At $28K, the most expensive gadget we’ve ever reviewed is now … a hard drive

On your phone, right now, how many cloud storage apps do you have? Two, three? Juggling those accounts can be a bit of a hassle, and keeping them secure is even more of a pain. Luckily, peripheral manufacturer OWC has a solution that can free us from our cloud storage addiction.

Meet the Thunderbay 4 Mini, a remarkably unremarkable hard drive enclosure, and one of the most expensive pieces of hardware we’ve ever tested.

Don’t let that plain, unassuming exterior fool you — this little guy has a dark secret. Inside, it’s running four solid-state drives, each of which have 10TB of storage capacity, for a whopping total of 40TB. So, that begs the question — how much would you pay to never have to deal with a cloud storage service again?

The answer, oddly enough, is also the answer to another burning question. How can you store $27,700 in plain view without anyone stealing it?

That’s right. This featureless black box retails for nearly 30 grand. But is it really worth such an enormous, unbelievable price tag? Why? Let’s break it down.

A niche-within-a-niche market

Let’s get this straight right away – the Thunderbay 4 Mini probably isn’t built with you in mind. It’s not the kind of drive you’d pick up on your way out of Best Buy for those extra vacation photos nobody really wants to see. This is a hardcore, professional-grade storage solution, built for people who need to store tons of data and access it quickly, even if the internet isn’t available.

For anyone else, $27,700 for a hard drive is just absurd. For that price you could buy yourself, your spouse, and one of your kids an Acer Predator 21x — or about 5,000 avocado toasts. Or you could just go with regular hard disks, instead of solid-state drives, and net yourself about 500TB of — much slower — storage space.

Considering its luxury pedigree, this plain, black metal enclosure is surprisingly tame. 40TB is a lot of storage, but the use of four 10TB BlackDisk 2.5-inch solid state drives results in a compact box that measures just 7.6 inches deep, 3.8 inches wide, and 4.6 inches tall. The inconspicuous enclosure can find a home at any desk, but it does include a key lock, so no one can swipe the drives inside — though someone could just pick it up and walk off.

This sturdy but unremarkable hard drive enclosure is the most expensive piece of PC hardware we’ve tested.

Moving on to the actual features the drive has, the enclosure itself boasts an internal power supply and a fan, to keep things nice and cool. Internally, each drive bay is isolated from the others, in order to reduce sonic resonance and dampen vibrations — assisted by the vibration-absorbing rubber feet underneath the enclosure.

Aside from the 10TB drives, the goodness mentioned above can be obtained in more affordable packages than the amazing $27,700 incarnation we received. Solid state storage options range from 1TB to 40TB, and disk drive options range from 2TB to 8TB. The bare enclosure is also available for $417.50, if you’d like to bring your own drives to the party.

Kind of like a cheetah-elephant

There’s more to the enclosure than looks, or capacity. Performance is also part of the story. OWC can ship the drives in a variety of RAID configurations. Ours came configured in RAID4, for maximum performance.

OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

So, how does 30 grand worth of hard drive perform? Pretty well, it turns out. While it’s not as quick as an internal hard drive, the Thunderbay 4 Mini is among the quickest external hard drives we’ve ever tested.

The OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini managed 294 megabytes per second when writing files, and 841MBp/s when reading files. That’s about one gigabyte every four seconds, which is about 15 gigabytes per minute, and well, even at those speeds it would take you about 44 hours to completely backup your 40TB collection of Overwatch fan art — which is literally all of it ever, even the weird stuff. Especially the weird stuff.

Its performance does not disappoint.

Looking at speed and speed alone, that’s not bad for an external SSD. Most tend to fall well short of those numbers. For instance, the LaCie Rugged Type-C external drive only managed 134MBp/s write speed and 130MBp/s read speed.

The Samsung Portable SSD T3 comes closer, even eclipsing the Thunderbay’s write speed by a fair margin. The 2TB external drive, which is half the size of an iPhone, managed a write speed of 392MBp/s and a read speed of 422MBp/s.

Just think about that. The OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini, stuffed with a small data center worth of disk space, is almost as quick as a tiny, throw-in-your-pocket 2TB external drive. It’s like a fully-laden semi-truck that can barrel down the highway at 100 miles per hour — though a little less terrifying.

Thunderbolts and lightning

The OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini’s connectivity is straightforward. On the back there’s a power plug, and two Thunderbolt 2 ports.

During our tests, we didn’t notice any significant differences in read/write speeds when operating the Thunderbay 4 Mini directly via Thunderbolt 2, or through a Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapter. That’s important because Thunderbolt 2 isn’t a super-common port. Apple has since abandoned it in favor of the USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 standard, and you won’t find it on most desktop PCs.

OWC ThunderBay 4 Mini
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Though the Thunderbay 4 Mini is easiest to work with on a Mac — since desktop Macs still offer Thunderbolt 2 ports — it’s also compatible with Windows, and includes a Windows version of its management software.

Also, if 40TB isn’t enough storage space, the OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini can be daisy-chained with other peripherals and indeed other external hard drives running on Thunderbolt 2 — including a second Thunderbay 4 Mini. In case you or your employer has another $27,700 just lying around.

Bottom line

If the Thunderbay 4 Mini with 40TB of storage is sitting in your Amazon shopping cart, you might as well buy it. Clearly, you’re a part of the very narrow market that would really benefit from a product like this.

But, if you saw the price tag and had to re-read it a couple times to make sure this wasn’t a much-delayed April Fools’ joke, then you’d be better off with any other external hard drive — or maybe just a big flash drive.

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