There’s something oddly thrilling about cranking up a relatively small RAID box with eight 4TB hard drives and a promise to wield all of them simultaneously at ludicrous speeds. It really doesn’t matter if you’re “into” technology or view it as a tool. If you have lots of data at your disposal and an unused Thunderbolt port on your PC (that’s everyone), you should get excited about CRU Acquisition Group LLC’s Thunderbolt storage tower.
At first glance the RTX800-TR isn’t all that different from most other eight-bay RAID storage devices, until you peer at the back and discover that the usual assortment of connectors is missing. There are no LAN, USB, eSATA, or iSCSI ports to be found—only two Thunderbolt ports and a power port stand ready to take cables. That alone makes the CRU unit different from most other towers we’ve tested, which are generally connected via more traditional means.
For those who haven’t run across a Thunderbolt connector in the past three years, it’s (yet another) hardware interface for peripherals. It is comparable to USB 3.0, but technically twice as fast and more versatile. Thunderbolt is essentially an external link to the PCIe bus, plus DisplayPort and power in a single cable. Remember FireWire? Thunderbolt can also daisy-chain up to six devices per port.
Despite its technical advantages in some cases, Thunderbolt hasn’t exactly gone gangbusters since its debut. To most, it’s the connector you plug the LAN adapter into on new MacBooks.
CRU isn’t in the running for any design awards with the RTX800-TR; it is a shining example of a “black box.” Where we will give the company props, however, is in the unit’s build quality, thanks to the thick metal panels brushed in a matte-black finish that give it a professional, solid feel. We do wish the company would have used black painted screws on the back rather than the silver ones, which would have better matched the recessed screws on the top panel.
When filled with drives this beast nears the 40-pound mark, which is heavier than many traditional desktop PCs. Nonetheless, with the flip-up handle on its top, CRU wants you to feel that the RTX800-TR is a carry-and-go device. To its credit, that handle is solid enough to support the tower when it’s fully loaded. Unfortunately, the shape of the handle makes it uncomfortable when it’s pulled into the meat of your hand. Wear gloves, or better yet, just pick it up from the bottom.
The solid feel extends all the way around to the drive bays on the front, with the one exception being the bay covers, which are made of a flimsier black plastic. The bays are trayless, making the Thunderbolt tower a no-go for those who want a pop-and-go backup set, and there are no issues sliding the drives in and ejecting them. Next to each bay are LEDs to indicate drive status and disk activity.
As mentioned earlier, the back panel houses the power and Thunderbolt connectors. Just to make sure you don’t get them confused, they’ve put them as far from each other as possible—power on the very bottom and Thunderbolt on the top.