by StorageReview Consumer Desk

Netstor TurboBox Review (NA211TB-LD)

The Netstor TurboBox (NA211TB-LD) is an external PCIe enclosure that connects to any Thunderbolt-equipped computer for expansion via three PCIe slots and four 2.5" bays that can handle SSDs or SAS/SATA HDDs. The TurboBox connects to computers via a single Thunderbolt cable to offer users 10Gb/s in dual channels for enhanced performance. Optionally, users can add a RAID card to the TurboBox enabling RAID configurations. The TurboBox also features a 250W power supply with fan as well as plenty of ventilation on the rear and front of the aluminum enclosure to keep PCIe cards and 2.5" drives cool. Specifically for the four drive bays in front, the enclosure comes with a large cooling fan to ensure proper airflow and cooling for what's sure to be a highly taxed enclosure. 

The Netstor TurboBox has primarily been designed to dramatically increase system IOPS and is targeted toward creative professionals who require extreme speeds and the ability to offload data quickly to share for editing and other production tasks. With its relatively portable size and support for up to three PCIe cards and four 2.5" drives, the TurboBox is fairly simple to transport from location to location. The portability of the unit can't be understated. For many creative professionals, access to low-latency storage within a desktop is crucial for creative workflows. There are times however where in-host flash either isn't financially practical or isn't physically possible. In these cases, a portable solution that lets an entire workgroup or a notebook user have access to a flexible solution like this is invaluable. 

The Netstor TurboBox is available now through select retailers like B&H with a street price of roughly $900.

Netstor TurboBox Specifications

  • Host Interface Thunderbolt 10Gbps Bi-directional
  • PCIe Slot: Two PCIe 2.0 x8 (One slot is available for PCIe x16 card), One PCIe 2.0 x4
  • Supports 4 x 2.5" HDD or SSD - Sold separately
  • RAID Support: Requires a RAID card with internal 4 port and Thunderbolt driver (RAID card sold separately)
  • Thunderbolt Expansion: Up to Six Thunderbolt devices
  • Material: Aluminum housing with solid metal structure
  • Power Supply: High Efficiency Single 250W PSU (High-Efficiency & Low Noise)
  • Input: 90-230 VAC/50-60 HZ
  • Output: +5V and +12V
  • Dimensions (DxWxH): 371mm (14.6") x 110mm (4.3") x 200mm (7.87")
  • Cooling : One Hot-Swappable 80 x80 x20 mm Cooling Fan
  • System Support: Mac mini, Mac mini Server, iMac, MacBook Pro or Windows PC with a Thunderbolt port
  • O.S. Support Mac OS X 10.6.8+, Mac OS Server, OS X Lion
  • PCIe card Size Available: Full Height & Card Length Available: 218(L)mm / 8.6"(L)
  • Environmental
    • Storage Temperature 0 to 40°C (32 to 104°F)
    • Operating Temperature -10 to 50°C (-14 to 122°F)
    • Relative Humidity 20 to 80% (non-condensing)

Design and Build

The Netstor TurboBox has a sturdy construction designed not only to sit at a workstation, but also to be toted around when necessary (Netstor includes a carrying case for the TurboBox). The entirety of the enclosure is built with solid aluminum not just for style, but also for passive cooling and protection of the hardware users will install. The front of the TurboBox has a ventilated grille behind which a decent-sized fan spins at adjustable speeds. The rear of the device features the two Thunderbolt ports as well as three removable PCIe slot guards. Underneath the connectivity is the power supply which its own fan. The bottom of the TurboBox features four feet that protect it from sliding around.

For installation, users can twist the rear-mounted screw which allows them to remove the top panel. Inside, the layout is clean. At the front, there is the built-in backplane which can house up to 4 SSDs or HDDs. To install drives, users twist to unscrew again as with the top panel, which enables users to pull out a door piece to slide out the drive tray. The rest of the unit provides room for PCIe expansion without much space used since there isn't much cabling. All that users will see is the pre-installed card for Thunderbolt and a black cable for connecting SATA/SAS drives to an optional RAID card.

At the very front of the TurboBox, users can easily slide out the fan if they want to adjust its speed. The fan houses five jumpers on the bottom that are labeled 4, 3, 2, 1 and F. The default setting has the jumper placed over setting 2 for medium speed, and users can decrease the speed down to 4 or up to F (F is full speed). The fan ceases to function if the jumper isn't placed over pins.

Performance

To test the Netstor TurboBox, we leveraged a Fusion ioFX PCIe SSD, which is firmly aimed at content creation professionals. Testing this SSD in a native desktop environment directly attached yielded sequential performance of 1.3GB/s read and 398MB/s write. We tested the bandwidth over ThunderBolt by installing the ioFX inside the TurboBox and connecting it to a Mid-2013 Apple MacBook Air. Leveraging the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test with a 5GB test file, we saw transfer speeds measuring 750MB/s read and 396MB/s write.

We also tested the Atto N12 10G-BaseT NIC inside the same enclosure, which was immediately recognized once the Atto drivers were installed. For connecting to high-performance NAS/SAN arrays at remote locations or just accessing faster network storage from your Apple MacBook Air, the TurboBox enclosure is an excellent option for gaining additional connectivity.

RAID cards are also supported, although you need to choose one that supports the OS X operating system. None of our Adaptec or LSI RAID adapters include OSX drivers, although Netstor does direct customers towards compatible devices on their TurboBox product page

Conclusion

The Netstor TurboBox provides expanded options to desktop workstations and notebook users on the go with its portable design, three PCIe slots and support for four 2.5" SSD or HDDs. The device is geared toward Apple users with its Thunderbolt interface and aluminum enclosure design, but it also supports Windows PCs. By design, the enclosure has efficiency in mind with passive cooling via the aluminum construction and ventilation, and the TurboBox also features an adjustable fan near the front-mounted built-in backplane for active cooling.

The level of care given to detail in terms of design make the Netstor an excellent companion for creative professionals and the like. The device isn't lightweight, but is definitely not excessively burdensome to transport. Additionally, the TurboBox provides users with tool-less access via screws that can be twisted loose, which makes intuitive and simple to upgrade or perform maintenance to the TurboBox. Significant as well, the Netstor designed the TurboBox almost entirely free from plastic for more effective cooling and a higher-end look and feel to match professional environments.

Ultimately the enclosure is extremely flexible when it comes to accessing both high-performance PCIe storage as well as expansion interconnect cards and supported RAID cards for additional storage in the four 2.5" bays. For creative professionals in the field or for small workgroups that would like to share access to something like an ioFX, this solution is right on target. You will give up a little top-end read performance with an ioFX by going from in-host to a Thunderbolt external solution, but the gained flexibility and portability will certainly be a worthwhile exchange for many. 

Pros

  • High-end aluminum enclosure
  • Tool-less access
  • Tremendous flexibility

Cons

  • Limited to devices with OSX driver-support in Mac environments

Bottom Line

The Netstor TurboBox presents creative professionals and others in the market with a device that looks great while accomplishing the task of adding three PCIe slots and four 2.5" drive bays for users who need high performance storage in a portable form factor.

TurboBox Product Page

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