New VR Mini from CalDigit
CalDigit has started to ship an revolutionary product, which easily stands at the head of the class of dual 2.5 inch externally enclosed disk drives. What makes this unit stand outside the norm are two notable features. First, the LCD display on it's face and (likely more important) the fact that the drives are easily hot swappable. Yep! Finally a form factor weighs 1/4th as much as a similar 2-drive 3.5 inch unit, and it easily fits in anybody's laptop bag as it fits in the palm of your hand. Fast enough to edit HD video with, this unit is my current favorite amongst its peers.
The LCD keeps track of extremely valuable information about your unit. The RAID Configuration, the temperature, and the hard drive health. You can get the information from the LCD, or from the RAID tool (more about that later).
The VR Mini appears to be extremely rugged (as are all of CalDigit's products). I'd not be afraid to put this in my soft laptop bag and tote it everywhere I go. In fact, during the time I've had the test unit, I've moved it all over Colorado, and it just keeps on tickin'.
The VR Mini keeps cool with it's heat sink design, so there's no loud fan to muck the the sound around you, and the ability to not only connect eSATA, but also to run bus powered at the same time! It's smart enough to know that if you've connected the SATA port and you've also connected the FireWire port that you intend to power through the FireWire, but pass data through the SATA connection. Pretty slick indeed! However if you intend to use the eSATA port, and use the FireWire bus on your computer for other peripherals you may want to connect the supplied power adapter to power up your VR Mini, and keep that firewire port open for use with a firewire device which doesn't like sharing busses. AJA's Io HD comes to mind here.
The VR Mini supports Raid 0, 1, and JBOD as well as "Span". (Where the unit appears to be just one disk drive, however it records data to one drive at a time and simply spans on to the second drive once the first one is full. I'm not quite sure why you would want this configuration, but it does add the ability to have a file actually span the two drives. Maybe if you're recording directly to the drive, this makes sense.
All of this controlled, monitored, and even email notified by CalDigit's RAID Tool. The interface for this utility is clean and very easy to understand. CalDigit has a dandy QuickTime video on an overview of the software and it's uses, and it is likely this video is all you'll need to get you going with RAID tool.
That said, you actually can reformat the unit using the two buttons found on the front of the unit, and viewing your commands on the LCD! Now that's cool!
I can certainly see a VR mini being used for tape-less media backup on sets. With it's hot swappable drives, it could be used in a RAID 1 configuration, and get a redundant backup that way. If a drive fails, it automatically rebuilds that RAID 1 too. You could even daisy chain two of these units to get quad redundancy for your shoots.
With it's speed, you can easily playback every format except uncompressed HD. It's perfect for a road warrior's external disk array for editorial purposes. The available models are a 640GB unit for $629 MSRP, or a 1TB unti for $679.
As you fill the small drives, you can replace them with populated trays available from CalDigit and you retain full support from CalDigit when you buy them. I'd do so because CalDigit tests each drive before they are ever shipped. I think this makes it worth any small premium that may be involved. And It's a very small premium indeed: $129 for 320GB drive or $179 for a 500GB drive and tray. It's a no brainer, buy your extra drives from CalDigit.
The CalDigit VR mini has everything you need in the box if you're intending to connect via FireWire or USB. An adapter will be needed if you want to use the eSATA connection, and CalDigit's adapters are first class. They make one for a laptop, and they make one for a tower as well. You'll gain about 25-30% more speed if you conned through eSATA, but I've found it plays back ProRes 1080 HQ all day long just connecting throught FireWire 800.
There is a "hidden" technology that is included with the unit as well. It's flashable. Since it contains chipsets that can be updated through firmware updates, you'll rest assured that if some change to your OS that might affect external drives can be addressed with a new firmware update from CalDigit. Might even get one that speeds up the already speedy unit! Very impressive.
It's all fine and well to have an extremely well designed product available, and it's another thing to back it up with support, and from my experience with CalDigit, you needn't worry about either situation. They have responsive customer service and they have a product here that's second to no one's. First in it's class for sure, and let's face it: It's just plain chic.
Here are the specs:
Size and weight
Supports RAID 0, 1, Spanning, JBOD Automatically online fast disk rebuilding Automatic disk failure detection Hot swappable disks
Power Supply Adapter
1394 Bus Power
Note that the upper two screws you see in the picture of the rear of the VR mini will be replaced with easy to use thumbscrews to open the door that reveals the two drives for replacement.
I like this unit a lot and will give it the coveted 5 cows in a heartbeat!
-- Jerry Hofmann