Having been a Mac user for a number of years, I’m always happy to recommend Mac hardware – the old adage, “if you want a great Windows PC, buy a Mac” remains true, even today. But if I were ever to meet an Apple industrial designer or product manager on my travels, I’d given them a seriously hard time about the meagre storage they drop into their beautiful chassis.
Storage has never been cheaper than today, and yet Macs are generally shipped with hard drives of 1 TB or less. If you think that’s a problem at home with that ever-increasing media library, then just imagine if you were a professional photographer or video editor working with massive high-definition media files? That cheapo disk Apple threw into the box just ain’t going to cut it.
As a result, the Mac external storage category has exploded in recent years, with a variety of multi-drive storage enclosures hitting the shelves from the likes of LaCie, Promise, OWC and others. The advent of the Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 interfaces (the latter offering theoretical throughput of 20 Gbps – good enough for the simultaneous transfer and display of 4K Ultra HD video) has boosted the popularity of – in fact, the need for – these devices in creative industries today.
The CalDigit T3 Thunderbolt Drive Enclosure is one such example. It’s a three bay device, available in capacities of 1.5 TB (£370) up to 15 TB (£1055), stocked with 3.5″ hard drives. A 3 TB edition, using 2.5″ SSDs is also available, priced at a mighty £2086. Our review subject, the 9 TB model, is priced at £671 and includes a five-year warranty. A four-bay variant, the unsurprisingly named T4, is also available.
CalDigit is a specialist storage manufacturer, creating solutions for creative professionals for the last ten years. The company was the first to provide external PCIe storage as well the first to bring USB 3.0 to the Mac. You can check out our review of the company’s AV Pro USB 3.0 External Hard Drive from April 2013.
What’s in the Box?
The CalDigit T3, like other examples of Thunderbolt Drive Enclosures you’ll find on the market today, has been designed to look fabulous in the office. It ships in an attractive white and orange box, which includes:
- The CalDigit T3 Thunderbolt Drive Enclosure
- Power Cable & Adaptor
- Drive module pin release key
- Drive module lock key
No Thunderbolt cables are shipped with the device, and you’ll need to download the manual for the T3 from the company’s support site. While I understand the logic behind the latter decision, the lack of a supplied Thunderbolt cable is a poor choice. Having purchased what is a premium product, being “nickel and dimed” another £36 for a Thunderbolt cable from CalDigit, alongside the potential inconvenience of placing a second order, leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
The device itself looks fabulous, fully clad in silver, satin aluminium which helps with heat dissipation, but the device is actively cooled too, courtesy of a large, 80mm rear fan. Once powered, you’ll certainly hear the fan, but it’s noise output is nothing out of the ordinary.
Fully stocked with hard drives (particularly high-capacity drives), you can expect the T3 to weigh a fair amount – 4.5 Kg, according to the specs. Compared to an enclosure like OWC’s ThunderBay 4 (which I use for my own Mac Server here at WGS), the CalDigit T3 feels like a stronger, sturdier, more robust construction.
The compact, 116 x 135 x 242 (h x w x d) CalDigit T3’s front face is dominated by the three, lockable drive modules. The locks require the use of the supplied keys, so unless a thief decides to take the whole unit, your data is physically protected on the device. Power and drive status lights are included on the lower section of the T3, adjacent to the power button.
Around the back, a Kensington lock adds further protection to the device. Two Thunderbolt 2 ports are fitted to the T3, allowing the device to be daisy chained.
Once unlocked, the drives then need to be released with the second key – a pin which slots into a hole in the front of the drive bay to trigger a recessed latch. As anticipated, the drive trays themselves are great quality – a metal construction, with additional plastic side cladding to ensure easy insertion into the chassis.
CalDigit supplies three Toshiba DT01ACA300 hard drives with the T3 – these are standard 3 TB SATA 3 desktop hard drives, spinning at 7200 RPM. They’re a reasonable choice, but lack the RAID-specific features you’ll find on more specialised network attached storage drives such as the Western Digital WD Red or Seagate NAS lines. As with the fan, you’ll hear them in use but again, there’s nothing too concerning here.
Overall, the T3 offers a premium design and quality finish – akin to a competitor like LaCie, and superior to other manufacturers in the category.