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Akitio Palm RAID review: A fast portable drive that's way too expensive

The Akitio Palm RAID is an ultracompact Thunderbolt portable drive that has RAID support. But is it worth the hefty $600 price? Here's CNET's full review.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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9 min read

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Editors' note: This review was updated on November 11, 2015 to reflect the drive's new warranty length, which has been increased from one year to two years.

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6.9

Akitio Palm RAID

The Good

The Akitio Palm RAID can rapidly read your data, is small, easily portable and its aluminum unibody feels tough. It also comes with an integrated Thunderbolt cable.

The Bad

The drive is much more expensive than competing drives. It works only with Thunderbolt, and its write speed is slower than many of its peers.

The Bottom Line

The Akitio Palm RAID is a speedy ultra-portable drive, but there are similar options that deliver more for less money.

Though compact enough to fit in the palm of your hand, the Akitio Palm RAID delivers the fastest sustained read speed I've seen: close to 500MB/s in my testing. It also feels like it could take some punishment and has an integrated Thunderbolt cable, making it convenient to use.

What's more, housing two solid-state drives (SSDs) on the inside, the drive can work in either a RAID 0 or a RAID 1 setup. (The former is optimized for top speed and maximum storage space at the expense of a higher risk of data loss, whereas the latter guards data against a single drive failure but results in less storage space and slower performance.)

But all that goodness comes at a price. At the current cost of nearly $600 (£389 or AU $827, converted from its US price) for 512GB of storage space, the Palm RAID is the most expensive portable drive on the market in terms of cost per gigabyte. And while the drive's read performance is unmatched, its write speed is far from the best. The included two-year warranty is also short for a drive of its class.

That said, if you really need a supercompact and easily portable storage device that's also way fast, the Palm RAID is worth the investment. Just remember, though: you'll need a computer that supports the Thunderbolt connection. Alternatively, another equally fast but non-Thunderbolt option is the LaCie Rugged All-Terrain , which is bulkier (though still compact enough to slip in your pocket), has similar performance, costs about $170 less (for the same capacity), and also works with USB.

For more mobile storage options that might fit your needs and budget better, check out this list of top drives on the market.

The Palm RAID has an integreted Thunderbolt cable.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Design and features

The Palm RAID is an ultracompact storage solution that has support for RAID configurations. If you've no idea what RAID is don't worry, I'll explain it below.

So just how small is this drive exactly?

Pretty darn small. Measuring 4.72 by 3.11 by 0.55 inches (12 by 7.9 by 1.4cm), the Palm RAID is the most compact storage device I've seen that houses two internal drives. In fact, the drive is slightly smaller than a typical portable drive, such as the Seagate Backup Plus or WD My Passport. It's also awfully light, weighing less than 7 ounces (20g).

What type of storage does it use?

The Palm RAID houses two 256GB mSATA solid-state drives (SSDs). mSATA is a much smaller design than the regular 2.5-inch design of most drives and is often used in ultraportable laptops or tablets. This is the reason how the drive remains compact despite having two internal drives.

So what's "RAID" anyway?

RAID stands for "redundant array of independent disks." Basically it combines multiple disks (drives) into a single volume to improve performance, achieve data redundancy, or both. You need at least two drives to create a RAID array, and the more drives you have, the more RAID configurations you can create.

Which RAID configurations does the Palm RAID support?

The Palm RAID's two internal mSATA drives can be combined together into one single volume in a RAID 0 (also known as a stripe set or striped volume) or RAID 1 (also called mirror.)

RAID 0 vs. RAID 1

In a RAID 0 configuration, which is the default setting of the Palm RAID, data is split and spread between the internal drives equally to cut down the amount of time needed for both writing and reading of the data, hence the improvement in performance. The combined volume also has the total storage space of both of the drives involved, which in the case of the Palm RAID, is 512GB. Unfortunately, if one of the drives fails, data on drives drives is lost.

In a RAID 1, data is mirrored from one of the two internal drives to the other. In other words, data is written twice, for redundancy, resulting in slower performance. Not only that, the RAID volume has only the capacity of just one of the drives being used; 256GB in the case of the Palm RAID. However, the trade-off is that your data is safe in case one of the drives fails.

I tend to break things easily. Can I still use the Palm RAID?

I would always recommend taking good care of your storage devices, but yes, on its exterior, the Palm RAID has an all aluminum uni-body, making it feel solid and tough. While Akitio doesn't specify the level of its toughness, the drive feels as if it can handle impacts and pressure. In fact, during our testing, I dropped it a few times on a carpeted floor from about 6 feet, and there were no noticeable repercussions. The internal SSDs themselves are also less susceptible to shocks and drops, thanks to the fact that they have no moving parts.

Is it water-resistant?

No. The Palm RAID is not water-resistant. It has little openings that will allow water and even dust to enter and make contact with its internal drives and circuit board.

Do I need a separate Thunderbolt cable to use it?

No. The Palm RAID has an integrated Thunderbolt cable that tucks away around its side. This kind of convenient built-in cable design has been getting more and more popular, starting with the LaCie Rugged All-Terrain, and has since been repeated with others, such as the Sony HDD HB or the G-Drive EV ATC. Note that the drive has no other Thunderbolt port on its body, so that means that in a daisy-chain setup -- a Thunderbolt feature that allows as many as six devices to be plugged together to share one port from the host computer -- it can only be used as the last device in the chain.

Akitio Palm RAID's specs

Drive type Bus-powered portable hard drive
Connector options Thunderbolt
Available capacities 512GB
Internal drive 02 mSATA 256GB solid-state drives
Dimensions 4.72 x 3.11 x 0.55-inch (12 x 7.9 x 1.4 cm)
Weight 7 ounces (20g)
RAID support RAID 0 and RAID 1
OSes supported Windows 7 or later; Mac OS 10.7 or later
Warranty Two years

My computer doesn't have a Thunderbolt port. Can I still use the Palm RAID drive?

No. The Palm RAID works only with computers that have a Thunderbolt port.

Does the Palm RAID require a separate power adapter?

No. The Palm RAID's Thunderbolt cable draws juice from the host computer to power the drive. When a drive uses its data connection to also draw power it's generally referred to as a bus-powered drive. The Palm RAID also shares its power status with the host computer, automatically shutting down when the computer is off (or in sleep mode) and turning back on when the computer reboots.

The Palm RAID houses two mSATA solid-state drives on the inside. Dong Ngo/CNET

Setup

Is the drive easy to use?

Yes, if you have a Mac. Out of the box, the Palm RAID is set up in a RAID 0 configuration and is preformatted in the HFS+ file system. This means that, when plugged in a Mac, it will work right away. With a Mac, you can also use the built-in Disk Utility tool to change the drive's RAID configuration between RAID 0 and RAID 1, or use the two internal drives as two separate volumes.

How about with a Windows computer?

If you want to use the Palm RAID with a Windows computer, there's a bit of work required.

As mentioned above, out of the box, the Palm RAID is configured to work with a Mac in RAID 0 mode. Since the drive is not a hardware RAID system (which manages the RAID array by itself), but just an enclosure that hosts two internal drives, the only way for it to support RAID is when the operating system (OS) -- for instance, Windows 10 or Mac OS -- of the host computer manages its RAID configuration. This is also known as "software RAID." Because Windows and Mac OS are two distinct operating systems, they have two different ways to manage RAID configurations, so once the Palm RAID is configured for one operating system it will not be recognized by the other.

That said, on a Windows machine, you first need to use the built-in Drive Management tool to repartition the Palm RAID's internal drives. You also have the option of using the drives in a RAID configuration or as two single volumes. This process was quite fast in my testing, taking just a few minutes, but after that, the Palm RAID won't be recognized by any Mac machine until you reconfigure it using the Mac's Disk Utility.

Note that switching the RAID from one OS to another will erase all data on the drive.

Can I replace the internal drives?

Yes. You can open the Palm RAID using a small hex screw driver and replace the mSATA drives on the inside. However, doing so will void the warranty.

Performance

The Palm RAID did well in my testing, for the most part. I tested the drive on a Mac, both with RAID 0 and RAID 1. It was tested for read and write speeds separately, and also when doing both writing and reading simultaneously.

How fast is its read and write speed?

The Palm RAID's forte is in its read speed. In RAID 0, it scored a sustained real-world read speed of 483MBps (megabytes per second), the fastest I've seen for a Thunderbolt drive. In RAID 1 it was a bit slower, but still averaged an impressively fast 432MBps.

The write speed was a different story, however. In RAID 0, it registered 209MBps and in RAID 1, just 114MBps. These results are both quite fast but not impressive when compared with other Thunderbolt drives.

CNET Labs' Thunderbolt performance (single operation)

Akitio Palm RAID (RAID 0) 209.05 482.56G-Tech G-Studio R (RAID 5) 259.67 455.96Akitio Palm RAID (RAID 1) 113.54 432.14LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain 296.96 332.8LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (RAID 0) 213.51 183.76LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 0) 179.22 180.96Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ 189.23 170.00Elgato Thunderbolt SSD 120.61 168.97LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) 126.96 147.2LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) 121.11 141.63G-Tech Gdrive EV ATC (Single volume) 135.3 124.26Sony HDD HB (Single volume) 99.32 109.99
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Measured in megabytes per second.

How about its read/write combo speed?

In a test that both writes and reads data at the same time, the Palm RAID wasn't impressive either. In RAID 0 it registered 129MBps and in RAID 1 just 88MBps. Overall, this is a great drive for applications that require fast read speeds, such as hosting large applications (like games or video-editing software) or files such as high-def media editing. Looking at the chart below, the drive clearly doesn't stand out in terms of write and write/read combo performance.

CNET Labs' Thunderbolt performance (Combo operation)

LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (RAID 0) 183.76G-Tech G-Studio R (RAID 5) 154.83LaCie Little Big Disk SSD 141.69LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain 133.43Akitio Palm RAID (RAID 0) 128.68LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 0) 111.36Akitio Palm RAID (RAID 1) 87.73Elgato Thunderbolt SSD 71.84LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) 60.1WD VelociRapter 600GB 58.05LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) 55.945
Note: Measured in megabyte per second, longer bars mean better performance.

Overall, how fast is it compared with others?

In all, the Palm RAID has exceptionally fast data-reading speed, but its write speed was noticeably slow when compared with others. The LaCie Rugged All-Terrain, which is a single-volume portable drive for example, scored 297MBps, 333MBps and 133MBps for writing, reading and read/write combo, respectively, as opposed to the 209MBps, 483MBps and 129MBps of the Palm RAID (in RAID 0.) Other than its read performance, the LaCie is clearly faster than the Palm RAID.

Conclusion

The Akitio Palm RAID is not the first portable drive to use an mSATA internal drive. Samsung did it with the SSD Portable T1 . However, the Palm RAID has gone one step further by using two mSATA drives and by doing so, the option of RAID. Unfortunately, while its read speed is superb, the write speed isn't the best I've seen.

Is it worth the $600 price tag?

I would have to say, no. While the RAID option is cool, each of the drive's RAID configurations, be it RAID 1 or RAID 0, has its own disadvantages. Whether it's the reduction of storage space and slower performance (RAID 1) or the high risk of data loss (RAID 0). On top of that, the Palm RAID's performance advantage with RAID 0 only counts towards its read speed and not its write speed.

That said, if the drive were priced at $450 or less, it would be worth the investment. In this case, it would be comparable to its competition, such as the LaCie Rugged All-Terrain , which is a bit slower in read speed but much faster in write speed and significantly cheaper.

Who would love this drive?

Pricing aside, if you're looking for something that will read your data swiftly, is way small and light. If your computer supports Thunderbolt, this is the drive for you. After all, this is an all-around good product and the Thunderbolt standard offers many benefits over USB 3.0, including the ability to daisy-chain the drive to other peripheral devices, such as a Thunderbolt LCD display.

Otherwise, other non-RAID portable Thunderbolt drives, such as the LaCie Rugged All-Terrain, the WD My Passport Pro or the Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+, are much better deals. These drives are all slightly bulkier and thus less portable than the Palm RAID, but they are much cheaper and generally deliver similar performance (though not as fast in terms of read speed.)

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6.9

Akitio Palm RAID

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 7Performance 8Support 5