When your computing sessions start to need Herculean levels of storage, it’s time to consider a RAID enclosure. These boxes offer flexible space for adding in your own drives, fast data transfers and options for data redundancy that guard against drive failure. Pro audio, graphics or video editors in particular need to read on.

This particular enclosure offers a lot of punch. You can choose from RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 and fill up four empty sleds for a possible total of 3TB. It also comes with a fast multi-lane SATA II cable that connects the enclosure to your workstation.

The Sidecar needs its own PCI Express controller card, which comes in the box, and this needs fitting to a PCI Express-slot on either a Mac Pro or late issue G5 tower (Dual G5 and after). Earlier, PCI-X-toting G5 towers aren’t supported. But with this card and cable up and running, and a rack of new drives installed (not included) you can get some meaty transfer times out of this 3ware box.

Speedy

We installed three of our own 750GB 7,200 rpm Seagate Barracuda drives (£115 a pop) and recorded 147MB/sec read speeds (112MB/sec write) in a RAID 5 configuration using all three drives. By way of comparison, the Dual G5’s own internal 160GB drive read in 52MB/sec, and a single FireWire 400 connected 750GB Seagate external box produced a 36Mb/sec read speed. FireWire 400 maxes out around 40MB/sec in practice, but the results speak for themselves.

Installing the I/O card is no more difficult than changing RAM. You can set up more than one RAID unit depending how many drives you have in the enclosure, and if you have a spare drive left afterwards this can sit and wait as a hot spare.

You can also run the enclosure with one, two, three or four drives and hot swap drives on the fly, provided the RAID scheme you choose supports this; RAID 5 requires at least three drives and offers a great mix of fast transfer speeds and data redundancy.

Easy to configure

Configuration is done using 3ware’s 3DM 2 software, which runs in the background but also has a web-based app to manage the RAID controller. The manual is very clear.

You need to buy your own drives, so you’re looking at around £1,200 to fill it up, though you could start with just the one drive. There’s no Ethernet port, so you’d have to share from a host computer if you wanted to offer its capacity to a workgroup. It’s also rather noisy; reminiscent of a Mac tower with its fans whirring at top speed.