iomega UltraMax 640GB

Long-time experts in storage solutions, iomega, have come a long way since their introduction of the semi-successful zip disks and are hitting back at its competitors with the release of the UltraMax external drive. Destined for Mac users with its pre-formatted HFS+ file system, the UltraMax is a RAID storage system with two 320GB hard drives that are fed by USB 2.0, FireWire 400 and 800 connections (of which cables are included for all three). This is more for the serious user who demands performance at the expensive of space and noise because the UltraMax although proved to be fast, did not go about doing its job very quietly.

Specification

Three interfaces line up the back of the drive with USB 2.0, FireWire 400 and FireWire 800. There is also a 3 port USB hub and a second FireWire 800 connection. Inside the enclosure are two 320GB SATA hard drives spinning at 7200RPM with 8MB cache each.

Design

iomega are aiming this drive for the Mac user since it ships HFS+ ready, which is the native format for the OS X file system and what better to celebrate this ‘stick it to Windows’ attitude than by putting the two RAID 0 SATA drives in a chassis reminiscent of the Mac Pro case. Windows users can still use this drive, all they have to do is reformat it to either FAT32 or NTFS, but I guess that’s score one for the Mac community since it tends to be us that have to do the extra legwork.

The all aluminium enclosure is beautiful to look at and even nicer to touch. When powered up, behind the famous ‘cheese grater’ grill you will find a soft blue glow emitting when the power button is hit. iomega has definitely done their homework on Apple’s industrial designs because the small features like the power button are all inspired by the Mac Pro and imitated to a very accurate degree.

Despite this, I couldn’t say that the UltraMax could pass of as an Apple designed product and still sleep at night because it’s just not the truth. The truth is it’s a very close imitation that will go well with any of the most recently launched Apple product such as a MacBook Pro or Mac Pro sharing the same aluminium gorgeousness that they have about them.

Features

With 640GB of space to store your content, there really is some serious disk platter space to burn with a rapid read and write response times achieving the fastest scores in all four of my hard drive benchmarks. The trick in doing this is using striped volume RAID 0. This is a method of getting two or more disk drives connected together (two in this case) and mounted as one to form one large disk array that can read and write at the same time, a simple case of two legs are better than one, allowing the UltraMax to achieve impressive times when it comes to ‘running’ for your data and getting it back to you.

There is also the option to have it as Non-RAID and have your system recognise it as two separate hard drives. There’s also JBOD, the same as RAID 0 only it fills one drive up first then starts filling the second drive.

Alternatively, you can set this up as a RAID 1 set up and have the second 320GB drive make an exact replica of what is written on to the second drive. This makes for an ultra secure backup medium that is always live and up to date because any data you save on to one drive is immediately copied on to the second drive at the same time. If one of the drives fail you just fall back on to the redundant drive and use that as your backup copy, that is unless both drives fail on you.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the enclosure design, it’s nigh on impossible to get inside of the unit to replace the hard drives should anything go wrong, which kind of defeats the point of the target market for this product. For the high end professional that is going to be giving this drive a constant battering days at a time (video editing, processing, production, 3D graphics work) the drives will eventually fail and when it happens it’s very important that these drives be easily and cost effective to replace and the UltraMax ticks none of these boxes.

Performance

In my 1.07GB single file transfer it took the UltraMax a mere 35 seconds to complete the task using the FireWire 400 connection, once again proving that this interface is still king of transfer speeds and is not to be messed with, leaving the USB 2.0 drives in the dust. This is why my next purchase of an external drive will definitely have at least a FireWire 400 port on it. The same test using the USB connection delivered a result in a less impressive 1 minute and 7 seconds, still quicker than the Freecom drive I just reviewed by 7 seconds but a far cry from the 35 seconds over the FireWire connection.

The second test I involved the transfer of 3GB of 1020 files and again the FireWire won the speed the test with a 2 minute 11 seconds finishing time and 3 minutes and 32 seconds over USB 2. Unfortunately I don’t have access to a machine with FireWire 800 (Apple didn’t put one in to the early versions of the MacBook Pro) so I haven’t been able to test out the fastest data transfer speed that this external storage unit has to offer but I have no doubts that it will be incredibly fast.

Evaluation

With the ability to offer blisteringly fast performance and the flexibility and ease of switching to different RAID options, the iomega UltraMax represents the hardcore sector of the external storage market with its innovative and stylish design mirroring the much wanted industrial design of Apple products, making it an ideal match for them. The pre-formatted file format of HFS+ makes this an easy buy for those who require massive RAID storage for their Mac as it comes ready to work straight out of the box.

Packed with multiple interfaces ranging from USB 2.0 to FireWire 800, you also have a 3 port USB 2.0 hub and the ability to plug in an extra FireWire 800 device for a daisy-chain link. Using the FireWire system to transfer files to and from the drive performed far better than using the USB connection on the same drive as well as compared to others in a similar category.

Whilst the unit is larger and noisier than other systems that are available on the market, the asking price for a 3 port RAID system that offers two hard drives totalling 640GB more than justifies it, pack in the great design and you’ve got yourself a no-brainer buy if you’re looking for a heavy duty mass data storage solution.

2007-05-16 Onwah Tsang

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