Review : WiebeTech RTX220-QR RAID

Easy to set up and use RAID from WiebeTech.

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Product Manufacturer: WiebeTech, a Brand of CRU DataPort

Price: $499.00 US Plus hard drives

The Good

  • Hot swappable drives.
  • Can use the system during rebuild.
  • Good to excellent performance.
  • Handle for carrying.
  • Everything that you need.
  • Excellent tech support.

The Bad

  • The fan is noisy - but it only runs part of the time.
  • Manufacturing problem on early units (loose cable) can cause front controls not to work.
  • Included software not needed.
In my search for a two-drive RAID box for storage at home, I opted to test the RTX-220-QR - Quad Interface External RAID from the nice people at WiebeTech.

For those readers who are not up on the various kinds of RAID, here's a quick synopsis: RAID stands for "Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks," and is a set of techniques to group more than one disk together in a storage set in such a way that you can increase throughput or reliability. RAID level 0 (striped) spreads the data across multiple disks to increase throughput. Raid level 1 (mirrored) duplicates the data on each of two disks to increase reliability, at the cost of storage space. See Wikipedia for an in-depth description of the various kinds of RAID.

Physical Characteristics

The RTX-220-QR is about the size of a small shoebox: 10 3/4" long, 7" wide, and about 6" tall, and weighs about 11 1/2 pounds with two drives installed. The unit I reviewed had two Hitachi 2 TB drives installed, for a total storage of 4 TB, and a spare 2 TB drive so that I could test the drive swapping. The RTX-220-QR supports three modes: RAID 0 (striped), RAID 1 (mirrored), and JBOD (just a bunch of disks).

On the back of the device, there is a power switch and four interface connections: Two FireWire 800 ports, an eSATA port, and a USB port.

Inside Tray

RTX220-QR Back

The front includes a small LCD screen, and four buttons, plus the openings for the drives. The RTX-220-QR comes with a full set of cables, so that you are ready to connect right out of the box.

Unlike some other RAID boxes, the drives in the RTX-220-QR do not have to be mounted into trays or sleds - they can be inserted directly into the bays in the RTX-220-QR. Also, the bays are on the front of the device, which means you can tuck it into a cabinet or rack, and rarely do you need to pull it out to access the back of the device.

Inside Tray

Hard Drive Installed (Inside Exposed)

The RTX-220-QR's drives are hot swappable, which means that you can remove/replace drives in the unit without powering it down. If you have the right raid setup, you can replace a drive without the host (the computer that is connected to the RTX-220-QR) even knowing.

For those people who need to carry their storage around, the RTX-220-QR has a recessed handle in the top.

Front and Open Bay

Front View Showing Handle and Open Bay

Performance Tests

I hooked the RTX-220-QR up to a 2009 MacPro, and copied 540 GB of data onto it. This took 2 hours and 43 minutes, which works out to about 3.3 GB/minute, or 55 MB/second. This is about the maximum speed you can expect to get from a FireWire 800 connection.

Next, I removed a disk from one of the bays in the RTX-220-QR. Immediately, a loud, annoying tone sounded, and the LCD screen on the front displayed "RAID degraded." Fortunately, pressing the Enter button on the front silenced the alarm. I inserted a replacement disk, and the LCD screen displayed "Add New Disk?" I chose Yes, and it started rebuilding the RAID. In this case, it would copy all the data from the good disk onto the newly inserted disk.

I used 3 GB per second drives; in an ideal world I expect a 2 TB SATA to SATA copy using these drives to take about two hours. This is with no seek delays, no protocol overhead, and everything running at full speed. If the reads and writes could not be overlapped, I expect the rebuild to take just under four hours (in ideal circumstances again). The RTX-220-QR took about 5 hours to rebuild the RAID, which is a very good time. Note that this is significantly faster than FireWire 800 performance.

For my next test, I erased the data from the RTX-220-QR using Apple's Disk Utility. I started copying the data back onto the device again, but after a couple of minutes, I removed one of the drives, and forced a rebuild of the RAID again. The Mac Pro did not notice any of the changes that were going on in the RTX-220-QR-it just kept copying data, albeit at a slower rate.

While rebuilding the RAID, copying was slower - it took about 200 minutes, (instead of 167), and the RAID rebuild was also slower, taking 500 minutes, (instead of 323). This is not surprising, since the RTX-220-QR was doing two things as once.

Real World Use

What I wanted was a way to centralize backups for all my family's machines and an easy way to take a copy of the backup off-site. I hooked up the RTX-220-QR to a Mac Mini using FireWire 400, shared the drive, and configured all the machines to back up with Time Machine to the shared volume on the RTX-220-QR. This worked fine, which is what I expected; the RTX-220-QR appears to the Mac as a simple hard disk. Once every two weeks, I took one of the drives out of the RTX-220-QR, put a blank one in, and told it to rebuild the RAID. The drive that I removed went into a padded case, and the next morning I took it to work, where it would sit on a shelf in my office for two weeks, which performed the role of an off-site backup. At the end of the two weeks, I took it back home, and used it to replace one of the drives in the RAID.

Front View

Front View

My home office is very quiet and my wife rejected other RAID boxes because they were too noisy, because they had fans that ran all the time. The RTX-220-QR comes with a fan that is somewhat noisy when it runs, but it only runs when needed. If I were to use the RTX-220-QR as a permanent part of my setup, I think that I would build a small enclosure to muffle the fan noise. If you work in a regular office, where there are other people around, you probably wouldn't notice the noise.

Tech Support

I had some teething pains with the RTX-220-QR. The first time that I tried to rebuild the RAID, none of the buttons on the front of the unit did anything. I unplugged the device and that annoying alert tone came on, and called tech support. I left a message, and got a callback about two hours later from a very helpful gentleman who told me exactly what was wrong. A cable had come loose inside the box, and he offered to walk me through reseating the cable or to FedEx me a replacement unit. It turns out that this was a known problem with some of the first RTX-220-QR units: During shipping, the cable would come loose. WiebeTech made a manufacturing change to prevent this from happening in the future. Also, one of the three drives that WiebeTech sent me for the review failed during my testing and they overnighted me a replacement drive. While I'd rather have had no problems, the quick and knowledgeable response by WiebeTech tech support was exactly what you want from a company.

The RTX-220-QR as reviewed came with two 2 TB drives, and retails for $863.00 direct from WiebeTech. You can purchase an empty configuration for $499.00 and add your own drives. The RTX-220-QR comes with a one-year warranty. The simplicity of use, great tech support, and performance make this unit a keeper.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor