We take a first look at the new ThunderBay Flex 8. Is it a dock? Is it a RAID? Is it a PCIe expansion box? The answer is yes to all three, down one Thunderbolt 3 cable. (Cat not included)
There are many, many Thunderbolt 3 expansion solutions out there on the market, docks, storage, PCIe expansion, card readers etc. The new ThunderBay Flex 8 from OWC spans all of those categories as they are all built-in to one unit!
So, when we got the opportunity to test one out, we were very pleased when there was a knock on the door from the delivery guy who handed the box over to me. This the first stop on its travels, but more about that later.
OK, we know what you are thinking. Yes, it does look like a mini dark-style cheesegrater Mac Pro. So, we decided to put one side by side for you to judge the size!
The unit came populated with disks, so it is pretty heavy, but the majority of the weight is from those spinning platters.
On the front is a lock that opens the door to the drives. There are eight bays, you can load up to 128 Terrabytes of storage. The bottom four can take 2.5 or 3.5 inch SATA drives, nice to see sturdy metal caddies compared to the plastic ones from other storage manufacturers.
The top four can take the same or (and here is where it gets flexible) U.2 NVMe SSDs (one bay PCIe 3.0 x4, three bays PCIe 3.0 x1), 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s SSDs, or 3.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s HDDs. Yes, we did copy that last bit from the website as we are yet to fully understand all the different configurations!
Also on the front are two USB A 10 Gb/s ports - very handy for connecting peripherals without having to buy an adaptor. There's also a USB C 10 Gb/s connector that you can use for faster peripherals or just getting media off your mobile phone and/or charging it.
Content creators are going to be especially pleased by the inclusion of SD 4.0 and CFexpress card readers right on the front. No scrambling for a card reader and having to plug it in, they're right there waiting.
On the back, there is a big fan, which means it can rotate slower and therefore create less noise.
Then we have the expansion slots, more about those in a later article, but we are thinking that this box could end up being a video creator's dream. Imagine installing a Blackmagic card and then having card reader, storage and broadcast output all in one box connected to your MacBook Pro.
Underneath that are two Thunderbolt 3 connections. This isn't shared storage so the second one is for daisy chaining. One of the ports can supply power to charge a MacBook Pro. Could you install a network card and make a fileserver? We will have to find out!
Next to that is a Display Port 1.4 connector that will output 8K if your Mac is up to it.
All that is left is the IEC power socket and the master on/off switch. Phew!
First impressions? Well, the flexibility sends the mind racing with the possibilities. Having so much that you can change or upgrade means that the ThunderBay Flex 8 will certainly have a long life. We really like the idea of the combination of so many elements via one cable. A dock, RAID, PCIe card would have all required separate boxes and separate cables. This gets rid of the mess.
We are not going to be the only people testing out the unit. After we have used it attached to our iMac Pro for editing, it is going on a tour! The idea is to hand it over to other users who might use it in a different way: build a better RAID, add a PCIe card, use it as a DIT box etc. It should be fun.
However, in the next article, we will plug it up and test it out! We have spotted that this demo machine has a few SSDs installed and the rest of the drive bays are populated with 4TB HDDs. What combinations and disk speeds will we get?
The ThunderBay Flex 8 starts at $1,299 for the enclosure, however you can get it pre-loaded with disks at varying capacities to suit your need. It also comes with SoftRAID, so you can build you RAID 0, 5 etc.
Full Disclosure: OWC is a sponsor of FCP.co, but we would review this box anyway as we think it is rather nice. We don't get to keep it though. No animals were hurt during the photography, although a bowl of Whiskas was involved as payment.