Storage is cheap, or so we've heard. But, for many professional photographers, storing and backing up large volumes of images while also keeping up the transfer and read speeds we are accustomed to can wind up being very expensive. RAID docks are a great alternative to purchasing dedicated RAID drives, and the new Xcellon dock provides a cost-effective alternative. However, does it stack up in the long run?
My initial experience as I unboxed the Docking Station is that it is very well packaged. As I opened the box, I was impressed with the presentation of the dock and also surprised at the size. Holding it, I was even more taken off guard by the weight. The docking station itself is small, compact, and lightweight. But, it does not come across as flimsy. The only portion I would like to see appear or feel a bit more rugged would be the flaps where the actual drives are inserted, but that is something I've always felt with docking stations — the spring loaded flaps could break off at anytime. I will say that the Xcellon feels as rugged (if not more) as ones I've used in the past.
The interface and buttons were very easy to figure out. With most of my other RAID drives, I've had to read through the manual in order to figure out exactly how to set up what type of RAID I wanted to use, but with the Xcellon HDD Docking Station, it was very easy. The RAID setup is brightly labeled in red with clear and visual instructions directly on the drive. What I don't like, however, is the type of buttons or method of setting up the RAID. The flimsy switches are similar to the type found in many low and mid-end flash triggers. I would be afraid they could easily get changed or even break off; in all reality, this would probably not be a problem. I just want to feel secure in all aspects of my backup system and wish these buttons were a bit different.
All in all, I was impressed with the first looks at the docking station. Getting started with the drive is quick and easy as well. I quickly switched to RAID 1 and plugged in my drives, and it was up and running in seconds.
Cost vs. Performance
With design and durability seeming to be an almost nonissue, the main factor for whether or not I would personally use or recommend this or any other docking station would be the overall cost vs. performance factor. \When comparing a RAID dock system that requires you to also purchase separate hard drives to a RAID drive that comes ready with storage, it's key to compare the total cost. The Xcellon dock itself is only $100, and it can support up to 8 TB drives and transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps. That is of course all dependent on the actual hard drive that is used with the dock. So, let's attempt to compare.
Seagate 2 TB, 2.5 inch Spinpoint Drive, SATA III 6Gbps Interface: $100 each. Total cost for 4 TB RAID (6Gbps): $300.
Toshiba 4 TB, 3.5 inch Drive, SATA III 6 Gbps Interface: $114 each. Total cost for 8 TB RAID (6Gbps): $328.
Seagate 8 TB, 3.5 inch Enterprise Drive, SATA III 12 Gbps Interface: $400 each. Total cost for 16TB RAID (10Gbps (max of the dock)): $900.
There are certainly going to be a lot of combinations and options from product to product and brand to brand. For instance, with the 8 TB RAID option, you can pay $680 for the LaCie, but there is also the WD My Book for $318, although the reviews on the WD are very mixed. For the 16 TB dock setup, the Seagate was one of the more expensive, but I wanted at least one option that utilized the max speed of the dock; there are far less expensive options. Many of the options easily exceed the $1000 mark.
What I Liked
I liked the way it was packaged and how compact the dock is. I also liked how easy it was to figure out how to set the RAID mode. The new USB-C is a nice touch, and it takes almost no time from unpacking to getting it in use.
What I Didn't Like
What I didn't like were the actual buttons and switches used to set the RAID mode and the somewhat flimsy feel of the "set" button.
If you are simply using your RAID setup as a USB interface to backup your work, the dock will wind up being the cheaper and possibly higher performing option. On the other hand, if you're more mobile, you might prefer a closed solution. Overall, the Xcellon RAID Dock is a well-built and seemingly reliable and cost-effective option for backing up your work.