Once plugged in, the Kingwin Big Drive front panel shows status indicator LEDs for power and each drive. The lights will blink red during activity or when building/rebuilding the RAID configuration.
I had some initial problems getting the Big Drive to recognize the correct RAID configuration and drive capacity. I am using two 300Gb Seagate 7200.9 SATA-II drives, two generations old now and certainly nothing that should be causing issues. A quick contact with their tech support revealed that a firmware update was in order. After hooking up the enclosure with the USB 2.0 interface and downloading the Sil SteelVine Manager software and appropriate file for the 5774 controller used in the Kingwin unit, the firmware version was flashed to the latest 1.1576 version. After the update, the Big Drive functioned flawlessly using the USB connection.
Of course, since the advent of eSATA this is becoming a more popular choice for external drive enclosures, and especially when using a configuration like RAID0 for enhanced disk performance, the eSATA interface becomes a necessity. I ran into some difficulty in getting the eSATA connection to work properly however until I figured out through process of trial and error that the Kingwin Big Drive requires an AHCI-enabled port. If AHCI is not supported or you are using a SATA interface configured for native/legacy mode, the RAID volume will show up as the correct capacity however the OS will report errors when trying to access the drive controller.
I typically use HD Tune 2.55 to measure drive performance however for some reason it would not work with the Kingwin Big Drive. As soon as the external volume was selected the application would crash. But HD Tach 126.96.36.199 was able to run through the tests just fine, and reported an average of around 100MB/s throughput. This is right on par with these drive's prior results in RAID0 enclosures or controllers.
Unlike the previous Kingwin EZ-Dock external drive bay I reviewed, which I found very easy and convenient to use, I have to say I am a little disappointed with the Big Drive. Appearance-wise the Big Drive has an attractive black/silver finish that is very durable and access to the drive chassis and the actual installation of the drives is just as easy as any other external enclosure. However the method of changing the RAID configuration is inconvenient to say the least. Once the drives are installed in the frame it is nearly impossible to access the jumper pins and reset button using your fingers. Granted that once set up, it's not likely you'll be changing the configuration very often, however it seems they could have come up with a better solution such as using external dip switches.
Having to flash the firmware on a retail box product just to enable it to work seems a bit out of the ordinary as well. Certainly you might expect to have to do so in order to support future drive hardware generations, however when using drives that are a year or two old you'd think the RAID would work right out of the box. I also thought it unusual that the controller apparently requires an AHCI-enabled SATA interface as well. This standard hasn't been around that long yet where I would expect native/legacy SATA to be considered obsolete, in fact it is sometimes the other way around with SATA devices only a couple years old, and AHCI has to be disabled in the BIOS in order for the drive to work correctly. But either way, the documentation should specify AHCI as a system requirement, and nowhere in the manual or product packaging is this stated.
Once all the issues were corrected the Kingwin Big Drive performed flawlessly, so if you're not adverse to a little extra work involved in getting everything setup then you'll be alright. And at an average price of around $60 you'll most likely be saving some money over many competing RAID enclosures, which seem to be priced starting around $100 and up. Just make sure you have a motherboard or add-in SATA card that supports the latest AHCI controller standard.
Thanks to Kingwin for providing the KM-TB235 Big Drive for review.