thunderbolt 3 port for adding up to five additional Thunderbolt devices
- Works with 3.5" or 2.5" drives — no adapter needed.
- Quick drive swaps: thumb screw release trays.
- OWC ClingOn ready: cable stabilizer prevents work session interruption and possible data loss.
- Up to 5 Year OWC Limited Warranty.
Configuration, performance, capacities
- Eight hot-swappable universal drive bays: mix or match 2.5-inch (no adapter needed) and 3.5-inch HDDs and SSDs
- Capacities up to 128GB (should be possible to increase with 18TB or larger drives).
- Includes SoftRAID: robust software for creating, monitoring, and managing advanced RAID sets
- With hard drives, up to ~1700 MB/s of sustained performance in RAID-0, ~1600 MB/sec in RAID-5 (speeds might be slightly higher or lower depending on hard drive mode). High speeds possible if SSDs are used.
- Pro-grade transfer speeds: up to 2586MB/s real-world tested speed with Thunderbolt 3 port (SSDs)
- Supports RAID 0, 1, 4, 5 and 1+0 (10) via OWC's advanced SoftRAID engine
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.
OWC ships the unit as a single large volume in RAID-5 configuration, a wise choice with 8 drives. 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.
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.
* JBOD = Just a Bunch Of Disks, meaning each drive is seen independently.
RAID is not a backup
With eight 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. Moreover, the noise is not in any way unpleasant as to frequency and such—just a steady 'white' fan noise, and the Toshiba 6TB drives mixed into that. At an inch or so away from the front of the OWC ThunderBay 8, noise levels measure 53 dB, dropping to 46 dB a foot away, according to the DecibelXP Pro app on my iPhone 7 Plus.
Still, for my own usage, I would want to locate the OWC ThunderBay 8 under my desk (as I do with my OWC Thunderbay 6 and OWC Thunderbay 4 units)—they are not silent and I prefer to get as close to silence as possible. So a two-meter cable is in order for users like myself.
OWC supplies a 0.5 meter Thunderbolt 3 cable with the ThunderBay 8; this requires placing the unit quite close to the computer. Some users might want to purchase a one meter or two meter cable for positioning the unit further away from the computer.
At much lower cost than Apple, with more options.
Lloyd recommends 64GB for iMac or Mac Pro for photography/videography.
Additional drives, drive removal
Drives are mounted in drive carriers that are released without tools using a thumbscrew mechanism. Because OWC sells additional drive carriers, it is possible to quickly swap drives with other drives in additional carriers. For example, should a drive fail in a RAID-5, simply remove the bad drive, insert a replacement, and let SoftRAID incorporate the new drive into the RAID-5. Professionals on deadlines should keep a spare matching drive in hand so that there is no delay in replacing a failed drive. This drive can be used for backups or other duties until and unless needed.
Similarly, one could (as just one of many possibilities), make a RAID-5 out of 4 drives, and use the other two drives for clone backups or Time Machine or whatever, and swap those drives with others for rotating backups.
Choosing a unit
Think out ahead of time whether a 4-bay or 8-bay unit is better for your needs. OWC also has a 6-bay unit the OWC Thunderbay 6, but MPG advises going to the 8-bay unit if more than 4 bays are needed, for total performance and flexibility.