The OWC Mercury Rack Pro is a hard-drive enclosure designed for the high-performance demands of audio and video production. Whether you want it for production, backup, or a combination, the unit is mission-ready out of the box. Working with Mac or PC, it's configurable as a desktop or rackmount unit. Its bays accept four SATA drives for capacities up to 12 TB. Connectivity includes FireWire 400/800, USB 3.0, and eSATA. There is also a built-in eSATA port-multiplier for daisy chaining eSATA devices (and if you've ever experienced the speed of eSATA, you'll have difficulty tolerating slower speeds). Don't worry about buying extra cables. The system includes a complement of double-shielded cables - FW800 (9-9pin), FW400 (6-6 pin), USB 3.0, and eSATA. 

Drive configuration is hardware selectable. The simplest option is just a bunch of drives (JBOD), or you can choose concatenation (span). But if you install identical drives, you're afforded the standard RAID levels 0, 1, 3, 5, and 10. RAID level choice depends on storage capacity, data safety, and performance needs. For example, a tracking computer might want level 3 or 5 for maximum safety; a mixing computer might want RAID 0 for fastest performance; while level 10 gives a balance among all three concerns. (For detailed explanations regarding RAID, see your internet search engine or ask a geek.)

As a significant bonus, OWC provides free licenses for backup and utility software when you purchase a storage solution. I'm not talking about fluff. These are some hard-hitting titles - NovaStor NovaBACKUP for Windows; and Prosoft Engineering Data Backup, Intech SpeedTools Utilities, Carbon Copy Cloner, and OWC RAID Manager for Mac OS X. You could purchase some of these independently and spend about $150 doing it. I know - over the years, we've paid retail for three of the listed titles.

Although OWC is known as a first-call Apple upgrade vendor, the Mercury Rack Pro also works with Windows machines. As more pro video and audio houses do work on Windows machines, this is a big plus. We tried our review unit on a PC running Windows 7, a G5-based Mac, and an Intel-based Mac. We had no integration issues with any of the hardware or operating systems, although I will say again, eSATA rules!

The tracking guys opted to go for RAID 10 (also called RAID 1+0 by some). This offered both data redundancy and speed by writing files onto mirrored drives within a striped set - fast enough to record 32 tracks at 24-bit, 48 kHz. They used the FW800 ports on a MAC G5 running Pro Tools HD 7.4 for those tests. I moved the unit over to mastering, where I use a PC running Windows 7. When you change RAID modes, you have to reformat the drives, but that wasn't an issue. I used the system in JBOD mode along with GoodSync ( for PC. (Thanks for the recommendation, AH.) It allows me to back up my internal working drive at the end of the day. The backup of my working drive is subsequently cloned to another drive. If you don't have things in two places, you don't really have your data. And with respect to my backup, it too requires a backup - what if it fails? JBOD mode allowed me to eject each drive from the Mercury Rack Pro as the drive reached capacity - and replace with another high- quality Seagate. (But remember, if you're using RAID, you need identical hard drives.) For our last set of tests, we used an Intel-based Mac and connected via the eSATA port. This Mac was not equipped with an eSATA port. However, OWC also sent a Newer Technology MAXPower 6G PCIe eSATA RAID controller ($47.99) with multiplier support. This card allows up to five drives on a single eSATA port. It doesn't take up any of the motherboard SATA ports, and the logic board on the MAXPower card handles the RAID controller workload.

In terms of transfer speed, FW800 maxes out at about 100 MB/s, while SATA 6Gb/s at 600 MB/s. Pretty impressive. (Note that USB 2.0, considered fast by most people, is limited to 60 MB/s - 10% of eSATA's speed.)

Sure, storage units are not a "sexy" place to spend money. But without reliable disks, your work - and your clients' work - is at peril. This is no place to trust a random hard drive from a big- box office store. Remember, the drive mechanism may be from a brand-name maker (e.g., Seagate) but cheap enclosures use cheap control chipsets. We've lost two production drives from a prominent Mac brand. After opening them, we found they used unreliable FireWire controllers. Heck, why do you think Avid publishes a list of approved chipsets? It's not for fun.

Before I had the chance to test the OWC Mercury Rack Pro, the number of vendors I trusted for production audio storage was exactly two. I'm happy to say a third is on my list now. Every unit comes with a 5-year warranty and 24/7, US-based, free lifetime technical support. The Mercury Rack Pro is professional in appearance, performance, and reliability. And especially with the included cable and software bundles, I submit that it's a steal, as well.

(From $719 direct; 

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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