I recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2. It’s a drive enclosure that supports up to 4 SATA drives in a variety of RAID configurations. It is Mac and Windows compatible and offers a wide range of connectivity options including USB 2.0, FireWire 800, and eSATA. Powerful functionality packed into a sexy brushed aluminum drive chassis.
The first thing I noticed about the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 was the excess of care taken in packing the device for shipping. The drive chassis was packed in a large heavy-duty cardboard box encased in layers of packing foam. The foam layers protect the drive bay, but they also encased the 4 2TB SATA hard drives that were included in the version I tested. The drives were shipped with insulating foam separating each mechanism from the other contents of the box. All of this added up to a very large shipping container, but one that should easily stand up to the depraved hands at FedEx or UPS. Clearly no expense was spared when it came to shipping material. This is a bonus for the customer since the drive case and mechanisms are very well secured.
All of the packing material might lend one to think that the drive case is fragile. That is certainly not the case. The enclosure is made of beautifully finished brushed aluminum. Heavy gauge, quality material and matches the aluminum used on the case of the currently shipping Mac Pro line. Esthetically, this drive case makes a perfect compliment to the industrial design of Apple’s existing hardware. Add to that a physical keyed lock to protect the drives from unauthorized access, and a series of easy to understand LED status lights and you have a drive case that excels in both form and function.
So, now that we have established that the case design is hot, we really need to know how it performs. And since the drive offers a full compliment of connectivity options, I took the opportunity to run some tests on each. I anticipated the eSATA interface being the winner, but its also interesting to see how FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 interfaces would compare.
For my tests, I used a Mac Pro 2×2.66GHz Dual-Core Mac Pro (8GB of RAM) with an eSATA expansion card and onboard ports of the USB and FireWire. As a secondary means of comparison, I used a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo Unibody MacBook Pro (4GB of RAM), and an ExpressCard based eSATA solution.
The OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 was configured with 4 identical 2TB SATA Western Digital hard drives striped into a level 5 RAID. The Level 5 RAID offers data redundancy while striping all 4 hard drives into one logical volume. While a Level 5 RAID does not yield the highest possible performance, it promises high throughput while still protecting against data loss in a situation where a single drive mechanism fails. Since this is likely the goal in many use cases, I thought it the best configuration for testing.
We will start with a sent of benchmarks run on the Mac Pro’s boot drive to establish a sort of baseline for performance. Then we’ll take a look at the eSATA test, followed by the FW800, and the finally USB 2.0.
Mac Pro 1TB SATA Internal Boot Drive:
Mac Pro OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 via eSATA:
Mac Pro OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 via FireWire 800:
Mac Pro OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 via USB 2.0:
Rather than go through the basics again with the MacBook, I decided to compare what matters most. I wanted to see how the laptops normal boot drive stacked up to the eSATA based external drive.
Here’s the comparison.
MacBook Pro 5400rpm Boot Drive:
MacBook Pro OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 via eSATA ExpressCard:
As expected, in both cases the eSATA configuration generated the best performance scores. The USB 2.0, and even the FireWire 800 scores didn’t compete well against the boot drive on the Mac Pro’s internal SATA bus. But the read speeds of the Qx2 double in performance when using the eSATA connection. Write speeds are less impressive, but show a marked improvement over the internal drives. Keep in mind that the internal boot drives have redundancy to hamper performance, but they protect no data either.
Based on my tests, the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 is a solid win for anyone looking for fast external data storage that offers RAID caliber redundancy. The drive case is an excellent example of efficient air circulation keeping the enclosure quiet while the drives stay cool. And the drive can be easily added to any workstation, or it can be added to an existing file server and shared with multiple users. The Qx2 looks as good as it performs, just make sure you spend a couple of extra bucks and order an eSATA card at the same time. A couple of extra bucks spent are well worth the gain in performance!