The Sabrents XTRM-Q 16TB is huge and very fast in some circumstances when used in RAID 0, but it is extremely expensive and depends on your OS for RAID. Mac performance dropped rapidly during long test sessions.
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At first blush, I was ready to love the Sabrents XTRM-Q 16TB (SB-DXMQ-8X2) – $ 3,300 price tag or not. How can you argue with having 16 TB storage space at the end of your Thunderbolt cable? Especially with Apple’s consistent habit of eroding you into internal inventory upgrades.
Alas, dismay turned out to be more the result of my practicality than devotion. The drive is dependent on your operating system for RAID functionality, does not turn on automatically, and the performance of an M1 iMac was affected.
Design and features
XTRM-Q 16 TB is a charcoal gray, aluminum, dual-NVMe / M.2 enclosure with two Sabrent 8TB, 96-layer QLC drives with Phison E8 controllers. It measures approximately 4.5 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and 0.75 inches thick. The case is beautiful, wrapped in a removable silicone case for protection and has a Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port, a power plug and an on / off button.
The Thunderbolt 3 delivers a fair amount of power across the bus, easily enough for a single NVMe SSD, and I would have thought of two. Apparently not, therefore, the power plug and external 1.5 amp supply. In addition to providing more than enough power, an external power supply allows you to use the drive on a Thunderbolt 2 system that uses only a T2 to T3 converter. On the other hand, it makes the XTRM-Q 16TB significantly less convenient to lug around than bus-powered drives.
Also inconvenient is the on / off button, which is instantaneous. I could understand a switch that retains its state since the drive uses so much power, but it’s fun to have to turn it on every time you want to use it. It also forces you to keep the drive where you can access the switch. Automatic ignition when detecting bus power, as most do, would make far more sense.
The kicker is that with an external power supply, there is plenty of juice for a RAID chip. Instead, Sabrent chose to use the RAID features of your operating system. This means that once formatted in RAID 0 or 1 mode, you can not move from Windows to Mac or vice versa. It also means that you are subject to the performance of software RAID, which is dependent on your CPU. If your CPU is busy with other things, e.g. to encode a file, disk performance may suffer.
The first problem with the XTRM-Q 16TB was that it on our M1 iMac was not as fast as claimed and it went down pretty fast while Disk Speed Test continued. By a significant margin, as you can see in the image below. Note that Mac testing followed PCWorld testing, so the drive was not untouched.
RAID 1 mirrored results were also fascinating, but since this is macOS’s integrated software RAID, it’s almost impossible to say what the problem might be. The decelerations may be due to the fact that QLC NAND is slower when it is built-in, ie. you write the full three bits (16 voltage levels) instead of just one. However, it could just as easily have been the Apple RAID implementation.
With no real insight into the bizarre performance on the Mac, I’m going to move on to the far more stable results from PCWorld’s Windows testing platform. Under CrystalDiskMark in RAID 0-striped mode (data is scattered or striped across both disks), and under ideal conditions, the XTRM-Q 16TB was very fast both read and write: 2827MBps and 2664MBps, respectively. The write speed was halved in RAID 1 mirrored mode, but the read speed remained almost as high.
The XTRM-Q 16TB was very fast in our 48GB transfer test, shown below, though not as fast as the Samsung X5 or OWC Envoy Express FX. The latter can be connected via Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.
The one test that the XTRM-Q 16TB dominated was the 450GB write. It was smooth and stable, and just over two minutes faster than the second-fastest X5. It is not a small consideration if you are writing large raw high resolution files to the drive on a constant basis.
Note that the XTRM-Q 16TB ran extremely hot, even at idle. A fan may be in order for the next iteration. I also tested the XTRM-Q with the drives listed individually, which is actually standard. The performance in this configuration was almost identical to the RAID 1 mirror.
The XTRM-Q 16TB did fine on a Windows PC, but this is Macworld, so the brakes in Disk Speed Test limit my ability to praise the drive. I would like to test one of the SSDs inside alone on our PCWorld test bed, however, the case is sealed.
PCWorld tests use Windows 10 64-bit running on a Core i7-5820K / Asus X99 Deluxe system with four 16GB Kingston 2666MHz DDR4 modules (64GB in total), a Zotac (Nvidia) GT 710 1GB x2 PCIe graphics card and an Asmedia ASM3222. USB 3.2 × 2 card. It also includes a Gigabyte GC-Alpine Thunderbolt 3 card and Softperfect Ramdisk 3.4.6 for 48 GB read and write tests.
The write performance will decrease as the drive fills up due to less NAND available for secondary cache. In some rare cases, the components may change for the worse. If your drive, given similar hardware, does not work as well as our test device, let us know.
Current Macworld tests use an M1-based, 24-inch iMac with 8 GB of memory and a 512 GB SSD.
Not what it could have been
XTRM-Q 16TB works fine when used in specific scenarios and should be fine for Windows users. However, the performance drops and inconsistencies on the Mac as well as the lack of auto-ignition were, in turn, disabling and annoying. As enticing as 16 TB sounds, it is not delivered here in a way that is commensurate with the price or probable expectations.
I recommend that you choose another solution, such as a bus-powered 4TB / 8TB external SSD (including Sabrents) for performance and a pair of spacious external hard drives for capacity and redundancy. Note that Sabrent also sells this cabinet as a do-it-yourself device.
Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86 / 6800 programmer and longtime (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in San Francisco Bay. [email protected]