Whaler_99

The 5X3 Cage review - Norco, SuperMicro, iStarUSA and Icy Dock

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UPDATE - July 12, 2011 - I created a Wiki article to allow us to pull everthing together. To add you review, go Here, click the link down under the heading "Benchmarks..." and contribute!! :)

 

Update - March 2015 - http://lime-technology.com/forum/index.php?topic=12405.msg359211#msg359211 - Looks like SM is now including blanking panels installed in the trays. Very nice.

 

I am looking at 4 of the more popular 5x3 cages used. The Icy Dock MB455SFP-B, the Norco SS-500, the SuperMicro CSE-M35T-1 and the iStarUSA BPU-350.

 

If you would like any additional pics or information on the units, please PM me and I will try and accommodate.

 

For anyone wanting to go to the main gallery and look at all the pics, please go Here.

 

THE REVIEW

 

First off, please be aware that I am not a professional reviewer. What I have documented are things I have observed and experienced working with all four units and my own opinions. Hopefully this and the pictures will help you make that critical decision.

 

SuperMicro

 

Initial Thoughts:

-Packaging is adequate

-Well built, solid cage, all metal except for fan assembly

-Bit flimsy drive trays

-Included manual is pretty good

-Drive LED cables included, nice addition

-Super easy to remove and replace fan, 92mm, standard 4 pin connector

-Straight forward hookup for power and SATA cables

-Had to look inside slots to figure out which slot corresponded to which port on the back

-Lots of screws and includes SATA cables

-Trays slid in and out nicely, smooth

 

Inside:

-Looks like cooling would be good, four air cutouts in the rear

 

Installation:

-As many have complained, this unit is a really tight fit, more so in some case then others, but very tight

-Screw holes line up ok

-Mounting drive into the drive cage is straight forward. Has the standard four screws along each of the rails. You just have to balance things a bit while you get it screwed in.

-Installing power and SATA cables into this unit is pretty easy. You will need to install the SATA cables in a specific order and remove them in a specific order as it can get a little cramped.

 

LED (as observed):

-Doesn’t look to be a “powered” on LED for drives. Just activity LED’s

 

Overall Thoughts:

  I like this unit. It is a server class unit and you can tell. The all aluminum cage makes it a nice heat sink. The drive cages themselves were nice to work with. The ability to replace the fan on the rear without removing the entire unit and being able to use a standard 92mm fan without splicing in some custom connector is a nice bonus.

  As some have mentioned though, putting this into your case itself though can be a real test of strength. This unit is an extremely tight fit. I tested this on three different cases and had the same result. One thing to be aware of, this is the longest drive cage of the four I looked at. In a standard mid-tower case with an ATX motherboard the fan will overhang the motherboard but just a fraction, but enough to block SATA ports that might be right there on the edge or some other components. Care will be needed as to where you place the unit in your case under these circumstances.

  In fan testing, a lot of people have complained about the noise of the fan. My stock unit though is actually quite quiet, considering. Once the sides are on and with all the other case fans, I could not hear it. Maybe SM has started using a different fan? You do get some excellent air flow though with this 92mm fan.

  At the current price, this unit provides for good value for the dollar in my opinion. Has a lot going for it, overall positive experience other than needing a lot of force to push it into the case.

 

ICY Dock

 

Initial Thoughts:

-Packaging similar to all others

-Unit complete “shrink” wrapped for some reason

-Included screws but no SATA cables

-Manual was good, was able to align slots to ports on the rear

-Cage is sturdy and light, short

-More use of plastic then the SuperMicro or Norco

-Sticker on the cage itself with all connector details, nice addition

-Straight forward power plugs on the rear

-Fan is removable but not easily replaceable, custom 2 cable soldered to connector, 80mm

-Drive trays pretty flimsy, almost feel like plastic

-Trays are not very easy to slide in and out.

 

Inside:

-Looks likes cooling might be an issue, not much in the rear to promote airflow

 

Installation:

-Slides into the case nicely, even a bit lose

-Screw holes line up ok

-Mounting a drive in the drive cage on this unit is tedious. When you pull out the drive cage, you then have to remove this plastic spacer unit that is installed. They have to have that as the rails are so flimsy. Put the drive in, they provide 3 holes per rail that all line up. Like the SuperMicro, bit of a balancing act to get the drives screwed in. I just cannot get over the feeling of how flimsy these drive trays are.

-Installing the power and SATA cables was ok, but a bit cramped. Depending on where this unit is mounted and what is around it, could quickly become a hassle do to the layout. The molex connectors, the way they are mounted, seem to have a bit of play to them. I worry swapping cables a few too many times on this one could cause one to snap off.

 

LED (as observed):

-Has “powered” on LED’s.

-Has activity LED’s

 

Overall Thoughts:

  This is a nice drive cage. From the front is does go well with most cases. The rear of it is well laid out and very easy to plug in power, SATA and away you go. Bit more plastic used on this one then say a SuperMicro unit. The drive trays themselves seemed pretty flimsy. Nice locking mechanism in the front, but found the tray could stick a bit when sliding in and out. The rails on the drive cages are aluminum but seem to be a very low grade, almost plastic feel to them.

  Unit is a great fit in the case, pops right in with no issues at all. Not the shortest unit of them all, but about ¾” shorter than the longest, the SuperMicro. Will fit in a mid-tower case with an ATX motherboard nicely.

  The fan on this unit is really nice and quiet. Has excellent exhaust capabilities, but as pointed out above, I would be a bit concerned with airflow as there is not much opening on the back plane to allow air to flow through the unit. Watch those 7200RPM drives closely. If the fan ever dies, the current one in there is a two cable on that is soldered to the fan assembly. Bit of pain if you ever needed to replace.

  I did try and “remove” the fan once installed in a case and everything all hooked up. This was next to impossible as you need to tilt it back a ways to get these two little hooks off. I ended up breaking one off in the process.

  With my Corsair power supply, the Molex power plugs have these little tabs, as seen on this page. Because the power plug is directly above some of the SATA ports, I could not use the Corsair plug and had to use a splitter with a standard plug.

  At the current price this unit almost places itself out of reach. In comparison to the SuperMicro or the Norco, it is a pretty pricey solution and cannot really be recommended.

 

iStarUSA

 

Initial Thoughts:

-Packaging similar to all the others

-Another unit wrapped in plastic, but not shrink wrapped

-Locking tabs on the drive trays. If not locked, with a very small piece, can pop open very easily. Just trying to lock one, I popped open the tray

-Individual power on for drives, but pencil or paper clip needed to get at the switch

-Solid drive cages

-Includes bunch of screws and SATA cables, but they were the locking type, which can be an issue on some motherboards

-Well built, solid cage.

-Plastic on the front frame similar to the Icy Dock unit

-Trays slid in and out really nice and smooth

-The fan is 80mm, required to remove the entire back frame to replace it. Not easy to get at and has a custom 3 pin connector

-Manual was ok, was able to align slots to ports on the rear

-The drive cage handles are plastic and have very limited airflow not perforated like all the other models. May restrict airflow

-SATA 15 pin and Molex 4 pin power connectors on the back. Various sources indicate you can use both types at same time, yet I have also heard to only use one type or the other. Website FAQ seems to indicate to only use the two SATA power plugs or the three Molex connectors

 

Inside:

-Looks like the cooling will be ok, four large cutouts in the rear

 

Installation:

-Slides into the case nicely, like the Icy Dock, a bit loose even

-Screw holes line up ok

-Installing a drive into the drive cage is a breeze. It uses four screws into the underside of the drive, so no need to balance the drive on its side while you get the screws in. Quick and easy.

-With the drive tray having and underside against the drive, should help pull heat away.

-Installation of power and SATA cables on this one is pretty easy. All feels solid. Because of the fan design and somewhat recessed, it did make it easier to get at the plugs.

 

LED (as observed):

-Has a “powered” on LED, but a little mis-leading. Once you power on through the switch, that LED comes on.

-Does not seem to be an activity LED

 

Overall Thoughts:

  Here you have the smallest unit of them all, a solid aluminum body, again with the front plastic molding. This unit does look pretty sharp from the front. Drive trays themselves are nice and sturdy with a great slide action. The trigger though to “unlock” the drive arm is super light, can pop it open pretty easy and the little locking piece was somewhat awkward with meaty fingers. Individual power on and off for the drives, could be considered a nice add, or a nuisance, just depends on your point of view.

  This unit fits in very nicely into the case, much like the Icy Dock, a bit loose even.  Coming in at an 1 and 3/8” shorter than the Supermicro unit, you should have no problems fitting this into your case with all the components.

  The fan on this unit, with my not so technical evaluation, was as loud as the SuperMicro one, if not a wee bit more. Interestingly, fan only comes on if at least one drive is powered up. Has decent exhaust. As mentioned above, I would be worried about long term cooling on the drives. The drive cages handles are plastic and look to be perforated from a distance. But on closer inspection, there is a solid piece of plastic on the front. Essentially the entire front of the unit is sealed. The only way air can be drawn in, is through the little cracks of space between drive cages. Replacing the fan is a hassle. You will need to remove the entire cage from the case, to get the rear back cover off, careful though, the fan will still be connected to the cage’s main body through the power cable. A custom three pin connector. Get ready to splice cables.

  The unit is ok value for the money and you have to know what you are getting into. For those that cannot fit a SuperMicro, this is an equivalently priced model, but with some drawbacks as I pointed out.

 

Norco

 

Initial Thoughts:

-Packaging, a lot of info on the outside box, similar interior to the rest

-Well built, solid case, bit heavier than the others

-Solid drive cages, slid in and out nicely, plastic edging to help the slid

-No manual

-Screws only for the HDD mounting, no SATA cables included

-Straight forward hook up for power

-Need to remove the entire back plate to access/replace fan. It is an 80mm fan with a standard 4 pin fan connector.

-There are various jumpers but again, can only access one the back plate is removed.

-Had to go to website and print out a picture there to be able to figure out which slots aligned to the back ports, no labeling on the rear either

 

Inside:

-Looks like the cooling be pretty good. Each drive slot is its own chamber, each with a cutout at the rear for air flow

 

Installation:

-Slides into the case ok, a nice snug fit.

-Problem with screw alignment could only get screws on one side of cage to align.

-The Norco is pretty unique when it comes to mounting the drive in the drive cage. You put the drive in, but what was impressive was the number of screw holes they provide to secure the drive, both on the side rails and underside. So if you have a drive with some stripped screw mounts or something, you will have lots of options.

-With the drive tray having and underside against the drive, should help pull heat away

-Installing power and SATA cables on this unit was a breeze. The fact that you didn’t have to work around a fan assembly made it really nice.

 

LED (as observed):

-Has a “powered” on LED

-Activity LED seems a little off. Worked on one drive, not on the other…

 

Overall Thoughts

  The Norco, a rock solid beast of a cage. Like the SuperMicro, the entire unit is all aluminum. The drive trays are good quality with some plastic slides attached to them to help with removal and inserting them. I have to say though; this unit was a pain to figure out. No manual and nothing on the rear of the unit indicating anything. I have no way of knowing which SATA port on the back corresponded to which cage. If you went to the product page on the website, it was right there. Why they couldn’t include something is strange, and made for a bit of a frustrating experience to start with.

  Unit slides into the case nicely. Very snug, but not too tight fit. This unit is only ¾” shorter than the SuperMicro unit, so just enough clearance to fit in that mid-tower build with the ATX motherboard. But when trying this on my cage, I could only get the left side screws or the right side screws to line up, but not both. Very weird. On another case it was a bit better, but not by much. Some sort of alignment issue.

  The fan on this unit was loud. Not quite as loud as the iStarUSA, but you will notice it. But, this fan is moving a lot of air. This was the only one where I could feel the intake air across my hand at the front.  What’s more, the interior of the unit is separated into 5 zones with metal sheets, isolating each drive. Makes for really good airflow along the drives. I also think this will help bleed off heat.  Each tray also has a metal slide on the inside that allows you to close it off if no drive is installed in that bay.  Like a couple of the other units, you will need to remove the entire cage to replace the fan. You have to pull the entire back plate off to get at it. But it is a standard 80mm fan with support for a 3 or 4 pin connector. You also need to remove this plate to get at any of the jumpers.

  This unit is excellent value for the money. Cheaper than the others reviewed and with some excellent pros to its credit. Just know going into it the documentation is nonexistent and replacing the fan is not as easy as say a SuperMicro unit.

 

Final Points:

  One thing I did not get into until now is screws. Yes, they all come with them and they are all pretty much custom. Don’t lose them or even mix them up. They are all various depths and different size flat heads.

  The Norco does not come with any screws for mounting it to the cage, so I had to search through my collection for some that fit and were also short enough. This may be a problem if you do not have a vast supply of screws. And like some have mentioned, I had a heck of a time getting this mounted in a Antec 1200, screw alignment. I managed to get three on the back of the unit on each side to work, but did take some pushing and prodding.

  After mounting all four units, one thing I noticed, although not as long as the SuperMicro, the Norco may cause some issues with cable management. The entire unit is one big block. Whereas all the other units had a fan assembly at the rear that is somewhat smaller than the main unit itself. The Norco can cover up some of those routing holes added into motherboards for hiding cables.

  One thing to keep in mind in your build is cable hookup once everything is in. This may need some planning as once you have a couple of cages installed, some power cables run, getting your fingers/hands in there to hook up things can get really tight to almost impossible. The only unit where this would not be a factor was if you have multiple Norco units. As mentioned, with the full size cage incorporating all the components, having three or four of these installed will not hinder your cable hookup. This was the best one to work with in that regard. But the trade off is no easy access to the fan or the jumpers.

  Note, one thing I do is fill all the empty drive cages with rigid foam. As most of these drive cages do not have any type of solution to block air flow when not in use, exception being the Norco, I do not want those empty slots messing with air flow. I get that spongy grey foam you see in a lot of packaging and cut it to fit the drive cage and just slide it in. Makes an ultra-light filler piece.

 

Pictures on a following post...

 

UPDATE May 2011 - Temperatures

At the request of forum members I am running a series of preclears on 5 drives within a cage to gauge temperature management. I am running 5 preclears simultaneously. I will post results for each test. All tests are done with 7200RPM, Seagate drives. 1 x 1TB, 3 x 500GB and 1 x 320GB.

 

Test #1 - iStarUSA

Unit is running with all defaults. Ambient temperature here in the room is 21C. Starting temps on all drives range from 29C to 31C.

During the preclear sessions all temperatures remained about 31C with the occasional spike to 32C. Very good temperature management.

 

Test #2 - Norco

Unit is running with all defaults. Ambient temperature here in the room is 21C. Starting temps on all drives range from 27C to 30C.

During the preclear sessions all temperatures remained between 29 as the high for one drive to 32C for the hotest drive. Very good temperature management.

istar_preclear_results.txt

norco_precleat_results.txt

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And now the pictures...

 

ICY DOCK PICTURES

 

Front of the Icy Dock unit.

xH3Tks.jpg

 

Interior shot #1 of the Icy Dock.

W0ln1s.jpg

 

Interior shot #2 of the Icy Dock.

UKqq3s.jpg

 

Icy Dock drive cage shot #1.

x3iZBs.jpg

 

Icy Dock drive cage shot #2.

cZC6Cs.jpg

 

ISTARUSA PICTURES

 

Front of the iStar unit.

53nx2s.jpg

 

Interrior shot #1 of the iStar unit.

bH4Nas.jpg

 

Interrior shot #2 of the iStar unit.

tDVers.jpg

 

iStar drive cage shot #1.

6mLqjs.jpg

 

iStar drive cage shot #2.

8ZHSCs.jpg

 

NORCO PICTURES

 

Front of the Norco unit.

NowwRs.jpg

 

Interior shot #1 of the Norco unit.

ix3Jts.jpg

 

Interior shot #2 of the Norco unit.

j6j4ks.jpg

 

Norco drive cage shot #1.

3duMLs.jpg

 

Norco drive cage shot #2.

jyfgMs.jpg

 

Another interior Norco shot.

WSSMKs.jpg

 

SUPERMICRO PICTURES

 

Front of the SuperMicro unit.

Axgygs.jpg

 

Interior shot #1 of the SuperMicro unit.

8hNfus.jpg

 

Interior shot #2 of the SuperMicro unit.

o4l4js.jpg

 

SuperMicro drive cage shot #1.

Yk4M6s.jpg

 

SuperMicro drive cage shot #2.

pxRWbs.jpg

 

 

ALL UNITS STACKED UP

 

Shot one - All four. Bottom is the SuperMicro, followed by the Norco, the Icy Dock and finally the iStar. That is a four foot level I have there to show distances on the rear.

dT5GYs.jpg

 

Shot two - close up. The SuperMicro and Norco, bit of the Icy Dock.

5vbxrs.jpg

 

Shot three - close up. The Norco and Icy Dock.

G1CVgs.jpg

 

Shot four - close up. The Icy Dock and iStar. Bit of the Norco at the bottom.

pbf5Js.jpg

 

Shot five - distance difference between the SuperMicro and the Norco - approx 7/8" shorter

ZCMdMs.jpg

 

Shot six - distance difference between the SuperMicro and the iStar - approx 1 and 3/8" shorter

U4hWKs.jpg

 

Shot seven - all stacked, rear view.

qAWvrs.jpg

 

Shot eight - all stacked, front view.

tpfm1s.jpg

 

Some Random shots

 

For the cages that don't have a block to stop air flow when empty, I add in a peice of rigid packing foam, cut to fit. Light weight.

6xgfKs.jpg

 

SuperMicro "overhang" in a mid-tower case and ATX motherboard - #1.

ziRGVs.jpg

 

SuperMicro "overhang" in a mid-tower case and ATX motherboard - #2.

GTIsTs.jpg

 

SuperMicro "overhang" in a mid-tower case and ATX motherboard - #3.

pukwBs.jpg

 

SuperMicro "overhang" in a mid-tower case and ATX motherboard - #4.

sFe1qs.jpg

 

SuperMicro - exact same setup as above, but with the fan assembly removed - #1

AhHsks.jpg

 

SuperMicro - exact same setup as above, but with the fan assembly removed - #2

m5jlfs.jpg

 

SuperMicro in a full tower case, same setup as before.

S2I1xs.jpg

 

SuperMicro, as above, but can see, you can still access cutout on the mobo for running cables, lots of room.

WTcMUs.jpg

 

Interior shot - on the bottom is the Icy Dock, followed by the SuperMicro, the Norco and at the top, the iStarUSA.

BcxErs.jpg

 

Interior close up #1 - Icy Dock and SuperMicro. Bit of the Norco.

lXomJs.jpg

 

Interior close #2 - the rest...

Yia1xs.jpg

 

A close up on the Norco installed. My finger is tight against the case and the cage. Covers most of the cutout hole you can see. Running a large cable there would be tight.

GbedWs.jpg

 

Exterior shot #1.

55G2qs.jpg

 

Exterior shot #2.

fEOvds.jpg

 

CABLING

 

Some initial cabling done #1

YPAlys.jpg

 

Some initial cabling done #2

neRkts.jpg

 

The SuperMicro - notice you will need to add and remove in order. Can get tight there...

oZiGys.jpg

 

The Icy Dock - again, can be another really tight one to work with...

6egpJs.jpg

 

The Norco - by far, the best of the bunch when it comes to hooking up the cables.

tS3Q3s.jpg

 

The iStar - with its somewhat recessed fan and layout of the plugs, hookup is pretty nice on this one.

Yw5Xes.jpg

 

Completed Cabling

 

Here are some shots of the finished product, 20 drive support with two spare SATA ports.

k36rHs.jpg

Can kind of see some lights on.

8S1KHs.jpg

QhUaYs.jpg

 

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This is awesome!  Thank you so much for taking the time to do this review.

 

A few comments, based on some experience with these cages:

 

1 – The SuperMicro is the only cage with a 92mm fan.  Other all have 80mm.  This has an impact on the cooling potential of the cage.  So long as the drive temps are controlled, the fan size doesn’t matter.  But different seasons might require more or less cooling.

 

2 – The hottest part of the drive is the bottom.  Having the “cage” more open on the bottom allows more airflow.  Both the SuperMicro and the Icy Dock are completely open on the bottom.  The iStar is more ventilated than the Norco.  (I could see a dremeling opportunity with the Norco cage bottoms). 

 

3 – Although the SuperMicro is the deepest of the bunch and has caused problems for some cases, the Norco unit may create challenges for some.  The SuperMicro clipon fan is not as tall or wide as the main unit, this leaves room for cable connections and for motherboard overhang.  When considering your case and cage preference, keep the depth as well as height and width towards the back of the unit, in mind.

 

4 – I have had both the Norco and SuperMicro.  Both are well made.  The nice thing about the Norco is that it does not have these removable plastic inserts (the size of a hard disk) that must be reinserted (with the annoying screws) should a disk be removed.  (Presumably the plastic insert maintains similar airflow characteristics with the plastic insert in place).  But the SuperMicro has the completely open top and bottom.  Looks like the IcyDock have just a bar that must be removed / replaced with a disk is inserted / removed.  Similar concept.  Although the SM plastic trays are a pain, they do make good spare part bins ;)

 

5 – Interesting that the Norco is the only unit that has individual air channels for each drive.  This means less room for airflow between the drives, but also, in combination with the air shutoff feature on each cage, allows you to block airflow through certain channels.  The jury is still out, IMO, whether the individual channels are a positive or negative.

 

I am really interested in the following test.  Load all 5 slots with disks (5 x 5400RPM).  Disconnect all other cages (so they don’t impact the test).  Close up the case, and run preclears (with –n option to immediately begin writing which should generate the most heat) on them for a certain period of time (say 1 hour).  Check all of the drive temps.  Do it in each of the cages (same disks in same order), running just drives in that cage.  Then repeat in the next cage.  Repeat with 7200RPM disks.  You could run this with a dd command from disk to /dev/null (if you do this use a larger buffer).  I don’t think drives get quite as hot when reading, but results would likely be similar if actual writing to the disk is not desired.  Report ambient when you report your findings, in addition to your case cooling.  A slightly warm ambient might be most useful to give a sense of how hot the drives would get under summertime conditions (ambient about 78F).

 

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This is awesome!  Thank you so much for taking the time to do this review.

 

 

Thanks, I enjoyed it. :)

 

1 – The SuperMicro is the only cage with a 92mm fan.  Other all have 80mm.  This has an impact on the cooling potential of the cage.  So long as the drive temps are controlled, the fan size doesn’t matter.  But different seasons might require more or less cooling.

 

Overall in "general" monitoring of the drives, the SuperMicro keeps the drive coolest, followed next by the Norno. I think the 92mm fan is working well for the cage and then the "venting" per drive really helps the Norco with only the 80mm fan.

 

3 – Although the SuperMicro is the deepest of the bunch and has caused problems for some cases, the Norco unit may create challenges for some.  The SuperMicro clipon fan is not as tall or wide as the main unit, this leaves room for cable connections and for motherboard overhang.   When considering your case and cage preference, keep the depth as well as height and width towards the back of the unit, in mind.

 

Yep, this was exactly what I was thinking about in regards to the overall size, like the Norco cage.

 

I am really interested in the following test.  Load all 5 slots with disks (5 x 5400RPM).  Disconnect all other cages (so they don’t impact the test).  Close up the case, and run preclears (with –n option to immediately begin writing which should generate the most heat) on them for a certain period of time (say 1 hour).  Check all of the drive temps.  Do it in each of the cages (same disks in same order), running just drives in that cage.  Then repeat in the next cage.  Repeat with 7200RPM disks.  You could run this with a dd command from disk to /dev/null (if you do this use a larger buffer).  I don’t think drives get quite as hot when reading, but results would likely be similar if actual writing to the disk is not desired.  Report ambient when you report your findings, in addition to your case cooling.  A slightly warm ambient might be most useful to give a sense of how hot the drives would get under summertime conditions (ambient about 78F).

 

 

I have been giving this one some though. I know I could probably easily get 5 x 7200 RPM drives, not so sure about lower speeds. If it was done though with the 7200's, you could expect a overall lower temp result with 5400 or 5900 drives I would think. Let me see what I can scrounge up and schedule some testing over this week...

 

Shawn

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Nice Job and its going to Sticky land until its no longer useful. Yeah right. ;)

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Fantastic review, thank you very much for taking the time to do this.  One thought on the screw alignment on the Norco cage - did you try flipping the cage over?  I always install the cages with the handles facing down, and I rarely have issues with screw alignment.

 

I completely agree that finding screws small enough to affix the Norco cage to the case can be a challenge.  I've noticed that the HDD screws that come with the cage are exactly the right size, but of course they don't give you enough to mount both the cage and all the drives.  The next time I build a server with these cages, I believe I'm going to head to my local computer/hardware store and try to find more of those style of screws.  If that fails, then I'll try contacting Norco directly to see if I can buy some in bulk.

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Fantastic review, thank you very much for taking the time to do this.  One thought on the screw alignment on the Norco cage - did you try flipping the cage over?  I always install the cages with the handles facing down, and I rarely have issues with screw alignment.

 

 

I did try that. :)  One thing I did with all four cages was mount them "right side up" and "right side down", to see if screw holes lines up better one way versus the other. Most of the cages had no problem with this, except the Norco - didn't matter which way I put it in, I had this issue. Also tried it on two different cases... Was a bit better on one then the other, but not by much...

 

Shawn

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Thanks for this review :) I have the colored iStarUSA cages, and it's impossible to accidentally unlock a drive unless you do so intentionally. My fans were LOUD so I removed them from all 3 cages. Temps are till pretty low (30C idle and 34C during preclear). I'm only using two low speed 120mm fans, but I may add a faster fan or move the entire setup into my Antec 900 for better airflow.

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The iStarUSA cages I use have an aluminum handle. I guess they make ones with plastic also.

 

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Looks like the older BPU-350 "black" had plastic handles, which is what I got. The new BPU-350 ($30 more) that support 6Gb/s is "black" but is now aluminum handle. Also, looks like you can buy individual colored trays that have aluminum handles. I assume your aluminium units will allow some airflow directly over the drive?

 

Shawn

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Thanks so much for all the detailed pictures. 

I was actually suprised a bit by the Norco being so blocky in the rear.  And it's trays are somewhat massive compared to the Icy Docks and the Supermicros.  I hope they are aluminum?  And the individual walls between slots are very interesting. 

 

I'm sure I'll be looking at the pictures many times during the next week as new questions pop into my head.  :)

 

 

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Looks like the older BPU-350 "black" had plastic handles, which is what I got. The new BPU-350 ($30 more) that support 6Gb/s is "black" but is now aluminum handle. Also, looks like you can buy individual colored trays that have aluminum handles. I assume your aluminium units will allow some airflow directly over the drive?

 

Shawn

 

Opentoe is talking about these cages, they're the same ones I have.

 

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16816215175

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Looks like the older BPU-350 "black" had plastic handles, which is what I got. The new BPU-350 ($30 more) that support 6Gb/s is "black" but is now aluminum handle.

 

According to the iStar website, the BPU-350 is available with either black, blue, red or silver handles - however, I hadn't appreciated that they were now aluminium - this overcomes a significant drawback which I had read of in another review - that parts of the plastic were judged to be weak points.

 

 

Also, looks like you can buy individual colored trays that have aluminum handles. I assume your aluminium units will allow some airflow directly over the drive?

 

That bit of your review had me puzzled because some photos I've seen seem to show air vents in the front panel.  In fact, I've just realised that the iStar website photos show two different designs of the tray fronts (some with key locks, some without) - presumably the old and new?

 

Anyway, from what I now know, I'm pretty well decide to go for the iStar backplanes .... but do I want to venture into the unknown with the trayless BPN design, or stick with the (relatively) tried and tested BPU?

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I believe the Norco trays are steel.

 

Indeed, thick steel, and they are the only drive trays that protect the drive's circuitry.  The handles are plastic, but thick plastic (much thicker and sturdier than the handles on Supermicro trays).  Each drive tray also has some vertical bits of plastic behind the handle that can be used to pull out a drive tray that is stiff or sticking a bit.

 

I'm still a bit confused as to why so many people consider the Supermicro cages to be 'tank-like' and 'server grade'.  It seems to me that they have some of the worst drive trays (since the flimsy plastic handles feel like they will break with too much use).  Sure the drive cage is sturdy, but how often do the cages undergo crushing force?  I would be more concerned with how well the drives are protected during common operations such as upgrading a parity drive.

 

I believe that the Norco drive trays are the best design of all the 5-in-3s I've used.  Even though some of the other drive trays use metal handles (such as the IcyDocks), they all have other cons that (in my opinion) outweigh the sturdier drive handles.  I can pretty much guarantee that the Norco drive trays will do the best job of protecting the drive while it is outside of the drive cage.  The cage itself is longer than the others, which is a downside, and the fan is not easy to replace.  If the Norco cages had external fans like the Supermicro ones (and were shorter because of it), then I think they would be hands down the best design overall.

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In a data center environment you're concerned with uptime.

How cool will the drive stay during it's life.

How fast can you replace a drive reliably.

How fast can you replace a failed fan reliably.

How will you know when the fan dies or the drive dies.

How do you identify the drive.

 

>  I would be more concerned with how well the drives are protected during common operations such as upgrading a parity drive.

This is not a procedure that is done often. If you put a drive on a bench and work on it, this should not be a concern.

I like how the top and bottom have nothing on the Supermicros. It insures all the chips receive good air flow.

 

 

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I should add....

 

http://www.supermicro.com/products/accessories/mobilerack/CSE-M35TQ.cfm

 

I recently had an episode where a drive died. unRAID does not have alarms to tell you and unless you look for it you do not know right away.

 

I happen to look at the front of the server and thought to myself, Gee why is that light solid on the chassis.

Upon closer inspection I saw that the drive failure LED was on, which stimulated me to go into the server logs to see what the deal was.

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In a data center environment you're concerned with uptime.

...

How fast can you replace a drive reliably.

 

I don't believe that any of us are using unRAID in an enterprise environment.  I do believe that the Supermicros are the best choice in that environment.  However, I don't see the advantage of uninterrupted uptime with unRAID since the software itself is not hot-swap compatible.  It wouldn't bother me to power down to swap a fan any more than it would bother me to power down to swap a drive (granted, swapping a fan on the Supermicro is still MUCH easier than swapping a fan on the Norco....maybe I'm biased about the importance of that factor since I've never had a fan die on me).

 

How cool will the drive stay during it's life.

 

If one wants to use all 7200 rpm drives in a single 5-in-3 cage, then the 92 mm fan on the Supermicro is definitely a plus.  However, if one wants to use all green drives or a mixture of green and 7200 rpm, then the Norco's 80 mm stock fan is more than adequate.  I'll also point out that the Norco's stock fan is much quieter than the Supermicro's stock fan (which adds to the Norco's value).

 

How will you know when the fan dies or the drive dies.

 

This is a valid point.  However, do the Supermicro's drive status and fan status LEDs function if your motherboard doesn't have the appropriate drive/fan failure headers?  I'm not sure if they do.  I know that when I built a client server using the Supermicros and a consumer-grade board (the Biostar A760G M2+), the board had no headers for the cage's LEDs, so the included LED cable was useless.  If you are building a server using a server-grade board then the LEDs would be useful.

 

Also, as I'm sure you know, unRAID can be configured to alert you (email, beeping, etc) of a drive failure or other important event.  It just isn't part of stock unRAID.

 

How do you identify the drive.

 

Another valid point.  I always configure servers so that the drive's assignment on the devices page (parity, disk1, disk2, etc.) corresponds to its physical location in the server (slot 1, slot 2, etc.).  So a quick look at the devices page will make a failed drive easy to identify.  However, some people may prefer to rely on LEDs to tell them what to do.

 

I'll mention that the current unRAID 5.0 beta (6a) includes an 'identify drive' button.  This function will briefly reads from a drive to make that drive's activity light blinks.  Should work with any drive bay that features a HDD activity light, and with every motherboard (not just the server-grade ones).  Something to look forward to.

 

This is not a procedure that is done often.

 

Depends on your usage, of course.  Many users will probably only do this once or twice a year, but it certainly is one of the few server maintenance operations needed on a normal server that is working properly.  Besides, that was just an example.  I don't think anyone can complain about better protection for a drive offered by a cheaper unit...

 

I like how the top and bottom have nothing on the Supermicros. It insures all the chips receive good air flow.

 

A matter of preference perhaps.  I've never seen a drive's circuit board overheat, only the drive's platter compartment.  I imagine that the solid bottom on the Norco drive trays would act like a bit of a heatsink, but I've never had a reason to test it.

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After using both, for my purposes I like the SuperMicro better.

 

The larger fan and the aluminum trays trays are all positives for me.  (I have about 50% 7200 RPM drives.)

 

I do not think that the Norco tray bottom would act as a heatsink.  A heatsink requires direct physical contact to work very well, a good heat conductor (copper or aluminum most commonly), and a shape to help disapate the heat.  I think the bottom would have the opposite affect, it would trap hot air between the bottom and the drives and interfere with ventilation.  I think I would dremel them out if I had one.

 

I also wanted to comment on the plastic handle.  I agree it feels a little flimsy, but I have never heard of anyone breaking one.  It does make you treat is a little gently, which might be a good thing, so that you are less apt to try and force the thing closed when it isn't in quite right.

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In a data center environment you're concerned with uptime.

...

How fast can you replace a drive reliably.

 

I don't believe that any of us are using unRAID in an enterprise environment.  I do believe that the Supermicros are the best choice in that environment.  However, I don't see the advantage of uninterrupted uptime with unRAID since the software itself is not hot-swap compatible. 

 

And this is what stops it. Otherwise it makes a great archival backup server.

 

It wouldn't bother me to power down to swap a fan any more than it would bother me to power down to swap a drive (granted, swapping a fan on the Supermicro is still MUCH easier than swapping a fan on the Norco....maybe I'm biased about the importance of that factor since I've never had a fan die on me).

 

It bothers me to turn mine off. Since it is now the central hub for all files on my network. Uptime is important.

I've moved as many spindles as possible to this server. so when it's offline. I'm in deep caca.

I would be unhappy having to take the 5in3 out of the case to replace the fan.

I depend on my server more then just for media.

 

How cool will the drive stay during it's life.

 

If one wants to use all 7200 rpm drives in a single 5-in-3 cage, then the 92 mm fan on the Supermicro is definitely a plus.  However, if one wants to use all green drives or a mixture of green and 7200 rpm, then the Norco's 80 mm stock fan is more than adequate.  I'll also point out that the Norco's stock fan is much quieter than the Supermicro's stock fan (which adds to the Norco's value).

 

Higher CFM higher noise. Supermicro has never been known for it's quietness.  So the choice is replace the fan, or use a fan controller like Tom used to provide as an option.

 

How will you know when the fan dies or the drive dies.

 

This is a valid point.  However, do the Supermicro's drive status and fan status LEDs function if your motherboard doesn't have the appropriate drive/fan failure headers?  I'm not sure if they do.  I know that when I built a client server using the Supermicros and a consumer-grade board (the Biostar A760G M2+), the board had no headers for the cage's LEDs, so the included LED cable was useless.  If you are building a server using a server-grade board then the LEDs would be useful.

 

The recent supermicro's can get LED status from the SATA Cable. At least on my motherboard and controllers. I did not need the secondary cable which is mostly used for Raid cards. I think 3ware comes to mind.

In talking about Fan status. There is an audible alarm.

For drive status, there is activty (from sata) and drive fail Which in my case, went on without any other attachments.

I believe there is also an audible overheat alarm.

 

 

Also, as I'm sure you know, unRAID can be configured to alert you (email, beeping, etc) of a drive failure or other important event.  It just isn't part of stock unRAID.

 

Yes I know, and "something" should be part of the stock unRAID. In the meantime there is a visual indicator right on the machine.

 

This is not a procedure that is done often.

 

Depends on your usage, of course.  Many users will probably only do this once or twice a year, but it certainly is one of the few server maintenance operations needed on a normal server that is working properly.  Besides, that was just an example.  I don't think anyone can complain about better protection for a drive offered by a cheaper unit...

 

10. if you are changing drives that often

20. then print "something else needs to change."; print "Perhaps trayless, perhaps better drives."

40. endif

 

Better protection, Yeah good point, but then again, I don't see this as that much of a pro over the supermicro's because if I goto 10 I think something else needs to change.  LOL.

 

I like how the top and bottom have nothing on the Supermicros. It insures all the chips receive good air flow.

 

A matter of preference perhaps.  I've never seen a drive's circuit board overheat, only the drive's platter compartment.  I imagine that the solid bottom on the Norco drive trays would act like a bit of a heatsink, but I've never had a reason to test it.

 

I dunno, I've burned myself in the past with chips on high speed scsi drives, those freakin' chips can get hot enough to hurt. LOL!

I'm not sure the norco trays would act as heatsink. a protective barrier, yes. But I want as much airflow across the drives without baffles.

 

If I were to choose another multiple drive module, I would probably choose the ICY Dock Trayless 4in3's before the norcos. but that's my preference.

 

Since I saw a drive fail with visual indication right on the front of my machine, I'm ecstatic about the supermicros.

 

I know you're a fan of the Norco's and that's the right choice for your business.

however, The Supermicro's are a high quality product.

They do not fit your purpose, and for the budget minded folks they may not fit their purpose, yet, they do work well.

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Thanks so much for all the detailed pictures.  

I was actually suprised a bit by the Norco being so blocky in the rear.  And it's trays are somewhat massive compared to the Icy Docks and the Supermicros.  I hope they are aluminum?  And the individual walls between slots are very interesting.  

 

I'm sure I'll be looking at the pictures many times during the next week as new questions pop into my head.  :)

 

 

 

The Norco is a nice drive cage. All aluminum (or is it steel, hard to tell), rail and a base. As well, they added extra plastic "slides" on the outside to help it slid in and out easier. Also, these were the only ones that had the mechanism to block air from entering if no drive was present.

But yes, the Norco itself is one huge block. :)  But, think this... one huge heat sink.  ;D

Ask away and will do my best to answer for ya. :)

 

Shawn

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In my experience so far the SuperMicro only show activity on the LED's. Nothing else (but according to documentation, should show failed). The Norco and Icy Dock both show "powered up" LED and activity. Cannot say right now about the iStar - I had to ship it back to Newegg for RMA - tray 5 would not work for some reason.

 

Based on my experince so far, I am really torn between the Norco and the SuperMicro units. The iStar and Icy Dock for me just don't cut it in the end. The SM unit with the easy to replace fan, and excellent airflow are a great plus. And I am using the stock fan. The Norco though has excellent trays and good overall design. Both have their pro/con when it comes to the sizes. Here in Canada there is only a $5 difference between the two as well.

 

Flip a coin? :)

 

Shawn

 

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In my experience so far the SuperMicro only show activity on the LED's. Nothing else (but according to documentation, should show failed).

 

I can attest that with my supermicro AOC_SATA card, it showed the failed light. I was puzzled at first wondering what the solid light was. sure enough the drive went off line with some kind of hardware error.

 

I'm not pro SM vs Norco, yet I don't want the SM to be positioned as inferior or less then adequate either.

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Makes sense that the SM drive cage LEDs would work well with the SM cards/mobos.  I just wonder if they will work as well with other cards/mobos.

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After a little more hunting around the net, it appear that there are two different models of the iStar cage - the BPU-350-SA and the BPU-350-SATA.  the unit in your review is the -SATA.  The -SA is the 'other' model, without locks but (I presume) with aluminium handles.

 

It also seems that there are two versions of the iStar trayless (or, perhaps, just a new version), BPN-350-SS and BPN-350V2-SS.  I haven't discovered what the difference is between these two.

Edit: The V2 appears to add SATA3 capability, and ventilation slots in the door.  The V2 seems to be out of stack everywhere - one site says delivery expected in June.  The other version also appears to be out of stock, with no further stock anticipated.

 

There also appears to be two versions of the SM cage, the CSE-M35T-1 and the CSE-M35TQ.  The TQ version adds 'SES-2 Enclosure Management'.

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