The external hard drive that I use for backups suffered a massive hardware failure and died unexpectedly. Being only a backup drive, it should have been nothing more than a simple inconvenience. It wasn’t, because I had done something incredibly stupid. When my main hard drive space got low, I put some important files on that backup drive that weren’t backed up anywhere else. When my drive suddenly died, I found myself with some significant data loss. Rebuilding those lost files is going to be a bitch and it didn’t have to be that way.
The last few years have seen some welcome changes in the storage industry. Drive prices have fallen while drive densities continue to rise. It’s now easier and more affordable than ever to put together a more comprehensive backup solution that relies not on a single hard drive, but on multiple drives to add an extra layer of data protection. One such product is the Guardian MAXimus from NewerTechnology. It’s a self-contained backup solution which uses a single enclosure that houses 2 hard drives and a hardware RAID-1 controller. What does that mean? It means whatever is written to the primary drive is duplicated exactly on the secondary drive, creating an identical copy. If the primary drive fails, the secondary drive can take over immediately with no loss of data. All of this happens automatically, with no assistance required from the user. The unit looks and acts as a single hard drive. It’s an excellent all-around solution that offers both versatility and ease of operation.
Opening the commendably heavy-duty box, the first thing you notice is how beautifully packed everything is. The main drive assembly is fully cocooned on all sides by thick layers of foam padding which also contain cut-out compartments for the external power supply, cord and accessory cables. The unit also comes with set-up documentation as well as a nice software package. More about that later….
The Guardian MAXimus drive unit itself is both substantial (5.8lbs when filled with drives) and handsome, with a chassis of black aluminum and a front fascia comprised of several status lights and a large perforated grill for airflow. On the back you’re greeted with 4 different interface options. In addition to USB 2.0, you also get firewire 400 and 800, as well as eSATA. With such a wide variety of interface options, compatibility shouldn’t be an issue….unless your computer predates the USB port, in which case this is not the unit for you. I was also pleased to see that NewerTech includes a cable for every interface the unit supports. You get an eSATA cable, a USB 2.0 cable, a Firewire 400 cable and a Firewire 800 cable right in the box. NewerTech should be commended for this. It’s a class move.
The enclosed documentation covers both Mac and Windows installation, but on the Mac side, it couldn’t get much simpler. Connect the drive unit to your mac with one of the provided interface cables, plug the array in and flip the power switch. In a few moments, the drive appears on the desktop pre-formatted in journaled HFS+, ready to use.
The MAXimus also comes with a very nice suite of free software. For the Mac, there is Prosoft’s DataBackup which can handle a variety of backup tasks including versioned or synchronized copying, full drive cloning, and of course, simple copying. It also includes a scheduling option for creating automated backups. Additionally, the disc contains Carbon Copy Cloner…perhaps my favorite backup utility and one of the easiest ways to create a fully bootable, cloned backup. NewerTech also includes the Prosoft SpeedTools suite of utilities which can handle a wide variety of tasks including defragmentation, backups, data integrity testing and even the ability to detect and map-out defective disk sectors. In short, everything you’d need to monitor, repair or backup your drives is included. I’m rarely a fan of pack-in software which tends to be buggy, crippled or just plain useless. These apps however are both polished and comprehensive. Again, NewerTech scores by actually thinking about what its customers might need in a product, and then including it.
So in the midst of all this good, are there any drawbacks? A few, perhaps. Despite NewerTech’s assertion that their “thermoregulated smart fan” offers “super quiet operation”, It’s hard not to notice the everpresent whoosh of fan noise, especially in a quiet room. To be fair it’s not overpowering, and may even be inaudible in a noisier environment such as an office. In my quiet den, however, it’s more noticeable.
Additionally, the thick aluminum chassis of the MAXimus tends to conduct a fair amount of drive vibration. In my case, the drive was placed on a shelf above my computer and the vibration against the laminate material of the shelf created a high-pitched resonance whine which was very unpleasant. The thin rubber skidpads on the bottom of the drive simply were not able to completely isolate the drive’s vibration. My solution was to put a small hand towel underneath the unit’s aluminum feet which solved the problem completely. If I could make one modification to the case, it would be the addition of thick rubber feet to the bottom of the unit. As with many RAID units, the power supply is also a fairly large brick which while not weighing particularly much does require some additional space to conceal.
As for performance, the ultimate speed of the MAXimus depends on which interface option you choose. In my tests using USB 2.0, the array averaged from a low of .5MB/sec for 4K random reads to a high of 28MB/sec for files over 2MB in size. Firewire 400 showed off its real-world speed advantage by posting better numbers, with numbers ranging from .5MB for 4K random reads to better than 32MB/sec for smaller files and over 40MB/sec for files over 1MB. The Firewire 800 and eSATA interface options should yield slightly higher transfer rates, up to the maximum speed of a single drive and would be my choice for optimum performance.
One of the best features of the MAXimus, in my opinion, is the front-mounted status lights which not only tell you which drives are in operation at any given time, but which ones have failed as well. A red light indicates which drive has failed and once you install a new drive in its place, the display lights will turn amber to show you that the remaining drive is backing itself up to the new replacement. There’s no guessing about what’s going on, and that’s a very good thing.
The Guardian MAXimus is available in a large selection of sizes from 250MB up to 2TB and prices range from $229 to $729, depending on size and configuration. You can even buy the MAXimus hardware without the drives, if you prefer to choose the capacity or make of drives yourself. I bought my MAXimus through Other World Computing, perhaps my favorite online vendor. They always provide excellent customer service and I never hesitate to recommend them. ( FYI: I have no business interests or ties to Other World Computing…they’re just consistently excellent)
All in All, the NewerTech Guardian MAXimus RAID solution hits all the right notes with me. It’s reasonably priced, comes ready to use right out of the box, and offers a nice selection of both pack-in cables and free software. The unit itself is incredibly sturdy and good looking and while fan noise is noticeable, it’s a minor annoyance at best. Its comprehensive set of status lights lets you know what’s happening with the array, and of course should a drive fail, the other drives takes over automatically. It’s an elegant solution that takes features once reserved for high-end RAID systems and brings them into the home environment where they’re most certainly welcome.
My only regret so far has been that I didn’t buy one sooner. Had I done so, I would not have lost all my data and would not now be looking at hours worth of work to reconstruct it all. As an insurance policy against that kind of loss, the NewerTech MAXimus is my new best friend.