G-Speed Shuttle Master Caddy review: A better SSD Mini workflow?
posted Wednesday, July 31, 2019 at 4:10 PM EDT
Getting an Atomos external recorder has legitimately changed, for the better, how I shoot video, and how good the footage I shoot looks. I went for years recording just to memory cards (going so far as to collect more than 8 CFast cards so that I could shoot on higher-end cameras) instead of acquiring an external recorder and the associated media to go along with it. But for the last six months, I've been shooting a lot with an Atomos Ninja V and absolutely loving the results I can get.
For years I've used a Lexar Hub as my main data ingestion device, because it allows me to pull from four cards at the same time into one RAID array at fantastic speeds. I am a huge fan of having a workflow, and the Lexar Hub has been an integral part of that workflow. I don't like cables dangling everywhere and getting tangled behind my monitor, and for years Thunderbolt has been a great tool to use to reduce the number of not only visible cables, but also the number of ports taken up on my machine. Thanks to the greater proliferation of Thunderbolt 3, I can now feel like talking about the merits of the system is not just something an Apple user can enjoy.
But as good as the Lexar Hub is for memory card ingestion, it doesn't offer any solutions for SSD Mini, the hardware format used by Atomos external recorders. If you search on Amazon for SSD Mini readers, your options are comically terrible. I actually thought I was doing something wrong, or searching the wrong search terms, when I first investigated this. So much so, I asked other professionals what reader I should acquire for optimal workflow goodness.
Turns out, I wasn't doing something wrong, and instead, basically no one is making a nice, streamlined, SSD Mini reader system that just plug-and-plays with either Thunderbolt 2 or Thunderbolt 3. In fact, I wasn't able to find one that even works with USB-C, though I would not be surprised if one existed (I just could not find one). No, the only options I could find are like this one I bought... Just a single cable into USB 3.0:
Does it work? Sure. Do I like it? Not really. It feels like I could be getting short-changed on speed/performance, but mostly it's now a new cable that juts out from under my monitor and takes up its own dedicated USB slot on my machine. A slot, I might add, that is not coming with me into the USB-C future. Its advantage is that it's super cheap, so I won't mind leaving it behind should a better option reveal itself.
In doing some research into what systems exist beyond these single-cable options, I found G-Technology's modular G-Speed Shuttle systems. They come in a few sizes and are usually seen as a "portable" RAID solution for high-end photo and video applications. I say portable in quotes there because while it is designed to move with creators, hence the handle on the top, it's not easy to do so. The Shuttle will absolutely travel with you, don't get me wrong, but you can see how it would be challenging. Mainly, they're heavy and pretty huge. The big ones are gargantuan, but even the smaller four-bay Shuttle is pretty heavy and cumbersome.
But despite this, the G-SPEED Shuttles have that aforementioned modular design. That is to say, the guts can contain anything from RED camera card readers, to HDDs for a RAID array, to you guessed it, an Atomos/G-Tech SSD Mini readers. Oh, and they're customizable at any time (so you don't feel locked into any one decision when you purchase one).
I got my hands on the G-Speed Shuttle XL 8-bay to give this thing a chance at being not only a part of my current workflow, but the fulcrum of a brand new one.
I should back up a moment and explain what I am currently using my Lexar Hub connected to, and it's a G-Speed Studio 4-bay. So I do currently use a G-Speed product at my desk and have a point of reference for size and performance.
This G-Speed Shuttle XL has 8 bays, but two of them came loaded with the Atomos SSD Mini card readers, with the remaining six set aside for HDDs set up in a RAID array (RAID 10 if you're curious).
So let's talk about some things I noticed immediately upon using the system. First, even though it is unlikely that I would need to move the Shuttle from my desk, since I have not had to move the Studio since I've owned it, it is somewhat relieving to know that I could move it, should I want to. There is now a new option for me as a video editor should I be hired to do a particularly demanding job. I would not need to think about putting together a portable system where I would have to make sure I copied all the files over that I would need (which I have done before, and many times have forgotten files that I need in order to export an edit), instead I would have the option to just... pick it up and walk out of the house with it.
Like I said, I probably will never do this. But the point is... I could.
Next, this thing is huge. Like, really huge. I also have a LaCie 6 big in my office and even though the Shuttle has two more bays than the LaCie, it's still markedly bigger and heavier than just two more bays would contribute. I have to think that part of the reason this is super large is for cooling (because this will generate a lot of heat in use) and padding to allow it to be transported.
At this point, I think I should mention that G-Technology and Atomos clearly have some kind of relationship, since the SSD Mini (called the Master Caddy) I got from G-Technology is branded with the Atomos logo on it as well as G-Tech's. If you've read my coverage of Mini SSD products in the past, I have done a review of Sony's entry into this space and I have to say, theirs is considerably smaller than the G-Tech/Atomos collaboration. When attached to the Ninja V recorder, the G-Tech/Atomos SSD will stick out about an inch off the side of the Ninja, while the Sony is flush. The Sony SSD ends up being about an inch and a half shorter than the G-Tech/Atomos drive.
Why is this important? Well, because the reader inside the G-Speed Shuttle is designed for the larger sized SSDs found on the G-Tech/Atomos collaboration drive. So if you do have multiple brands of SSD Minis in your collection, such as the Sony AtomX, this is disappointing: the smaller SSDs will not fit in the G-Tech Shuttle's modular reader. That is to say, it will "fit" but it will get lost inside the reader, and I'm afraid if I push it in past the spring-loaded gates, I'll not be able to get the Sony SSD back out.
This choice feels like it wasn't done on purpose by G-Technology, because how could they know what size SSDs competitors might make, but the reality is the system isn't really agnostic enough to allow you as a shooter to really feel like it's always going to play nice with whatever SSDs you may purchase. What if you find that another company, like Sony in this case, makes SSDs you prefer? Maybe they're faster, cheaper, whatever it may be. Well, if you've already invested in the G-Speed Shuttle, you're kind of out of luck. You are locked in to only using the Atomos/G-Tech branded ones because those are the only ones that work in this system.
That's a clear downside to this system, but there are upsides.
I mentioned earlier that I had an inkling that I wasn't getting top speeds out of that USB 3.0 cable thing I purchased, and so I decided to see if that gut feeling was right. Below is a speed test from the Atomos SSD Mini using the USB cable:
And here is a speed test using the reader inside the G-Speed Shuttle (through Thunderbolt 3):
Looking at the results, my inkling about performance was right: the SSD mini was capable of noticeably faster read and write speeds than I am able to get out of the USB cable. The speed might not appear to be that significant, but the more data you're trying to offload the more noticeable the speed will become. So while 100GB of data might not make a difference, working with a full terabyte of footage will be a different story. So while the G-Speed Shuttle setup is a bit more restricting when it comes to deciding what SSD Mini to buy, it does offer a streamlined, all-in-one workflow that is also faster than what I am currently using.
I really like that with the G-Speed Shuttle, I could link my SSD reader and my working drive directly together through one Thunderbolt 3 cable into my computer, which obviously reduces cable clutter. In addition to cleaning up my desk, I would get faster speeds not only on the offload process, but also on the edit process as well.
Now, this workflow really only works if you are already headed towards a Thunderbolt 3 system, obviously. I know that a vast majority of shooters out there are still using older computers because, well, they still work really well. I understand, I am still using my late 2015 iMac for a lot of my work because it's still a great machine. But if you are transitioning to Thunderbolt 3 and realizing that many of the devices you bought in the past, like my Lexar Hub or even my Thunderbolt 2-based G-Speed Studio, just won't transition with you then you sort of have to start looking for what could replace them. As far as theG-SPEED Shuttle goes, it's a solid option especially if you're using an external recorder for video capture like I am.
The same can be said, by the way, if you're shooting on RED cameras. I mentioned earlier that the Shuttle can be outfitted with an array of different options for ingestion, and they offer a RED camera card reader as well as the SSD mini reader I tested for this review.
Getting new equipment, especially state-of-the-art equipment, is not going to be cheap, unfortunately. The Shuttle is probably prohibitively expensive for a lot of shooters out there, and I can understand it. For a lot of you, it's not going to make sense to upgrade your entire system to accommodate what the Shuttle can offer, and the speed increase from the cable to the reader in the Shuttle might also not feel worth it. I can sympathize. This is a workflow that is only going to matter to those who are looking to change their entire system already. For example, if you're planning to get the new Mac Pros, this is a really good product line to accompany that choice. Otherwise, you might just want to stick to the ugly little USB cable for now.