Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mediasonic ProRAID HFR2-SU3S2 review

I recently decided to move my four 1TB drive RAID5 setup out of my computer case and into an external enclosure.  I use this RAID to store all the media for the current project I'm working on, while OS and programs are stored on a separate hard drive.  I previously had the 4x1TB RAID5 in my computer case connected to my Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R motherboard's Intel ICH10R SATA controller, which has 3.0Gbps SATA connectors.  I know that everyone recommends an external RAID controller for best performance, but cost was a factor.  I was getting decent enough read and write speeds for the work I was doing, and I never had a problem with the controller dropping the RAID configuration, so I stuck with the motherboard's controller.  I typically work with AVCHD 1080i60 (recorded by my Canon HF20 at 24mbps) and DVCPRO 720p60 footage (recorded on P2 media at 100mbps), and I was getting enough transfer speed to comfortably edit multicam timelines.

I now have a need to add another free standing hard drive to my system, so to free up room inside my case, I decided to get the four RAIDed drives out of there and into an external case.  It was really tight with all those drives in my computer's case.  This will also reduce case temps, increase airflow inside the case, and reduce power draw.  Again, cost was a major consideration, so I had to focus on the cheaper external RAID enclosure options.  I landed on Mediasonic's ProRAID HFR2-SU3S2, which was on sale for $129 at Newegg.

My first impression of the ProRAID is that it has a very solid feel to it.  The unit holds four hard drives and has a built in RAID controller supporting 0/1/3/5/10 RAID levels.  RAID levels are changed with a front panel button.  The case is made of aluminum and the power connector is on the side of the unit, rather than the back, which is awkward.  This unit has a built in, very quiet fan which you can set to three different speeds, or just leave it on an "auto" setting.  The unit will also power up and down automatically as you start and shutdown your computer.

I had a very hard time configuring the ProRAID.  Upon first power up I got an error LED on front panel and the RAID would not be recognized by Windows 7 Disk Management tool.  I followed the manual's description of how to set it up using a RAID5 configuration, but the error LED remained on.  I tried connecting it via eSATA and USB 3.0, but kept getting the same error LED.  I tried a RAID0 configuration, and that worked, so there was hope that this thing wasn't a brick right out of the box.  I switched back to RAID5 and the error LED was back, so I pulled out the drives, reseated them and mixed up their order in the case.  Tried restarting and still got the error message.  Randomly, after another restart, it was recognized by Windows and I never saw the error LED pop on again.

Now I was seeing a new issue:  Windows Disk Management was showing an incorrect drive size.  It was telling me that four 1TB drives in a RAID5 configuration was only 784GB.  Obviously very wrong.  The Intel software that shows the status of the Intel SATA controller on the motherboard was showing the correct usable size for a 4x1TB RAID5 config:  2.8TB.  Windows Disk Management wouldn't allow me to format the RAID to any size larger than 784GB.  I tried a full restart of my computer, and now the MediaSonic ProRAID was only recognizing three of the four hard drives in the RAID, but now it was showing a total size of 1.8TB, which is correct for a 3x1TB drive RAID5 config.  Getting closer, but still not there.  I did another pull of all the drives and reseated them.  Now I tried connecting the ProRAID to another SATA controller on my motherboard (the JMicron JMB362 chip), since I had been connecting via eSATA to my motherboard's Intel ICH10R SATA controller up to this point.  Connected to the JMicron eSATA chip, all of a sudden the ProRAID is finally recognizing all four hard drives and Disk Management is showing the correct size of 2.8TB.  I initialized and formatted the RAID drives with ease.  If you're reading this because you've purchased this device, make sure you use a partition style of GPT (GUID Partition Table) and a file system of NTFS.  Also make sure to right click on the RAID in Device Manager, click on "properties", choose the "policies" tab and check the box next to "enable write caching on the device", otherwise you'll have abysmal write times.  Not sure why this isn't checked by default when you format the drive, but it wasn't for me.  I powered down the ProRAID, connected again to the eSATA port connected to the Intel SATA controller, and all is well.

Now that I got this sucker finally up and running, it's time to do some read and write speed tests.  I used ATTO Disk Benchmark v.2.47.  I'll post the ATTO tests results here for you to check out.  All of these tests were done on completely empty, 7200 RPM drives.

ATTO speed test results:  4x1TB RAID5 residing inside my computer case and controlled by my motherboard's Intel ICH10R SATA controller

The image above is my control, showing write and read speed test results when I still had my 4x1TB RAID5 housed inside my computer case and it was being controlled by my motherboard's Intel ICH10R SATA controller.  The numbers on the left represent different size files (in KB) that ATTO transfers to measure write and read times.  As you can see, pretty nice read times for a motherboard's SATA controller.

ATTO speed test results:  4x1TB RAID5 controlled by Mediasonic ProRAID HFR2-SU3S2 internal RAID controller and connected to an eSATA port controlled by my motherboard's Intel ICH10R SATA controller

The image above shows the speed test results for the ProRAID connected to my comp via eSATA.  The same four 1TB drives that were in my computer were moved to the ProRAID.  I'm even connecting the ProRAID to my comp via an eSATA port that is connected to and controlled by the Intel ICH10R SATA controller on my motherboard.  That's the same SATA controller that these four drives were connected to when they resided inside my computer case.  The only difference here is that the RAID5 is being controlled by the Mediasonic's ProRAID internal RAID controller, rather than the Intel ICH10R's RAID controller.  As you can see, much better write times with the ProRAID (which I read is a limitation on the Intel ICH10R chip), but the read times suffer and seem to cap out at 250MBps.  When editing video, read times are very important, so I'm disappointed to see those drop.  Still plenty of speed for the kind of video I edit, but more is always better.

ATTO speed test results:  4x1TB RAID5 controlled by Mediasonic ProRAID HFR2-SU3S2 internal RAID controller and connected to a USB 3.0 port on my motherboard

The image above is a speed test connecting the ProRAID to my computer via a USB 3.0 connection.  Both the ProRAID and my motherboard support USB 3.0, so I decided to give it a try.  As you can see, I get slower write and read speeds than when I had the ProRAID connected via eSATA.  USB 3.0 is supposed to have faster speeds than eSATA (5.0Gbps vs 3.0Gbps) but as you can see from my speed tests, I get better transfer speeds with the ProRAID using an eSATA connection.  Theoretically I should be getting the same transfer speeds using eSATA and USB 3.0, since I'm not bumping up against the max bandwidth for either interface, so the only explanation here is that my Intel ICH10R SATA controller is simply more effecient than my motherboard's USB 3.0 controller.  Gigabyte describes my motherboard's USB 3.0 chip as a "NEC chip", so I'm not sure what the specific model number is.  I will also say that I haven't fished around for any new driver updates for the USB 3.0 chip, so that might improve speeds slightly.

ATTO speed test results:  4x1TB RAID5 controlled by Mediasonic ProRAID HFR2-SU3S2 internal RAID controller and connected to an eSATA port controlled by my motherboard's JMicron JMB362 SATA controller

The image above is a speed test using the ProRAID connected to my computer via eSATA to another SATA controller on my motherboard:  the JMicron JMB362 SATA controller.  I knew that this SATA controller isn't as fast as the Intel ICH10R controller, and this image shows that.

So as you can guess, my conclusion is that I will use the ProRAID connected via eSATA to a port connected to the Intel ICH10R controller.  I haven't had hours and hours of testing the ProRAID under real world editing conditions, but I can tell you that it I haven't run into any speed issues so far.  It had no problem playing back three DVCPRO HD 720p60 streams for a multicam edit.

I really hate that I ran into these random issues getting the ProRAID initialized.  I'm no A+ certified IT technician, but I do consider myself to be pretty tech and computer savvy.  I could see most general users giving up if they had the same troubles I had getting the ProRAID up and running.  Being a technician, I can't just accept it when a piece of electronics behaves randomly.  I get nervous that it will decide to randomly crap out in the future on me, and of course, at the worst possible time.  So far it's been pretty solid, but I'll keep you updated if I run into any problems with the Mediasonic ProRAID.


  1. Very informative. Appreciate the review. I ahve on myself and just wanted to see what others were getting performance wise. What kind of drives were you using?

  2. Thanks for your comment! All four of the drives I used in the RAID are 1TB, 7200 RPM, 32MB cache, SATA 3.0Gb/s drives. A mix of Hitachi and Seagate, but both have the same specs. No "green" drives were used. Here's some links to the drives:

    How do my read and write speeds compare to yours?

  3. Thanks for the review, very detailed. I'm considering this item myself but I'd like to ask how is it holding up so far (~8 months later)?


  4. Great review. Been looking at a cheap(ish) USB 3 device like this. Thanks again!

  5. Thank you for the effort on your review and testing.

  6. Very informative review, thank you.

  7. Thanks for the review. This is one of the two hardware RAID enclosures I'm looking to buy soon. Your review ended up providing more pertinent empirical data than even an Anandtech review. As for why USB 3.0 speeds are slower than eSATA speeds? IIRC, that is to be expected. Over eSATA you weren't close to exceeding the max bandwidth provided by the SATA II port. Therefore, there is no real-world benefit to the additional theoretical bandwidth provided by USB3.0. Over eSATA, though, everything is native SATA commands. Over USB3.0 signal translation has to be done. The signal translation adds overhead, which makes the USB3.0 speeds slightly slower than the eSATA speeds.

  8. Just picked up one of these. Very easy setup right out of the box. Put in 4x3TB WD Red drives. Came right up on esata. Speeds were good. Switched to usb 3, and the speeds were ok-but not USB3 speeds. USB2 worked ok as well. Back to esata I went. Also, I found this on their forum: http://forum.mediasonic.ca/viewtopic.php?f=68&t=979. Installed the software, and now I can also monitor the individual disk S.M.A.R.T. status and get alerted if a drive fails. Since this thing is on my server in the basement, I don't ever watch it, and wouldn't know if one died or not. So far, so good.

  9. USB 3.0 reliability on this is terrible. On numerous systems, and with two different USB 3.0 cables, it drops out consistently.