Cal Digit HD Element vs. Everything Else

This post original appeared on the Creative Cow forums.

I have been playing with the new Cal Digit HD Element. How does this compare to everything else on the market today ? What are it’s specs ? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is the price. The HD Element is a RAID 5 array package that is expandable, and is the CHEAPEST professional configuration on the market today. This means that no one has any excuse to not have a SAS/SATA RAID 5 configuration any longer for their professional editing or graphics workstation.


The HD Element comes with the fantastic Cal Digit RAID card. This card, which is designed to be a host controller that allow users to have an internal drive RAID 5 configuration (which I will personally never use) also has THREE external ports, that can be hooked up to 3 external drive arrays that use a SAS port connection. The HD Element is a 4 drive SATA box, that uses a single miniSAS cable to connect to the Cal Digit RAID card. These 4 drives come preconfigured by Cal Digit in a RAID 5 configuration, but if you go into the easy to use Cal Digit RAID Shield software that controls the CalDigit RAID card, you can redo this yourself (if you are curious like I am).

Instead of risking your career (and your client’s valuable media) to a single SATA drive, or a bunch of SATA drives that are stripped together RAID 0 (if one drive fails, you lose everything !), you now can have an INEXPENSIVE solution that will protect you, if one of your drive fails.

Boxes like this have existed for a while now. Even Cal Digit has been selling great products like the HDPro. But they were expensive, and out of reach for most customers. BUT NO LONGER. Now, everyone can have a RAID 5 protected drive array.

Of course, what is really fantastic is that this is not a dead end solution. If you have very little money (just over $1400 street price for the 1TB Cal Digit HDElement), you can get started with a single box configuration. And when your business takes off, and you need more storage, you can ADD MORE BOXES. There are 3 external ports on the back of the Cal Digit RAID card, so you can have up to 3 HD Elements on one card, all running at the same time.

There are countless applications for this. For example, lets say you have your demo project running on one box, and you get a big job, and have to add a larger HD Element in the future. You just go out an buy another box, and plug it in. But now, you get real busy, and have to pull off that first box. Well – put it on the shelf. This ain’t no firewire drive – this is a RAID 5 enclosure with high speed SATA drives. You can purchase them with up to 1TB drives for 4TB of storage PER BOX. But remember, if you have no money, you can start with the 1TB box, and get EVERYTHING for just over $1400 street price. And yes, this includes the RAID card.

But for this low price, is it a piece of junk – is it slow ? absolutlely not ! While it is no speed demon like the Cal Digit HDPro, it can still do over 250mb/sec reliably. This means that you can do an uncompressed 10 bit 1080i HD with no problems. And for the typical user that will buy this for uncompressed standard def, or Apple ProRes422HQ or Panasonic DVCProHD, you can do these resolutions ALL DAY LONG on the HD Element, without ever seeing a dropped frame error. Run out of storage – buy another box. It’s all RAID 5 protected.

I was unhappy when the Cal Digit S2VR was discontinued, and other products like it from Sonnet Technology and others. The reality was that most of my clients simply did not want to spend the money for a big mama RAID 5 array like the Cal Digit HD Pro. And so, they wound up with these little Lacie and G-Tech FW800 boxes, or used internal SATA drives. Nothing was protected. Drives that were stripped RAID 0 to get better performance would fail, and clients would lose all their media and would be ready to kill me. I recommended RAID 5 products from other companies including CalDigit, but most were simply too expensive.

NO LONGER. For the first time, EVERYONE can afford to have RAID 5 storage on their FCP and Adobe workstations, and never have to worry about losing their data. And never have to worry that they are buying a dead end solution that cannot be expanded.

The next time someone says to me “but I don’t want to spend so much money” – now I have a professional, reliable answer.

Bob Zelin