I will be taking a detailed look at the AV Pro from CalDigit. It is a new single drive storage solution aimed at the professional market. The AV Pro can achieve the same speeds as many Thunderbolt drives in the single drive form factor. I’m really excited to take it for a spin, and see if it can get the performance that CalDigit claims, and wether it can keep up with the demands that I throw at it within Final Cut Pro.
Appearance & Design
From first glance the AV Pro is an elegant looking drive that fits in great with the metallic Mac aesthetic. It is made from aluminum, and has an extremely solid build. I’ve used single drive external storage in the past that have been made from cheaper materials such as plastic, and it’s great to have a storage device that’s made solidly. Especially at this price point. CalDigit claim that no expense has been spared with the components inside the unit. Apparently the AV Pro has active, and passive cooling in order to maintain a healthy operating temperature at all times. I know from my own experience using external drives, and working with them all day that they can heat up big time. The circulation of air inside the unit is extremely important. From the time I’ve spent with the AV Pro I have not encountered any such issues. Especially with the SSD version.
Now let’s talk about what is probably the most critical function of the AV Pro. The feature that really sets it apart from other single drive storage. At the front of the AV Pro is a removable drive that allows you to take the hard drive out, and replace it with another drive. Many creative professionals often have to purchase two or three external hard drives to meet the demands of their projects. Having to buy all these external drives takes up a lot of desk space, and it can be expensive. If like me you like to keep your project’s workflow as simple, and efficient as possible then the removable drive of the AV Pro is an intriguing proposition.
The AV Pro’s removable drive can accept either a 2.5″ SSD, or a 3.5″ HDD. The SSD version will be available in capacities of up to 480GB, and the HDD version up to 4TB. However, the fact that the AV Pro has a removable drive means that the possibilities are endless with regards to HDD capacity.
The removable drive module of the AV Pro is ejected from the unit with the use of a drive key that is included in the box. Once you insert the key the handle unlocks, and you can just take out the drive. Inserting a new drive is just as easy. Insert the new drive into the AV Pro, and lock down the handle. The drive is even hot swappable. This means that you don’t have to turn off the AV Pro before you take the drive out, or put in a new one. The drive module also has a drive lock on the front that can prevent people from taking the drive module out by accident.
The idea that I can use the SSD version of the AV Pro, edit my projects with really fast speeds, and then use the 3.5″ HDD version to keep a back up of all my assets from my projects with a storage capacity up to 4TB is a great proposition. I could see this being an ideal workflow for any editor that archives footage for use on later projects. It’s also great for people who need to get footage from the shoot to the edit suite as fast as possible.
On the front of the AV Pro is a power button that lights up orange. The button also acts as a activity indicator. It flashes when the drive is in use.
The back of the AV Pro has a USB 3.0 port, two Firewire 800 ports, a Kensington lock, and a power connector. There will also be a version of the AV Pro that will not feature the Firewire 800 ports should you not require them.
Included in the box is a stand for the AV Pro, a USB 3.0 cable, two drive keys, AC Power Adapter, and a mains plug. The manual, and software are installed on the drive itself.
The AV Pro can literally do many things. I’ve started to think of it as an editor’s toolbox. Firstly, the AV Pro can be bus powered when used with an SSD drive. This makes it an ideal solution for use on location when backing up data, and a great way to keep your desk uncluttered.
Secondly, CalDigit have released an iPhone, and Android App for mobile devices that allows you to monitor your AV Pro remotely. The CalDigit ThunderView App is a free download from either the Apple App Store, or the Google Play Store. I downloaded the iPhone version to my iPhone. The set-up process was fairly easy. Once you’ve set it up the app gives you access to basic information about your AV Pro, such as hard drive capacity, and disk temperature. Also included in the app is a handy bit-rate calculator that allows you to calculate how much hard drive space you need. One of the best features of the app is that you can email CalDigit directly from the app. This makes it super easy to get any information you may need, and it saves time having to look online for their contact details.
CalDigit also includes Mac OS software that is installed on the AV Pro. The CalDigit Drive Utility runs on your computer, and constantly monitors the status of your drive. You can set up email notifications, run disk benchmark tests, and get detailed event information.
Thirdly, the AV Pro can also be daisy chained through its Firewire ports. If you’re someone who needs to connect multiple units together then you could do so.
Before I put the AV Pro through some tests via Final Cut Pro in order to get “real world” performance I will take a closer look at the technology behind the AV Pro.
The AV Pro utilizes a newer USB 3.0 Protocol called UAS (USB Attached SCSI). In the past USB 3.0 used a protocol called BOT (Bulk Only Transfer). The BOT protocol would only allow for a single unidirectional command at a time. This meant that USB 3.0 could not offer such fast speeds. The AV Pro’s utilization of the UAS protocol means that the USB 3.0 interface can now process multiple commands at a time. This utilizes more of the available bandwidth of the USB 3.0 interface. Basically this means that the AV Pro is super fast.
When the AV Pro SSD version was connected to a latest generation Macbook Air (1.8 GHz Intel Core i5 with 4GB of RAM). I was getting both read, and write speeds of almost 430MB/s when connected via USB 3.0. Let me put that into context for one moment. In the past I would have needed a 4-bay RAID device in order to get those types of speeds. The idea that I can now get that kind of performance from a single drive device that doesn’t clutter up my office space, and that I can carry around in my bag with me is an incredible proposition.
I think that one of the biggest selling points of the AV Pro is that it comes in at a very attractive price point compared to Thunderbolt drives. The reason I am comparing it to Thunderbolt is that the AV Pro can reach the same level of performance as Thunderbolt, but at a much more competitive price point. The 240GB SSD AV Pro with USB 3.0 will be available for $439. Take into account that it also includes a cable, it is bus powered, it has a removable drive, and it becomes clear that the AV Pro is great value for money.
I ran the 4TB HDD model through the AJA speed test and got almost 200MB/s in both read and write. Even the non SSD version can get very impressive numbers. I tested the Firewire 800 speeds on another computer and got speeds of almost 85MB/s.
For the next test I transfered a file from the Macbook Air to the AV Pro SSD version connected via USB 3.0. A 3.34GB file transfered in 14 seconds!
A 28.94GB file transfered in 1 minute, and 21 seconds! If you’re someone who needs to backup data on location, the AV Pro would be an ideal solution thanks to its very fast transfer times. I copied the same 3.34GB file from the Macbook Air to the 3.5″ HDD version of the AV Pro. It copied the file in 20.5 seconds!
We all know that speed tests are all well and good, but we need to put the AV Pro through some “real world” tests to get a better perspective of its capabilities. Firstly, I imported a mixture of ProRes 422 (HQ), ProRes 4444, and Uncompressed 8-bit HD clips into Final Cut Pro. All of the clips were saved on the AV Pro. I was using the SSD version of the AV Pro connected via its bus powered USB 3.0 connection to a Macbook Air.
Once all the clips were imported I proceeded to place them into the timeline. The AV Pro played back the footage without a problem. In total I had 6 streams of video playing back. As I mentioned previously they were all a mixture of Uncompressed 8-bit HD, ProRes 422 1920 x 1080 (HQ), and ProRes 4444 1920 x 1080. I applied a bunch of effects onto the clips such as basic color correction, filters, blurs, and the AV Pro performed without a glitch. As I was using the SSD version of the AV Pro there was no heat or noise coming from the unit. Even after I had it on for two to three hours.
Previously in this preview of the AV Pro I was comparing it to other single drive Thunderbolt storage. The reason I did this was down to the fact that the AV Pro has in my estimation performed just as well as single drive Thunderbolt devices. The reason the AV Pro can reach the same level of performance as Thunderbolt is down to the fact that in the single drive form factor the speed that can be achieved is capped by the actual hard drives inside the unit. USB 3.0 has enough bandwith to deal with the speeds you can achieve in single drive solutions. The advantage that the AV Pro has over single drive Thunderbolt storage is that it is packed with features, and is available at a great price point. The table below demonstrates the cost to feature set comparison between the 2TB AV Pro, and the 2TB HDD version of the LaCie Little Big Disk with Thunderbolt.
The AV Pro is a powerful, and versatile storage solution that delivers on all aspects of professional use. The reason I think that this is such a great device is down to the fact that you can tell that this storage solution has been built with quality in mind. CalDigit make storage for professional use, and that is definitely evident with the AV Pro. When it comes to single drive solutions other manufacturers tend to aim them at the consumer market, and feature cheaply made components. The AV Pro on the other hand is an incredibly well made device built from solid aluminum that packs a great deal of performance in such a small bus powered device.