Review: GTech G-RAID 500 and G-DRIVE-mini
Posted Sep 26, 2006

In the video business, we use a lot of storage, and next to tape, the medium we require most is hard drives. All of my workstations, except the one I bought in January, are stocked with all the hard drives I can fit in them. And the drives themselves also fill up pretty quickly. Like many videographers out there, I have some projects that are stored only on the drives and some that get stalled and have been on the drives for years.
     At some point, you can't just depend on internal storage, however well-augmented; you must resort to external drives. These come in two flavors, FireWire/IEEE 1394 and USB 2.0, and between the two, I prefer the FireWire drives. If you compare the maximum data transfer rates of the two technologies—400 Megabits per second (Mbps) for FireWire 400 drives versus 480Mbps for USB 2.0—you might conclude that USB is better. It's not. USB cannot sustain the 480Mbps transfer rate, and the variations in transfer speed can cause irregular performance. FireWire, by contrast, sustains its 400Mbps transfer rate reliably.
     In 2004, 1394b/FireWire 800 appeared first on Apple computers and is now available on Windows PCs with inexpensive PCI cards. FireWire 800, as the name implies, doubles FireWire's 400Mbps transfer rate to 800.
     In this review we'll look at two drives from G-Technology (G-Tech), a 100GB external drive and a 500GB RAID solution, that are available in all three configurations—USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800—alone or in different combinations of ports for maximum compatibility. We tested both as FireWire 800/400 drives.
     G-Tech is a spin-off of Medéa Corporation, known for affordable, high-performance video storage solutions. Medéa was acquired by Avid during NAB 2006, but G-Tech lives on with a diverse line of storage solutions, many targeting our market, including the two we'll evaluate here.

Casing the G-Techs
The G-RAID 500 is an external combo Firewire 400/800 enclosure that houses two 250GB Hitachi 7200RPM drives. The G-DRIVE-mini is a single 2.5", 100GB, 7200RPM Hitachi notebook drive in a FireWire 800 enclosure. The enclosures are built to appeal to the look-conscious Mac crowd, having the same design as the G5 Macs and new Mac Pros.

On the practical side, the enclosures are 100% aluminum and very sturdy. There is a small fan in the RAID enclosure (the G-RAID 500's brilliant design acts as its own heat sink), while the G-Drive-mini has no fan at all. This is an important point, as the enclosure is cool to the touch and quiet—a rarity for external hard drives in my experience. The drives are so quiet that I've often found myself forgetting to shut them off at night.

Running cool isn't something to overlook. The cooler your drives are, the less prone to errors they will be, and the longer they will last. It's also nice to know you can touch the drives without burning yourself; I've burned myself on a cheap plastic enclosure from CompUSA, and it went back to the store the next day.

The G-RAID ships standard with a power supply, FW 800 cable, and CD-ROM containing all the documentation. The G-RAID comes formatted in Apple's Hierarchical Filesystem (HFS), which makes the unit plug-and-play for Mac users. If you are a Windows user, you'll need to reformat the drive in the NTFS format.

Testing the G-RAID
I first used the G-RAID 500 on my HP xw8200 (3.4GHz Xeon, 2GB RAM) workstation. To use the G-RAID with FireWire 800, I had to install a FireWire 800 card, which is available from G-Tech for $70. I began testing the unit by editing a project in Adobe's Premiere Pro 2.0, and everything from capture to output worked fine. There was no lag when you hit play, and the real-time preview was great.

On my second project with the G-RAID, I had issues. At one point after I got up to take a break, I came back to find that all of my clips were offline. After confirming that no one was playing a joke on me and then checking the settings and connections, I relinked the media and it was fine.

About 30 minutes later the same thing happened. This led me to check out the G-Tech forum on www.creativecow.net. There I found out that this was a known issue, due to a faulty power switch on a number of units. Luckily, G-Tech is only a 35-mile trek for me, and it took them only 20 minutes to replace the switch and test the drive. According to G-Tech, this problem is confined to a batch of drives manufactured between October 2005 and March 2006. If you think your RAID is among those that were built with a bad switch, you can call their support line and determine if it was in the botched batch by having them look up your serial number. In the rare event that the switch problem, or any other for that matter, pops up when you use a G-RAID, call G-Tech tech support. If circumstances require it, you'll receive an RMA number to send it in for repair.

Upon bringing the RAID back to my edit bays, I decided to try it on a different system. This time I put it on my HP xw4100 (3GHz, 1GB RAM) with a Matrox RT.X100 board. On this system, I have only a FireWire 400 connection. While Matrox doesn't like to approve external FireWire drives for its systems due to the various factors that can cause problems, their worries proved unfounded in my tests. The system handled two streams of real-time video, with filters and effects and two stereo audio tracks, without a single hiccup. And it performed just as well with Matrox's real-time MPEG-2 encoder.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to try this with any real-time HDV systems, but as I do future reviews on such systems, I'll be sure to try it out.


figure 1Testing the G-DRIVE-mini

The G-DRIVE-mini comes with a FireWire 800 cable and leather carrying case. This drive is much smaller than any other FireWire drive I've seen or owned. While others may appreciate the drive's sleek design on an aesthetic level, to me it is pure convenience. I do a lot of on-site editing and a bit of cross-country travel. I like to pack everything I need into a small backpack. Its contents usually include my 15.4" laptop, an external drive, an analog-to-DV converter, and various power supplies.

The G-DRIVE-mini is about 1/4-1/3 the size of my other FireWire hard drives. You really notice it when trekking through the airport. It uses the same integral heat sink design as its larger G-RAID brother, for quiet running. The difference is that the mini has no fan, which means it's quiet and power-efficient.

So far the G-DRIVE-mini has survived a number of trips to the airport. One of my other drives had an accident while leaving the x-ray table when it flew out of my backpack. That drive's enclosure was made of plastic and aluminum—not 100% aluminum like the G-Drives—and when it hit the floor, it fell to pieces. The G-DRIVE-mini has a much more solid enclosure.

Another nice thing about the G-DRIVE-mini is that it will power off of the FireWire bus. However, it won't power off of a PCMCIA card adapter, or via the 1394 bus if you're using the FireWire 800-to-FireWire 400 adapter cable. If that is your connection, you can purchase an optional $20 AC adapter that will provide power. I highly recommend purchasing the adapter even if you think you won't need it.

One slight issue I had with both G-Tech drives in testing involved the connection to my laptop. For some reason, the FireWire 800 PCMCIA card wouldn't work with either drive. I tried a second FireWire 800 card, and it still wouldn't work. According to G-Tech support, the problem arose most likely because I needed to update to Windows XP Service Pack 2. I tried the update, but the configuration still hasn't worked. The short-term solution is a FireWire 800-to-FireWire 400 cable. With this set-up, the G-DRIVE-mini worked well on a number of projects.

Conclusions and Recommendations
In testing, both the G-RAID and G-DRIVE-mini proved to be real troopers. Aside from requiring that I replace a defective switch, the G-RAID performed flawlessly using the FireWire 400 and 800 connections, and I highly recommend it.

The G-DRIVE-mini worked perfectly on direct FireWire 800 connections from G-Tech's optional FireWire 800 card in my HP Xeon Workstation. However, it never took a liking to G-Tech's PCMCIA FireWire 800 adapter (we tried two), and would only communicate with my laptop via the 4-pin FireWire 400-to-9-pin FireWire 800 cable. That said, the blame could reside with the laptop itself; the Mini did work flawlessly when using the built-in FireWire 400 port.

All in all, based on its size, stamina and value, I highly recommend the G-DRIVE-mini—especially if you travel.