Product Review: G-Technology G-RAID Studio

November 11, 2014

With apologies to Ben Franklin, the only sure things in life are death, taxes and the inevitable increase in image file sizes. You don’t have to look far to see the mushrooming megabytes (MB). Nikon’s newest full-frame DLSR, the D810, can pop off 77MB RAW files while Hasselblad’s newest medium-format camera can create (are you sitting down?) a single TIFF file that’s 600MB in size. And video? As our Brooklyn relatives might say, “fuhgettaboutit.” These ballooning files are like cholesterol in the arteries of your workflow.
Enter G-Technology’s G-RAID Studio, a storage system leveraging the newer Thunderbolt 2 protocol and a pair of enterprise-class hard disk drives to deliver the speed and capacities demanded by filmmakers and professional photographers alike.
The 12TB Studio promises 360MBps of sustained read/write data transfer. There’s a pair of Thunderbolt 2 ports on hand so you can daisy chain up to six Thunderbolt devices to the Studio. There’s no USB port.
Inside the case, you’ll find a pair of hot-swappable 7200rpm disk drives with three RAID options. You can select RAID 0—where data is saved across both disks but not redundantly—for maximum performance.
RAID 1 will mirror the contents of one drive on the other and is useful for archiving your files securely in the event that one drive fails. Finally, JBOD mode (“just a bunch of disks”) will treat the G-RAID as either a pair of individual hard drives or a single, continuous drive so you can stretch out your storage capacity.
We put the 12TB G-RAID Studio to the test, throwing everything we could think of at it. It held up wonderfully.
First, we transferred a 33GB folder containing a mix of stills and videos to the drive over a Thunderbolt 1 connection. It took a brisk 6 minutes and 52 seconds in RAID 1 mode and was only slightly faster (6:24) when we switched to RAID 0. Editing both RAW and JPEG files in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC proved effortless—large images loaded instantly off the G-RAID and saved with nary a lag.
We also ran BlackMagic’s Disk Speed Test benchmarking software to see how the Studio fared. The Speed Test was developed to gauge what a particular drive can handle, in the context of video editing. According to the app, the highest quality video we could edit without gumming up the works was 2K footage (10-bit RGB, 4:4:4) at 25fps. Keep in mind, that’s a limitation of the older Thunderbolt connection and Disk Speed doesn’t run 4K tests (BlackMagic has been lethargic in updating the app).
Next we packed up the drive and headed over to Patino’s studio to put it through the video-editing paces. For our test, we worked on 4K RED RAW (R3D) video files as well as 1920×1080/24p Cinema DNG and ProRes 422 files from a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. Files were transferred to the G-RAID, then opened and edited in Adobe Premiere, Lightroom and RED’s REDCINE-X Pro on a 2010 Apple MacBook Pro. We flipped back and forth between programs and files and Patino’s reaction was succinct: “This is really fast.”
“How is it that Apple gets to dictate what everything looks like?” That was Patino’s immediate reaction upon seeing the G-RAID Studio emerge from its box. And yes, there’s an uncanny resemblance to a certain cylindrical black tower from Cupertino. If you love the look of the redesigned Mac Pro, you’ll love the look of the G-RAID Studio. If you don’t, you won’t. (We’re ambivalent.)
Beyond esthetics, the design of the drive does have a few practical considerations. You access the hard drives by pressing down on a flip-out plastic lid that’s held in place by a latch mechanism that seems a bit flimsy. “I can see this breaking,” Patino said shortly after popping the lid open.
Unlike G-Technology’s G-DOCK, the G-RAID has a top-loading enclosure. You won’t need to be standing to replace drives but if it’s on your desk and you’re not an NBA center, you will have to stand to view the LED status indicator lights adjacent to each drive as they’re buried out of view. The illuminated “G” on the drive’s exterior will turn red if there’s a problem, but more specific warnings are only provided by those LEDs hidden away under the lid. In the quiet of our office, the G-Technology would audibly click on occasion as we transferred large files, but otherwise it made only a low whirr that fades into the background. In the hum of Patino’s studio, the drive’s noises were nearly imperceptible.
There’s not much to be said for the G-RAID’s software. It’s a very limited utility that lets you select RAID configurations. In fact, you’ll have to leave the software and use your Mac’s disk utility to reformat your disks before your RAID selection is complete. It’s an inconvenience, albeit a minor one.
The G-RAID Studio is available in capacities ranging from 6TB to 12TB, with prices ranging from $799 to $1,300. Replacement drives range in capacity from 2TB to 6TB with prices from $250 to $700. The main Studio units are pricey.
For $300 less than the 12TB G-RAID, LaCie’s similarly equipped 12TB 2big unit throws in data backup and encryption software, plus a USB 3.0 port.
The G-RAID Studio could use a sturdier lid latch, and given the price tag we wish there was more functionality in the software utility, but overall we were quite impressed. It’s a blazingly fast external drive that will satisfy the needs of filmmakers who are either shooting in 4K or are eying up the format for their near future. Even if your workload is primarily HD video and RAW stills, you’ll benefit from the speed and storage capacity on offer from the G-RAID Studio.
PROS: Fast, relatively quiet operation, easily removable hard drives. 
CONS: Top-lid lock feels flimsy, software utility is barebones. 
PRICE: $799 (6TB) to $1,300 (12TB)
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