Field Test: A New Look at G-Tech's EV Dock, Single Port RED Download Station
The G-Dock EV and RED mag reader turns out to be a faster, more cost-effective option for indie filmmakers.
[Editor's Note: G-Tech sent us a Dock EV and a RED Reader EV for review. We purchased an SSD to put the whole platform through its paces.]
The G-Dock EV is a dual-slot drive caddy that can serve many different purposes depending on your production. When first released two years ago, many reviewers were frustrated by the slow speeds offered by using traditional hard drives for the system. Now that SSD prices have come down significantly amount, we took another look at the G-Dock EV as an option for filmmakers who want to spend less of their work day waiting on downloads.
The G-Dock EV has the same silver design that G-Tech has been using nearly a decade, matching the look and feel of the old Mac Pros. It’s aged remarkably well, and still feels acceptably modern despite the age.
The SSD disks use the newer design language of G-Tech, black and blues but with similar milling for vent holes, and they match together well. The build quality is strong and seems likely to survive frequent on-set use in a variety of situations. The built-in fan is a nice bonus, and the buttons for ejecting drives are large and clear. They are occasionally a bit hard to push to get the drive to eject, but that seems safer than having them eject too easily. When you do get the drive out, it comes out smoothly. The rear button is a power toggle, not a switch, and it's easy to forget about. More than once in our testing, we pushed in a drive and assumed it would automatically mount, but of course you have to turn the unit on as well.
Now you can do your RED downloads while using only one port on a computer instead of two.
One particularly nice feature is that the SSD drives are compatible both with the EV dock and with USB 3. If you have to hand a drive over to another team member who doesn’t have an EV dock, they can still patch into the cables via USB.
With a hard disk drive, the price-benefit ratio didn’t quite make sense for the EV dock. HDDs are slow and easy to mount in a variety of ways, so buying an extra dock where the main benefit is mounting and unmounting wasn't a huge value add. HDDs were going to be mounted too long to make easy ejectability an enticing feature. But with SSDs, the product suddenly makes more sense than it used to, and this is now one of the best RED download stations for the indie filmmaker.
Instead of worrying about cables and patching, or having to power a download station and hard drive with separate plugs, now you can do your RED downloads while using only one port on a computer instead of two. An indie production is likely using a Macbook Pro, and port use is critical. Saving yourself a port so you can still connect a video output, another drive for transcodes, or your probe is tremendously helpful. Of course, since data has to flow from the card to the computer, then back to the SSD, there is a slight performance hit since it's going both ways through the same cable, around 25% slower than if using separate ports.
If you directly patch in the RED dock via USB, it achieves around 411mb/s.
There are countless options for bigger shoots or if you are a RED owner downloading daily. However, if you are only an occasional renter of a RED package, investing heavily in infrequently used download tools doesn’t make a ton of sense. In those cases, for a $250 investment in the G-Dock EV, you get a RED SSD downloader with a single port. If you directly patch in the RED dock via USB, it achieves around 411mb/s. That's faster than the official RED mag reader over USB 3 which lands at 350mb/s, for half the price. Combine the unit with the G-Dock, however, and going through Thunderbolt ups the speed to 462mb/s read speed, an improvement of more than 30% over the USB3 transfer with the RED reader.
Of course, when it was released, the EV series RED mag reader was just as fast, but SSDs were so pricey that you were likely to go with an HDD. But with HDD's read/write around 130MB/s, the whole party was slowed down so much as not to be worth it. When working with HDDs and in a hurry on set it made more sense to go with a RAID setup of some sort to keep data moving. But now that SSD prices are getting more reasonable, the G-tech SSD drive makes 327mb/s write speeds possible, and the whole enterprise works well to get footage off your card quickly.
If there is a frustration, it’s that there’s a hole in the line. We tested the two-slot EV, but there's not another product until the eight-slot Shuttle XL. Having eight slots is wonderful, but the price quickly accelerates to the point where it isn’t as reasonable for the indie filmmaker. A dream would be a compact, three-slot EV. That would allow for one download slot and two “receiver” slots so you’re making at least two copies of your download right off the bat, using a tool like Hedge, Copy Verified or Resolve for checksum verification.
However, even having dual slots proved useful for speed downloads of RED SSDs, and then another copy could be made after the RED mag was ejected. We also had the chance to test the setup with Atomos media and had similar speed results, finding it a handy solution for quick backup copies on set. Atomos media is so large that we found it especially useful for making our second copy, but we didn't end up deleting the media from the original Atomos disk until after getting back to the office and downloading a second time overnight. When the camera/recorder media doesn't need formatting, the two slot G-dock is a perfect size.
It's cliché to say that a product is "ahead of its time," but in some ways, when the EV dock came out, it really was. Its design makes the most sense for SSDs, which are small and need frequent swapping, and less sense for HDDs, which can store more footage (needing to be swapped less), but are also much, much slower. As SSD prices drop—they already have dramatically, and will just keep going—this is now a very realistic solution for fast on-set downloads and media management. Combine the Atomos dock or RED SSD reader with 4-6 SSD drives, and you have a solution that will allow for much quicker on-set downloads. Once you get back home, you'll want to copy the media off the SSDs to HDDs, to free up the super fast SSDs for your next shoot, but overall a very cost effective and speedy system is available here.
- Two-year-old EV system vastly more useful as SSD prices drop.
- Quick RED and Atomos download solution for indie projects.