Buffalo DriveStation Quad Review

To describe the Buffalo DriveStation Quad as merely an external hard drive would be doing it a considerable injustice and likely to miss the point.  This is an external drive on steroids and with attitude.

To start with, you’d be hard pushed to call it portable.  It’s 14.9 cm wide, 15.4 high, 23.3 cm deep and weighs somewhere in the region of 5.5 kg, so you won’t be just slipping this in your coat pocket to nip round to your friend’s house.  This is no weedy 500 GB unit for some MP3s and photos from a couple of holidays either.  This monster packs four 1 TB Seagate drives – yes, four – giving a total of 4 TB.  And to top it off, there’s an integrated RAID controller to keep your data safe.

On the front there are four LEDs in the centre that indicate the status of each of the internal drives.  There’s also a single power LED on the right.  Round the back there’s both USB2 and eSATA ports.  The USB2 can be used for both data and configuration of the device, whereas the eSATA connection can only be used for data.  If you’re missing an eSATA port, don’t worry, there’s an eSATA bracket in the box that will convert a free internal connection to an external one.  There’s also a simple auto/off switch.

So what’s it like in action?  Let’s take a look.

Installing the DriveStation Quad software was simple.  The main element is the RAID configuration tool which allows you to configure the array in five different ways, including four independent disks, one big disk, RAID 0, RAID 10 and RAID 5.  It’s all very straightforward and the disk(s) are reformatted after array changes.  Frankly, once you’ve decided what kind of array you want and have configured the Quad, you’re done.  Just get on and use it.

The configuration software also allows you to configure email alerts for a variety of conditions, such as out of space or disk failure.

In addition, there’s a bit of extra software including various drivers to “speed up” your PC, a backup utility and a RAM Disk utility.

After playing with Quad under Windows 7 for awhile, I transferred the Quad to my Ubuntu Linux PC and connected it up with eSATA.  There is no RAID configuration utility for Linux, but as it was already configured as a RAID 5 array, I had no difficulty re-formatting it to one of the Linux formats (ext3) before mounting it.

Running a couple of speed tests, I was able to get an average read rate of just under 260 MB/s, which is actually better than spec (235 MB/s).  To test the RAID capability, I removed one of the disks from the array and then copied some files to the remaining disks.  On restoring the disk to the array, a red flashing light appeared on the front indicating the affected disk.  The other three green LEDs flickered away while the array was rebuilt.  Now, it did take a good few hours rebuild the array but I was still able to read and write to the unit during this time.  Brilliant.

When I first got the Quad out of the box, I have to say that I was a bit unsure of its target market.  It’s too big to be portable.  It’s not a NAS for central storage.  It’s a bit much for just backup.  So what’s it for?  In my opinion, this is a additional hard drive for data hungry users.  Remember when articles said you should store your OS on one partition (or drive) and your data on another? Well, this is how you do it – you have your main disk for your OS, you plug this in via eSATA and you’ve got your data on a rock solid RAID5 array.  Would I want one?  Definitely.

Alternatively, you could plug the Quad into a server and boost the storage space available – it’s fully compatible with Microsoft’s Windows Storage Server 2003/2008 – so this would be an attractive way for a small business to easily and quickly upgrade a server with extra disk space.

The full specs on the DriveStation Quad are available from Buffalo’s website and it should be available shortly.  An RRP hadn’t been set at time of writing but I imagine it will be around £400 inc VAT.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the review unit.