Netstor NA611TB3 Thunderbolt™ 3 NVMe SSD Storage Review! Storage not eGPU related.  

 

sprober
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February 6, 2018 10:33 pm  

Since my Mantiz eGPU is working perfectly I decided to look at a little fast external storage. At first I considered using an external PCIe box with one of the following Amfeltec cards:

Amfeltec SQUID cards

After I saw the price on these cards I decided to look around at other options and found a Netstor NA611TB3 for a much more reasonable price and decided to try it out with two 1TB Samsung 960 PRO NVMe SSD's in a RAID 0 configuration. It seems like a pretty well built device so I decided to put up a short review here.

The Netstor NA611TB3 comes nicely packaged in a sealed white box with a picture of the device on top and specs on the back. Packaging is reminiscent of Apple once opened with a cutout for the device itself on top and the power brick and cord in a compartment below. I would say the device itself is somewhat portable being a little larger than my hand as seen in the following picture:

ugeKcyMbRauBLF9I3m1ukA thumb 1050

The device itself is made out of aluminum with a rubber sleeve and looks to be well made. The enclosure accepts two NVMe M.2 SSD's of any length, has dual Thunderbolt 3 ports for daisy chaining, a small fan and a switch to turn off the fan if unneeded on the rear plate. Here is a picture of the rear of the device:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 1054

The device comes without SSD's but installation is a fairly simple process. Removing the two screws on the back plate allows an aluminum shelf to slide out that all internal components are attached to. Here are the guts after sliding out:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 1052

 

The SSD's need to be installed on the underside of the two sandwiched boards. Simply removing the four screws that retain the board and detaching the fan allows you to access the underside and insert the SSD's, there is a thermal blanket on the aluminum shelf that aids in cooling:

HBiC%OKgQU6dZDThD6N1SQ thumb 1053

After SSD installation the device is truly plug and play with my 15" MacBook Pro running High Sierra 10.13.4. Once plugged into a Thunderbolt port the device shows up immediately in system report:

Screen Shot 2018 02 05 at 4.59.06 PM

Opening Disk Manager the two SSD's show up as immediately available:

Screen Shot 2018 02 05 at 5.00.40 PM

I then used the Mac RAID assistant to create a 2TB RAID 0 disk, very simple proccess:

Screen Shot 2018 02 05 at 5.01.44 PM

Screen Shot 2018 02 05 at 5.03.54 PM

Once attached the front panel has one power light that is orange when in standby and blue when attached and active. It also has independent lights for each SSD that flash white on activity:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 1056

Running a quick Black Magic Disk Benchmark made me realize it was going to be pretty tough to match the performance of my internal SSD. Here are the internal results:

DiskSpeedTestInternal

After running the benchmark on the external Netstor device I was somewhat surprised. It is pretty darn close on read speed but slightly off on write speed. I'm assuming the write performance is affected by the software raid and this is just an initial benchmark, I have not tried any optimizations. Here are the Netstor results:

DiskSpeedNetstor

Conclusion. The Netstor seems like a very well built device and I now have 2TB of hot plug external storage that is fast enough to do direct audio recording and processing as well as 4k video editing. I'm sure performance can be improved a bit with some optimization but it is still pretty fast. I would still be interested in trying the quad Amfeltec board but will wait for NAND flash prices to come down a bit.


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nando4
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February 7, 2018 12:20 am  

@sprober ,  thank you for your review. I noticed the Black Magic write speed is half of the maximum of Thunderbolt 3's 22Gbps (2750MB/s), but your reads are OK.

This is a PCIe enclosure running PCIe firmware. We noticed another PCIe enclosure being used for GPUs is also giving this half-write performance (1386.15MiB/s writes, 2664.85MiB/s reads):

https://egpu.io/forums/builds/late-2016-15-mbp-tb-rp460-node-pro-gtx-1080-ti-fe-win-10-pro/

Consider these steps to try to improve performance:

1. trying to hotplug the enclosure after Apple firmware has booted to circumvent any link adjustments it may be doing.

2. asking netstor to provide a new firmware to enable full speed writes.  Just last year this was required for some eGFX enclosures:

https://egpu.io/forums/thunderbolt-enclosures/alert-akitio-node-half-h2d-bandwidth-issue/

eGPU Port Bandwidth Reference TableeGPU Setup 1.35


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sprober
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February 7, 2018 1:54 am  

@nando4, thanks for the suggestions. I will definitely be working on optimizing the write performance.


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theitsage
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February 7, 2018 3:02 pm  

@sprober Thank you for the detailed review of this TB3 NVMe enclosure. You can try AJA System Test to see if it makes a difference with Write speed. If that shows the same, maybe try one drive at a time. 

Best ultrabooks for eGPU use

eGPU enclosure buying guide

51 external GPU build guides


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sprober
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February 7, 2018 5:05 pm  

@theitsage Thanks for the suggestion. I will definitely be testing the SSD's independently. I think the software RAID is part of the problem as it still only allows the HPFS format where APFS is allowed on individual drives and is designed specifically for SSD's. I will post those results when I have a chance.


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theitsage
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February 7, 2018 5:09 pm  

The software RAID feature in macOS is definitely not there yet. If you have Boot Camp to run Windows, that's a quick way to determine the max bandwidth on this NVMe enclosure.

Best ultrabooks for eGPU use

eGPU enclosure buying guide

51 external GPU build guides


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goalque
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February 7, 2018 5:26 pm  

For a comparison, a couple of CrystalDiskMark tests with a single 512GB 960 PRO & NP631N & HL23T on Windows 10:

Barefeats shows that NA611TB3 can reach 1938 MB/s 16GB sequential write speed:
http://barefeats.com/hard226.html

Edited: 1 month  ago

automate-eGPU.shapple_set_os.efi
--
late-2016 13" Macbook Pro nTB + Vega64@32Gbps-TB3 (Netstor HL23T) + macOS & Win10
late-2016 13" Macbook Pro nTB + GTX980/RX580@32Gbps-TB3 (Netstor HL23T) + macOS10.13 & Win10


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sprober
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February 8, 2018 12:06 am  

Here are the results from AJA as suggested by theitsage using 4k RED HD, 16 MB file size. I  ran the test on the macbook internal SSD, the two 1 TB Samsung Pro 960 in the Netstor RAID 0 formatted HPFS, the 960 Pro's individually formatted APFS and just to check it out the two SSD's RAID 1 formatted HPFS. The RAID 0 does show by far the fastest numbers for the external SSD's especially for write and as you would expect RAID 1 has the read speed of RAID 0 but the write speed of the individuls.

Internal SSD:

LocalSSD

Netstor RAID 0:

NetStor1 RAID0

Netstor individual SSD formatted APFS:

Netstor1 1

Netstor1 2

And RAID 1 HPFS:

Netstor1 RAID1

I'm going to have to look into how barefeats got that write speed as mine is a few hundred below that. I've contacted Netstor to see if there is a firmware update but haven't heard back from them yet.


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goalque
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sprober
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February 8, 2018 3:50 pm  

@goalque I did find the response from Netstor in my spam folder thanks to your heads up. they explain the firmware update above applies to PCIe for GPU only and NVMe as we know it has no special firmware. The performance hit is due to Thunderbolt bottleneck and effects both read and write by the same percentage (Samsung specs for the 1TB 960 Pro are read speeds up to 3500MBs and sequential writes up to 2100MBs). They also provided their own test results below and as you can see my 960 Pro are beating their 960 Evo but they had the best results with the OCZ 400D so I may try a couple of Toshiba XG5 as I believe the OCZ used XG3's but Toshiba is now up to XG5.

 

Samsung 960 EVO 1TB

OCZ RD400 1TB

Installed on PC

R: 3200 MB/s
W: 1900 MB/s

R: 2600 MB/s
W: 1550 MB/s

Single NVME through TB3

R: 2300 MB/s
W: 650 MB/s

R: 2400 MB/s
W: 1400 MB/s

NA611TB with two NVMe RAID 0

R: 2400 MB/s
W: 1250 MB/s

R: 2400 MB/s
W: 2000 MB/s

As I said in my original conclusion the Netstor NA611TB is a well built device and I'm quite happy to have 2TB of fast hot plug storage that is certainly fast enough for my direct audio and video editing needs. I can add to that now that their support seems to be responsive and doing their best to satisfy your needs.

Edited: 4 months  ago

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J0n
 J0n
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February 10, 2018 11:22 pm  

Hi Sprober!

I love your NA611TB3 review! I am also a proud owner of the device - but came to the conclusion that I can't work with this kind of high-pitched noise from its fan... Do you have the same issue? You wrote:

a small fan and a switch to turn off the fan if unneeded on the rear plate

but it seems that the switch is just for two different fan modes: a) high-pitched-super-annoying or b) way-too-loud 😉

Do you have any idea how to fix this? Do we actually need the fan?

Cheers;
J0n


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sprober
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February 11, 2018 5:59 am  

@J0n- I do not have the problem you are describing, the fan in mine is whisper quiet. You are correct the switch on the back is for low and high demand mode, when I first did the review I just assumed the switch was on/off when glancing at it before reading anything and since the temperature blanket was included. A couple of options for a fix off the top of my head:

1. Contact Netstor about a replacement, they have been responsive to my inquiries and seem like a company that wants to deliver a quality product.
2. Replace the fan yourself. Shouldn't be to hard to find a quality fan with the same specs.
3. Open the enclosure and unplug the fan and get a program like DriveDX that monitors temperature and see if you are within specs with just the thermal blanket.

Option three would obviously be the quickest work around but I have not done any temperature tests on mine since it seems to be fine noise wise for me, as my primary use is audio recording noise is a concern for me. Hope this helps some.


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 chx
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February 11, 2018 12:32 pm  

WAT. I know Intel at one point explicitly banned manufacturers releasing empty M.2 enclosures. Seems like this is a very new development, looks like mid-Dec 2017.

That's fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Do you know what this is? Portable 4K framegrabber, just add Magewell Eco Capture HDMI 4K M.2. YUMMY. Want. WAAAAAANT! Alas CRA has dibs on my money and then the Lenovo G0A1. This needs to wait, looks like over 700 USD but still, a portable 4K framegrabber for less than 800, that's... incredible. The next comparable device is a grand and rack size. Not portable, LOL.

Also, I must note this is the first affordable TB3-to-dual PCIe, just needs breakout boards for both slots.

Edited: 3 months  ago

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J0n
 J0n
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February 11, 2018 2:52 pm  

@Sprober: Thank you so much!

I tried to record the noise with a shotgun microphone, here's the result:

The thing is that the noise isn't loud in terms of decibel - it's just incredibly annoying. I doubt that it is somehow broken, but when you're saying that yours is "whisper quiet"... I can definitely not work on audio related stuff when there's a constant high-pitched noise in the background. Mine is definitely not whisper quiet.

Again, many thanks - especially regarding the driveDX idea!!

Cheers;
Jon


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J0n
 J0n
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February 11, 2018 3:32 pm  

... and here's the update regarding the idea of unplugging the fan from the disk:

The setup:
I started....

  • BM Disk Speed Test
  • FCPX for a large file export
  • multiple file copy processes
  • VLC to playback a bunch of movie files

At the same time, I was monitoring the "composite temperatur" (NA611TB3 case), "Temperatur Sensor 1" (probably first m.2) and "Temperature Sensor 2" (probably second m.2):

The max temperature I was able to measure:

  • composite temperatur: 39°C
  • Temperatur Sensor 1: 42°C
  • Temperatur Sensor 2: 56°C

I'm not sure if 56°C is too high... but on the other hand: Everything below 70°C seems to be quite ok...


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sprober
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February 11, 2018 6:38 pm  

@J0n I would think as long as you are well under 70° C you should be fine. The environmental specs directly from Samsung for the 960 PRO are below and 70° is the point where it throttles performance though running at excessive temperature may effect lifetime(?). Was it the fan creating the noise, did disconnecting it resolve this?

Environment

AVERAGE POWER CONSUMPTION
(SYSTEM LEVEL)3)

Typ. 5.1 Watts (512 GB) 
Typ. 5.3 Watts (1024 GB) 
Typ. 5.8 Watts (2048 GB)

OPERATING TEMPERATURE

0°C to 70°C (Measured by SMART Temperature. Proper airflow recommended)

POWER CONSUMPTION (IDLE)3)

40mW

SHOCK

1500G, duration 0.5m sec, 3 axis

 

RELIABILITY (MTBF)

1.5 Million Hours Reliability (MTBF)

I would definitely be annoyed by the sound in your video for audio recording however I have all of my computer equipment on a shelf in a 19" rack with a door as my eGPU does have fan noise for sure.

@chx That is a really good idea about the Magewell, it may work. You would have to make a cut out on the back for the HDMI cable and remove it's heat shield put a 2 TB SSD in the other slot, best of both worlds. I bought this so I would have a decent amount of somewhat portable fast audio and 4k storage, paid around 270£ for it and had the NVMe's.

Edited: 3 months  ago

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J0n
 J0n
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February 12, 2018 11:52 am  

And here's the official response from Netstor:

Netstor team has thoughtfully designed the short moment (few seconds) full fan speed feature to the rear 2x2 cm fan of the Netstor unit.  The few second to provide full voltage to Fan cooler when you power on NA611TB design, is to make sure the Fan cooler spinning up. The reason that our team has this feature be designed in is because the feature of the short moment (few seconds) full fan speed will prevent the 2x2 cm fan from aging; it will keep the 2x2 cm fan work longer, the lifespan longer, and the fan working right all the time. 

Normally, users will have the Netstor NA611TB3 unit be powered on along with the Thunderbolt 3 Mac, that is, to power on Thunderbolt 3 Mac, and the NA611TB3 will power on along automatically. The user can follow the above described power on procedure, and the short moment full fan speed to the 2x2 cm fan will only occur for a few seconds just right after pressing iMac’s power button.

 

Secondly, please visit the following site for the NA611TB3 video: 

 

During time period 2:15 ~ 2:20 in the video, it has instructed the users how to check if the power button is with the right position just right after inserting the backplane into the storage enclosure. Please have the user check the unit’s power button by the instruction told during the time period 2:15 ~ 2:20 in the video content.

Lastly, each brand, model of M.2 SSDs has different thermal design.

If the M.2 SSD to be used with the storage unit has lower thermal design, the rear 2x2 cm fan at NA611TB3 can be disabled by not connecting the fan power cable within the Netstor unit, but the thermal pad inside the NA611TB3 must be always used for the M.2 SSDs for thermal conduction and dissipation. 

Note if the M.2 SSD to be used with the storage unit has higher thermal design, under the circumstances the thermal pad inside is used for the M.2 SSDs and the rear 2x2 cm fan is disabled, it will be ok if the M.2 SSDs’ temp goes high while working because as the M.2 SSDs’ temp goes high above certain level, the M.2 SSDs’ controller will automatically down-clock to enter the protection mode; the only effect will be the write performance to go down to have the M.2 SSD work without generating much heat.


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April 10, 2018 1:48 pm  

Hey guys, just stumbled upon this thread whilst looking at thunderbolt 3 interfaces and I was wondering if the write performance of this set up was due to the PCIe 3 interface on the NetStor enclosure being 3x2 and the 960 pro being 3x4. 

From Scan.co.uk "The NA611TB3 can be equipped with two M.2 PCIe NVMe flash storage modules with each module having PCIe 3.0 x2 lanes up to 16Gbps throughput. Moreover, the dual M.2 modules can further choose to be configured for software array as RAID 0 in favor of performance or RAID 1 in support of security."

Please correct me if I've misunderstood, I'm only just starting to learn about PCIe and SSD technology instead of taking it for granted! 


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