Sleek, elegant and portable design; RAID 1 support.
Complicated and unoptimized software; base is not particularly stable.
The basic idea behind the PopDrive is a good one: a sleek, portable external enclosure that holds two 2.5-inch drives in RAID 1, to protect against the risk of data loss due to drive failure. Add in support for user notification emails, hotswap drive bays, and a relatively speedy 3Gb/s eSATA port, and it sounds like you’ve got yourself a winner. And you might, eventually.
The PopDrive includes a slim, aluminum dual-bay chassis, 5V AC adapter, and USB 2.0 and eSATA ports at the rear of the chassis. If the PopDrive’s 1.2x3.9x6.4-inch aluminum chassis looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same casing as Silverstone’s DS221 dual-bay RAID drive. Silverstone’s device, though, uses a mechanical switch to change between RAID 0, RAID 1, and JBOD, while the PopDrive’s configuration is all done via software. And what a joy that software is.
Just kidding. Configuring the PopDrive is a pain in the booty. First you install the included SiliconImage 57xx SteelVine volume management tool. Then you restart your computer, slot the two included 2.5-inch drives (two 500GB WD Scorpio Blue drives, in our review model) into the PopDrive, and connect it to your computer via USB 2.0 or eSATA.
If only the PopDrive’s configuration software was as sleek as its aluminum chassis.
At this point it’s necessary to consult the 64-page user manual, as the SteelVine software isn’t optimized or configured at all for the PopDrive. It gives many more options than the PopDrive actually supports, which you wouldn’t know unless you’ve read the manual. Of the six configuration options—listed as JBOD, SAFE (RAID 1), BIG, SAFE33, SAFE50, and FAST (RAID 0)—the latter three are listed as “not recommended for the PopDrive” in the manual. From there, it’s a simple matter of choosing RAID 1, saving the array configuration, applying the configuration, and then waiting a minute or so while the instructions percolate down to the device level and the software lets you know the array has begun to build. Then, for 10 or 12 hours, you play the waiting game.
Once the array is configured, you can create and format a partition in Disk Management and assign a drive letter; thereafter the drive appears as a single volume, which can be used normally. When connected over eSATA, the PopDrive showed sequential read and write speeds of 76MB/s and 65MB/s, respectively—a little slower than the raw disk speeds of the 2.5-inch 500WD Scorpio Blue 5400rpm drives included with our PopDrive review unit, but certainly respectable.
The one advantage provided by the PopDrive’s use of the SteelVine software is that software’s ability to send email notifications upon critical events. This is useful for the hypothetical IT consultant that DHK told us in an email is their ideal client—someone who sets up the PopDrive in a small business environment so they can rotate out drives for offsite backup. However, IT managers have many other speedier, easier-to-configure, and more robust backup systems at their disposal—NAS devices come to mind. For home users, the drive management software is much too complex.
To its credit, DHK claims that a simpler software interface for the PopDrive is forthcoming this summer. That can’t come soon enough.
If DHK had waited to put its device on the market until a good software backend was in place, it would have scored higher. It also would have scored higher with a USB 3.0 interface instead of USB 2.0. Sure, eSATA is nice, but not everyone has an eSATA port, and using a USB 2.0 connection with this device removes the hotswap capability, drops the speed down to 30MB/s or so, and makes the disconnecting process much harder. As it is, the PopDrive’s software is too complicated for home users and its hardware is too limited for most business users. Other eSATA RAID 1 bays aren’t quite as slim and sleek, but are easier to configure, offer more storage space, and are more robust.