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Thunderbolt RAID 1/5/6/10 Enclosures in 2022/2023 – A Buyers Buide

19 septembre 2022 à 18:00

Choosing the RIGHT Thunderbolt RAID Enclosure – First Time

If you have been looking for a thunderbolt storage solution with on-board RAID functionality in 2022/2023, then chances are that you might have noticed a bit of a problem! You see, unlike older USB enclosures, thunderbolt 3/4 with on-board RAID (otherwise known as Hardware-RAID or SoC RAID) are surprisingly thin on the ground and in particular, if you are looking for a RAID 5 Thunderbolt enclosure, the options are INCREDIBLY LIMITED! If you are looking for a 1-2 Bay solution (using a Mirror/RAID1 configuration) you are spoilt for choice, with hundreds of recognized and unknown brands throwing thousands of solutions at you! But at soon as you look at 4, 5, 8 bay (or larger solutions), you suddenly hit a brick wall and your options change from ‘thousands’ to just a handful. Now, this is made even more complicated when you find out that SOME of these solutions are RAID-Supported but do NOT actually have inbuilt RAID functionality (typically listed as ‘JBOD’ solutions – Just a Bunch Of Drive, relying on your connected Mac/PC system to create and support the RAID – something that diminishes performance in many cases and leads to concerns of accidental disconnection (wire pull, power cut, system software failure, etc). THEN you find out that some solutions are not available without HDDs or SSDs pre-installed (more often than not with preset drives from the same brand that cannot be changed or swapped easily). So if you have been looking to buy an empty/unpopulated Thunderbolt enclosure with in-built RAID 5/6/10 support, but want to use some drives you already own or were on offer during amazon prime day – you seriously only have around 10 solutions available in the market right now! Buying a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 RAID-enabled solution can be incredibly difficult and incredibly tiring to browse through – and I haven’t even mentioned NOISE when these systems are in operation! Today I want to discuss the subject of Thunderbolt RAID boxes for data storage, why it is so difficult and why Thunderbolt 4 enclosures are hard to find right now! Then at the end, I will make some recommendations on RAID-enabled Thunderbolt Boxes to suit every kind of user that you can find in 2022 and 2023.

WHERE are the Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4 RAID Enclosures?

If you have an editing suite that is already working with 1080P raw, has begun processing 4K and you want to future proof for 8K down the line, then it makes sense that you might be looking for Thunderbolt 4 (TB4) and USB 4 RAID 5/6/10 enabled enclosures. Despite Thunderbolt4 not increasing the maximum possible bandwidth compared with TB3, it DOES provide numerous handling, power and efficiency benefits – as well as the cross-over with USB4 and all USB-C. However, there is a little to no RAID solutions (outside of RAID1 / Mirror 2-Bays and single drives) in the market right now. Now, rewind to a few years ago when Thunderbolt4 and USB4 was first revealed and commercial release was discussed. At that point that heavily indicated that 2022/2023 was the point when TB4 would largely overtake TB3 (as both were adopted by MoBo manufacturers, hardware vendors, Mac releases and USB-C continued to dominate). HOWEVER, then the pandemic happened. The pandemic had a huge impact on practically ALL areas of hardware production, such as changes in buying patterns forcing production lines to constantly change what they produced inconsistently, changes in working conditions heavily reducing output and transit/logistics being reduced to under 10% of pre-pandemic levels resulting in goods not moving! THEN you had continued and increased semi-conductor shortages resulting in low/zero production of key components that are needed in Thunderbolt hardware (as well as a large % of Intel products). THEN you have the continued U.S-China trade war affecting the movement and availability of goods globally AND the Russia-Ukraine conflict affecting the availability of Neon (another key chip/component resource that is hugely needed) and further harm on production/logisitcs globally. The result is that although TB4/USB4 was supposed to be hugely available/ubiquitous BUT it is taking considerably longer to arrive commercially and therefore most people have decided to invest in Thunderbolt 3 RAID solutions. That isn’t to say that TB3 RAID Products are not affected by the factors hitting TB4/USB4, but Thunderbolt3 solutions have been in the market for 4-5 years at this point and therefore there is ALOT more available in stock and the components needed are more readily available.

Buying a RAID-Enabled Thunderbolt 3 Enclosure – WHY is it SO Difficult?

As mentioned, in spite of Thunderbolt 3 RAID HDD and SSD  enclosures being available in huge varieties and scale, when it comes to choosing a solution that is affordable, flexible and scalable – the range of options are actually tremendously SMALL! Now, if you require a pre-populated, turn-key (i.e works right out of the retail box) RAID enclosure with Thunderbolt, there are ALOT of solutions (with LaCie and SanDisk largely dominating the market). But the simple fact is that there are considerably MORE smaller-scale users, such as those that are:

  • Self-employed Photographers and Videographers (Weddings, Events, Marketing, etc)
  • Small teams of video editors who are freelance or take on 1-2 projects at a time
  • Content creators on public streaming platforms (YouTube, Twitch, etc
  • Brand/Marketing agencies that have small pockets of team members working from home/remotely

For users/small-businesses like these, there is a very HIGH DEMAND for RAID storage for editors of a particular preference. These are:

  • 1080p/4K, as well as Editors/Producers who are thinking of migrating to a 4K editing suite in the near future
  • 50-60TB Storage Threshold
  • RAID 5/6 enabled, but (crucially) small scale, for reasons of Noise and Physical space
  • Flexibility of storage media, as many users want quieter drives or faster SSDs, or half/partially populate their system and allow adding more drives later
  • Reasonable Price Point, another big reason for users opting for unpopulated/empty solutions

Now, that largely equates to 5-8 Bay Thunderbolt 3/4 storage systems with RAID on board and no fixed HDD/SSD media. However, as of September 2022, there is practically NONE in the market providing this kid of solution – ONLY Terramaster, OWC, HighPoint, Netstor and Areca being the predominant brands available globally that actually provide this! Now, I should highlight that there ARE solutions available in 2-Bay, 1-Bay, JBOD and NVMe from many other brands. But when it comes to RAID 5/6/10 Ready solutions with in-built RAID management, the options are incredibly thing. Otherwise, you need to opt for a JBOD solution and purchase a suitable RAID Card (Atto, MSI, Area, etc) or create, run and support the RAID remotely via your OSX/Windows storage software in your Operating System – NOT ideal!

Which Brands Provide Thunderbolt RAID Enclosures in 2022 and 2023?

Right now, there is a consistent batch of about 8-10 brands that provide Thunderbolt RAID solutions in one shape or form globally in 2022/2023. This is not ALL the brands currently solutions, BUT I am not including ‘unbranded’ solutions or solutions from the east that are the same RAID box under countless manufacturers (see Netstor/Highpoint/etc) So, here are the brands from Thunderbolt external RAID storage the end users choose right now:

Terramaster Thunderbolt 3 RAID Enclosures

+ Very Affordable and Regularly on Offer

+ Latest Generation of 6/9/12/16 Bay Solutions are high build quality

+ Available Unpopulated, so more cost-effective + flexible

+ Portable Chassis

– Smaller 2/4/5 Bay Chassis are Plastic/Metal

– Slightly Noisier Operation due to Chassis Build Materials

Terramaster have been a provider of both NAS and DAS RAID systems for quite a few years now and when it comes to Thunderbolt equipped systems, they are just in the process of rolling out their 2nd generation of solutions. Right now they are the most affordable brand to choose right now in this field, are regularly on offer online and their portfolio contains storage solutions that arrive unpopulated. They are also the only name on this list of TB RAID providers that have an unpopulated 2-bay RAID 0/1 box, a 16-Bay RAID 5/6/10 Box and although the smaller devices arrive in hybrid metal/plastic solutions, the 8 bay and higher solutions are all most completely metal chassis that have a huge amount of passive and active cooling in place. This does result in the system having a slightly higher avg noise level when in operation, but once you are talking about this kind of storage volume (comfortably cracking 350TB using the most recently released WD Red pro 22TB HDDs). The newer releases are powered with an INTEL JHL7440 + Marvell 88SE9485 internal RAID controller, so the larger boxes have a good level of internal hardware management to maximize performance.

Terramaster D5 – 5-Bay, RAID 5/6, Unpopulated

Terramaster D16-331 – 16-Bay, RAID 5/6/10 Unpopulated

Terramaster D8-332 – 8-Bay, RAID 5/6/10, Unpopulated

$699.99

$3499.99

$699.99


OWC Thunderbolt 3 RAID Enclosures

+ Very Affordable

+ Very ‘Black Magic’ esc design

+ Available Unpopulated, so more cost-effective + flexible

+ Portable Chassis

– PCIe Option only available on 8-Bay

– Slightly Noisier Operation due to Chassis Build Materials

OWC are a hugely well know brand in the world of Mac and thunderbolt 3/4, so therefore it is unsurprisingly that they have an extensive range of Thunderbolt RAID solutions in their portfolio. Although they have a range of compact 2.5″ and NVMe SSD enclosures for those looking at faster storage for live editing 4K etc, their range of Thunderbay enclosures (currently TB3, but no doubt TB4 is just around the corner) are designed for those that need a huge about of capacity, but also wish to remain flexible about its deployment. All of these arrive unpopulated, so you can be very choosy about the HDD/SSDs you want to install, but the real jewel in the crown is the Thunderbolt Flex – an 8-Bay inclosure that ALSO features a docking station type front panel that includes USB, SD and daisy-chained TB devices AND the enclosure has a PCIe slot to install a Graphics/Sound/storage card that will be accessible to the host system over TB3. These chassis are all metal enclosures and therefore once again you need to factor in the noise during operation, but if yo uare a Mac user and want an affordable solution, but also something with some series scalability, then the OWC range of TB3 solutions might well be your best choice.

OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini RAID 5 Edition 4-Bay, RAID 5, Unpopulated

OWC ThunderBay 8 RAID 5 Edition 8-Bay, RAID 5/6, Unpopulated

OWC Thunderbay Flex 8 Thunderbolt 3 HDD Storage Docking Station w/PCIe, RAID 5/6/10

$349.99

$879.99

$1279.99


LaCie / Seagate Pre-Populated RAID Enclosures

+ Very Appealing Design and High-Quality Build

+ All using Enterprise/Pro Class HDDs and SSDs at each tier

+ No Quibble Warranty

+ Significantly Easier Setup/PnP deployment

– Expensive

– Lack of flexibility in storage media (all Terabyte tiers have fixed HDD/SSDs)

Of al the names in this list of recommended Thunderbolt RAID solutions, LaCie is the one that the majority of Photo/Video editors will likely be familiar with – thanks to their incredibly popular Orange external drives. However, they do have a small but exceedingly high capacity range of RAID enabled Thunderbolt3 solutions too. The 2-bay solution, the ‘2big’, is a combined RAID solution and docking station, but when you start looking at the 6big and 12big, you REALLY start to see the brand stretch it’s muscles a bit. LaCie is a ‘Seagate’ company and unsurprisingly that means that they all arrive pre-populated with Seagate storage media. You CAN select the individual capacities (starting at 8TB and scaling up to 100s of Terabytes), but they also means that the initial price tag of these solutions when compared to unpopulated solutions from Terramaster and OWC, is CONSIDERABLY higher. It is worth highlighting that LaCie Thunderbolt RAID solutions DO run quieter than those more affordable solutions and the HDDs inside the larger enclosures are cheaper re-popualted that buying the same drives individually from an eSite, so you can see that the LaCie ‘big’ range is largely focused on bigger and more higher production buyers.

LaCie 2big 2-Bay, RAID 0/1, Pre-Populated

LaCie 6big 6-Bay, RAID 5/6, Pre-Populated

LaCie 12bit 12-Bay, RAID 5/6/10, Pre-Populated

8TB – $604

32TB – $1499

24TB – $2499

108TB – $6999

72TB – $5999

216TB – $15899


Sandisk / G-Technology / WD Pre-Populated RAID Enclosures

+ The best-looking chassis design of the bunch

+ All using Enterprise/Pro Class HDDs and SSDs at each tier

+ Despite Pre-populated Sale, they have a VERY wide range of storage options (capacity/media)

+ Quieter Ambient noise when in operation than most

+ Significantly Easier Setup/PnP deployment

– VERY Expensive

– Arrives Pre-Populated (all Terabyte tiers have fixed HDD/SSDs)

Western Digital has juggled its identity several times in the last decade or so when it comes to thunderbolt storage, releasing solutions under their own WD external drive name, the G-Technology brand and using their acquired SanDisk brand too. In 2022/2023, when it comes to Thunderbolt RAID 5/6 storage, they have largely consolidated all this under a single name – Sansdisk Professional G-RAID, with several system revisions inside that for different scales of user. Much like LaCie, their enclosures arrive pre-populated BUT the range of Hard Drives and SSDs that you can choose the system arrives populated with is considerably broader than LaCie. The larger 4/8-Bay enclosures are designed for portability (a big factor for video production/on-the-fly post production/remote shoots) and are incredibly rugged in their enclosure construction. They also somehow do this and still arrive as the lowest ambient noise-producing RAID box of all the ones listed today and are quite easy on the eye too. The larger bay pre-populated RAID  enclosures however DO use enterprise/pro class drive media (Western Digital Ultrastar / WD Red Pro) and although that means fantastic performance, it also means a noticeably higher price tag and even the larger G-RAID Shuttle ambient noise control cannot really cover the high sound level of these drives. Nonetheless, the Sandisk Professional G-RAID series is the most enterprise choice of the bunch and although expensive, is the option for the highest tier of video edtors.

SanDisk Professional G-RAID 2-Bay, RAID 0/1, Pre-Populated