June 16, 2008

Three Tools for Tapeless Video Media Backup/Editing
Using Bare Drives to Archive Tapeless Media

by David A. Saraceno

Wiebetech UltraDock v.4
Granite Digital Emergency Drive Copy
Granite Digital Drive Shields


The Challenge. Solid state or tapeless video workflow provides many benefits to the video professional, but there are challenges as well. Most quickly evaluate strategies to backup, archive, and retrieve footage shot to solid state cards from Panasonic and Sony, or to direct to edit HDDs. No strategy is perfect, however.

DVDs can archive 8 GB or smaller p2/SxS cards, but burning is slow even with the fastest DL DVD burners. And even dual layer DVDs aren't able to archive higher capacity cards which are expected to reach 64 GB/s by year's end. Blu-ray™ burners can accommodate up to 50 GB/s of data, but the media is still expensive, and long-term storage is untested. DLT drives do not provide random access to files which makes retrieval slow. And no optical or tape solution supports direct editing from the discs or mechanisms. Hard drives are an interesting alternative, but not without drawbacks. They are relatively inexpensive, proven technology, provide speedy backups and can be used for editing. The downside is that they require a power supply and a computer connection -- USB2, Firewire, or eSATA -- and that usually demands an external case for each drive. This can be pricey.

With these factors in mind, I evaluated a couple of products that subjectively represent the best value in backup strategies for tapeless video media. Each involves tethering a bare SATA or PATA (IDE) drive to a diminutive dock mechanism that provides power and alternative interface outputs. And then storing the drives in inexpensive protective enclosures. These docking devices plug into bare 2.5" and 3.5" PATA/SATA drives, and connect to your computer using USB2, Firewire or eSATA cables, or a combination of all.

Bare hard drives are relatively inexpensive when evaluated by dollar per gigabyte of storage. A 250 GB SATA drive runs about $70.00 from various on line vendors, and will store about sixteen (16) 16 GB SxS or p2 cards. That's approximately eleven (11) hours of DVCProHD 720/24pN footage. A $130.00 750GB SATA drive triples storage at less per gigabyte dollar. The economies are there, and the devices mentioned here provide attractive archiving and retrieval strategies. And for the most part, you can edit directly from these bare drives.


UltraDock™ v.4
Multi-port Adapter for Bare SATA/PATA Drives
eSATA, FW400/800, & USB2 (2.5- & 3.5-inch)

What's In The Box. The UltraDock v.4 is essentially a hydra for 2.5- and 3.5-inch bare drives. PATA or SATA drives connect directly or using easily attached data and power plug adapters depending on the drive being used. The unit's LED lights indicate what interface is in use and whether 4-pin or DC power is being accessed. The unit is constructed of lightweight metal, and has one FW400, two FW800, USB2, and eSATA ports. A worldwide compatible external power brick supplies the juice. A recessed on/off switch resides on the top of the unit. On the unit's right side is a 4-wire connector that will attach to the computer's power supply if that is more convenient.

FireWire 800, 400, USB, and eSATA host cables are provided. A metal bottom plate and screws is supplied, and the operational guide is contained on a mini CD. As I stated, LEDs indicate busy FireWire or USB connections, whether the +12V input jack is active, and for disk drive power. The unit is 4.3" x 2.95" x 0.87".

Attachments. Setting up a bare PATA or SATA drive takes about 10 seconds. Plug in the attached ribbon cables to the drive's power and data ports for PATA drives, and you're set. SATA drives attach the same way, but use a small combined SATA data/power supply adapter. You can the connect the device to your computer using either the USB2, FW400 or 800 or eSATA cables. It is that simple.

Data Rates. I tested the unit with a bare Seagate Seagate ST3500320AS, one of the fastest available SATA drives. When mounted internally in our MacPro, the AJA Kona System Test returned a 108 MB/s read/write.

I removed the drive, and attached it to the UltraDock v.4 to test it externally using USB2 and FW400/800. I didn't test for eSATA.

As the graph indicates, all three interfaces provide speedy data transfers to archive solid state video media. More on that later. The Firewire connections supported direct editing of SxS and p2 media.

Convenience/Versatility. The UltraDock v.4 provides both easy access to PATA and SATA drives of different sizes and multi-interface connections to your Mac or PC. Real world USB2, Firewire 400 and 800 data transfers basically reflected theoretical throughput for each interface. Although eSATA connections were tested, I suspect that they would approach my internal rates, which is about four times faster than USB2. The device is versatile, convenient, well-built, and easy to set up and use.

A second advantage to the UltraDock v.4 is the ability to edit from a bare drive with a Firewire or eSATA connection. Those data rates supported editing DVCProHD or XDCAM footage at 1080i/60 and 720/60p. While USB2 could theoretically support some HD editing, I did not test it.

Conclusions. As magnetic-based devices with moving parts, hard drives can fail and data can be lost. But if properly stored and handled, the drives make sense. They are reasonably inexpensive per gigabyte, sold in terabyte or larger sizes, and can be obtained and stored economically. DVD optical media will not support larger solid state cards, blu-ray™ media and drives are expensive and unproven and actual data backup is slow. DLT/LTO solutions are not random access and are magnetic based.

The UltraDock v.4 provides four options for connecting to a computer, all in a solidly built, portable package. While not the cheapest solution, its versatility makes it more cost effective than individual external enclosures. And it provides the most options consistent with the media and codecs being archived, accessed and edited. It is one device that will serve all your archived bare drives.

Emergency Drive Copy
SATA/IDE to USB2 Connector


Granite Digital's Emergency Drive Copy device works with 2.5-,3.5- and 5.25-inch IDE or SATA drives and provides driver-less connections to your computer's USB1/2 ports. Transfer rates are consistent with the USB2 protocol. All adapters, cords and connectors are supplied, and the device includes a switched power supply with dual power connectors.

I've always admired Granite Digital's products, and the EDC was no exception. Connections are quickly made to SATA and PATA drives, and then to our MacPro via USB2. I experienced only one issue when trying to mount two SATA drives that did not have alternative IDE power plugs -- a Maxtor 300 GB drive and a Seagate 500 GB. My Hitachi SATA drives with IDE and SATA power connections mounted without issue regardless of which plug was used. Granite Digital tells me that they have had no issues with any drives.

The unit is limited to USB2 interface transfers rates, which presents a compromise -- a non optimal editing interface and slow transfers for backup. But again, the price for the device, and others in its category, is considerably less expensive that FW or eSATA options. But backup and retrieval, the device works well.


Drive Shields
Protective Shields for SATA/IDE 2.5" & 3.5" HDs.
$10.00 - two shields (2.5/3.5-inch singles)

The most eloquent solution protect and store your bare SATA or IDE drives are the flexible protective covers offered by Granite Digital. Each packet consists of two flexible skins that stretch to fit over a single 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch SATA or IDE drive. The skins are durable, anti-static, non-conducive, impact resistant, and lightweight. They are engineered to protect the circuitry of the drives and provide easy access to power and data ports. Slide the front of the drive mechanism in first, and then pull the flexible skin over the drive's back. Drives are protected on all sides, and can be stacked or stored for easy access.

You can easily attach USB2 or FW-based power supplies and connectors without removing the drive shields. My only criticism is that they cannot be purchased in bulk for just 3.5-inch drives. These shields are much more elegant and versatile than static bags.

Copyright ©2008 David A. Saraceno

David A. Saraceno is a motion graphics artist located in Spokane, Washington. He has written for DV Magazine, AV Video, MacHome Journal, and several state and national legal technology magazines. David also moderates several forums on 2-pop.com, and contributes as a Level IV as the Apple Professional Applications Discussions.


copyright © David A. Saraceno 2008

This article first appeared on lafcpug and is reprinted here with permission.

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