This little jewel from Icy Dock is a dual 2.5” to 3.5” drive caddy. Meaning you can put two laptop sized drives or SSD’s into it and it will fit in a regular hard drive slot in your computer or server. It’s not just a caddy though as it mimics a 3.5” drive with SATA and power connectors so it’s easily inserted into a hot swappable drive cage. Oh yeah, and it has an onboard RAID Controller. If you are ready for an in depth review and analysis of this device please click through. Who would have thought such a small box would yield so many tests and results! Installation, servers, desktops, OEM servers, disaster testing, and speed tests. See if it survives!
Here are the details on the MB982SPR-2S which I will call Icy Dock from here on out. I’ll borrow specs from icydock.com in order to save more time for testing!
(testing and installation performed with Vail Server which is the beta of Windows Home Server version 2. It’s 64 bit and based on Windows Server 2008 R2.)
The enclosure is super simple to use and almost didn’t require a peek at the manual. Almost. More on that later.
There is a large button on the end of the Icy Dock that pops the lid up allowing access to the area where you put the drives in. The enclosure is metal but it has a thin plastic membrane that separates the drive and it’s electronics from touching the metal casing. Lift up the internal drive tray and it’s easy to insert the first drive. Close the internal tray in order to insert the second drive.
The nice thing about this enclosure and most every Icy Dock enclosure I have used is you don’t have to physically seat the drive into the connector of the enclosure. It has a hinged outside lid attached to a mechanism inside the enclosure that seats the drives automatically. I’ve seen other manufacturers do this as well but never as smooth as Icy Dock.
Close the lid and start thinking about what RAID level you are going to use because the selector is on the outside of the enclosure. This is where I had to consult the manual.
You can see in the photo above that there are multiple number 1’s, 2’s, etc. I thought that was a bit confusing so I looked to the manual for guidance.
The Vail install picked up the RAID array instantly and didn’t require additional driver disks. It does however, show as a big question mark in Device Manager like a driver is not properly installed. The supplied software, JMicron RAID Manager, installed easily although it is a 32 bit program.
The RAID Manager software looks pretty handy but I didn’t test many of it’s features. There is a feature that allows you to manage the RAID level via the software instead of the enclosure selector and the SMTP alerts looked pretty handy and I would certainly use them in a production system.
The install was two clicks so I won’t waste space with the screens but here are all the screens of the RAID Manager which should give you a feel for the options available and the data it provides.
Advanced Mode Screen shots
I recently performed some RAID speed testing on a Gigabyte P55-USB3 board with a Core i3 processor, and 4GB of ram. This board has a JMicron set of SATA ports that are configurable in a RAID set as well as 6 Intel chipset SATA ports that are also configurable as RAID. I’ll be comparing the Icy Dock to those tests and you can find that review here. The summary of those RAID speed test were simple. The JMicron outperformed the Intel set. It crushed the Intel when additional drives were attached to the Intel SATA ports. The same system, motherboard, and hard drives were used for the Icy Dock speed tests.
ATTO Benchmark on the Icy Dock is almost the same as the Gigabyte JMicron chip but the Icy Dock has slightly faster write speeds. Very slight. There is no comparison to the Intel chipset on the Gigabyte board as the results in the previous review showed large declines when additional drives were attached to the SATA bus.
HDTune was almost identical.
Conclusion: The Icy Dock RAID performance is as fast as or comparable to the JMicron chip on the Gigabyte board with this set of hard drives. You probably knew that before you started reading this but it had to be tested. It could be given the edge though since replacement efforts will be lower with the enclosure than a motherboard.
Lastly, on speed tests, this is a Server Blog and Windows Home Server doesn’t place a lot of importance on it’s OS drive speed. I hope this serves as somewhat of a baseline of speed testing in case someone wants to use this as a redundant OS drive in another operating system. Perhaps even with SSD’s. I wish I had a few to test with because I would certainly test mirroring vs. RAID 0. Lastly, as stated in the original RAID test review of the Gigabyte P55-USB3 board, the hard drives under test are not speed demons. They are the Seagate Momentus 5400.6 ST9250315AS 250GB 5400 RPM 2.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Notebook Hard Drives. I picked them up to be Home Server OS drives and not to break the sound barrier on performance.
Disaster Testing in RAID 1
If one of the hard drives in the RAID 1 mirror set fails the other one should take over on a reboot and the server should function normally. That’s the first test. Power down the system, remove a drive, power it back on. I’m not surprised to find that this worked perfectly. The supplied software indicated the degraded condition as it should.
Just for grins I re-ran HDTune to see what the performance of the single hard drive would be. When RAID is enabled you will recall that the Icy Dock MB982SPR-2S was 79.1MB/Sec maximum, average of 59.1. The single drive turned in numbers of 78.5 MB/Sec maximum, average of 58.2. It dropped off a tad but not much.
The next test is to take the removed drive offline and format it, write junk to it, then put it back into the system and let it rebuild the mirror. I deleted all the volumes on the drive, created a single partition choosing to use all the disk space available and then formatted it. I then deleted that volume and put it back into the Icy Dock and back into the server.
It’s never cut and dry right?
The JMicron software now shows the mirror is rebuilding. Nine hours later the system was only at 91% complete. In the advanced settings there is a priority slider and I had it set to very low so perhaps the Vail system slowed the process. Once I reset the priority a few minutes passed and the percentage changed back to 0 %, as in not complete. My track record with motherboard RAID systems and software packages such as this has never been good. That’s probably why I haven't used them up to now. I’ll take a bios based rebuild any day over a software one but at least the server is available during the software rebuild process. Enough complaining, reboot. The mirror now reports as operating. I assume it was just a software issue and the mirror was rebuilt in a timely fashion but the software simply stopped reporting.
If you are wondering if one of the drives could be removed and put on the Gigabyte board’s JMicron SATA ports and boot up wonder no more. It wasn’t pretty.
RAID 0 anyone?
RAID 0 test, striping over the drives, speed should increase!
This is where it gets confusing. I turned off the system and reset the Icy Dock unit to RAID 0 but after a re-install of Vail the JMicron software reports the drives as “unreleased.” It’s not in RAID 0.
Disk Management seems to agree. There is only one disk showing up.
Back to RAID management, in the Advanced tab I’ll try to create a RAID 0.
The RAID 0 was created in a matter of seconds and I got this screenshot below.
It’s never cut and dry is it?
Shortly after getting these screen shots it “Blue-Screened.” Now it won’t boot. That’s always fun. I’m not sure if this is my fault or not. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to perform that RAID conversion on the fly with the software but it certainly allowed me. There is some confusion around how to reset the RAID setup(change from one RAID level to another) on the Icy Dock. The manual says to hold the reset button on the device while powering it on and wait 10 seconds for one of the blue LED’s to extinguish. I’ve done that and the lights won’t go out. I did this trying to reset and set it back to RAID 0 and it’s still confusing. I did the reset on PM which is the mode to recognize both drives. I then set it back to RAID 0 and performed the reset as it says. I’m not sure if it’s on this mode or not so I reset it again to PM. I booted into the Vail setup and in the disk section it saw a 456 Gig partition which is what the two drives should look like for RAID 0. I should have left it on the RAID 0 setting but I was unsure if the reset was successful or not. I’ll need to contact Icy Dock on the manual steps as this is too confusing.
RAID 0 Finally Setup
I’ve got RAID 0 configured, the OS installed again, and ran HDTune against the drive. Here are the results. 155MB/Sec maximum, average of 118MB/Sec. That’s pretty nice and would be even faster with something other than a 5400 RPM drive.
RAID 0 setup is a success even after fumbling with the settings of the unit.
There is no denying how handy this little device is. Housing two drives in a single drive slot is golden for Home Server use when space and ports are hard to come by. Forget about using spindle drives though. I think this Icy Dock is destined to house a couple of SSD’s. Beyond Home Server configurations the Icy Dock would be really great as a desktop RAID solution.
The unit had a few minor issues. I think some of the issues I incurred can be overlooked by simply taking your time with the install and making sure you have set the configuration correctly and that the configuration you select actually shows up when your presented with options as to where you will install your OS. I would use the JMicron software only when you absolutely have to. Say for reporting via SMTP or to verify the RAID set health. The one time I tried to change a RAID configuration with software it failed.
Like many other devices that are built overseas the manual can be somewhat cryptic to interpret. The device almost doesn’t need a manual for 90% of it’s operation but the reset function write-up was confusing.
The only other thing I can think of is I can never remember all of Icy Dock’s crazy part numbers. I recommend that Icy Dock takes a lesson from the cell phone manufacturers and give each device a name so we can more easily discuss them and identify your products!
These tests alone allow me to recommend the Icy Dock. The RAID speed was on par with today’s offerings built in to motherboards and the space saving combination with RAID is a win/win.
What’s next for the MB982SPR-2S? Desktop OS testing and if this is a good choice for a MediaSmart Server. Maybe even a podcast dedicated to it. Stay tuned.