In Review: Sonnet Technologies Qio
Juggling multiple solid-state media card formats? The Qio is an exemplary solution.
By Ned Soltz
The Sonnet Technologies Qio answers one of the most significant questions posed by editors dealing with solid-state media: how do I copy the contents of the cards to my computer? And the Qio answers the question without any uncertainty.
Solid-state removable media primarily includes SxS, P2, CF and SDHC cards. Panasonic offers P2 solutions from a USB single-card reader to more sophisticated P2 editing gear. Sony markets a USB SxS reader and SxS cards can be read by the Express34 slot of any current notebook computer. There are a wide range of CF and SD card readers from bus to firewire to USB. But until the Qio was introduced, there was no universal solution that could accept any media.
The Qio (pronounced Que-Eye-Oh) is a compact device which interfaces to computer via either a PCIe card and cable or Express34 card and cable. Sonnet does not include both interfaces so choose your unit based upon your computer. Or buy extra interfaces so that you can transport the device between machines. The front panel sports two each of SxS (Express34), P2 (PC Card), and CF slots. An included Express34 adapter allows use of SDHC cards in the SxS slots.
Installation is straightforward. Just install the PCIe card in a free slot or plug the Express34 adapter into the slot on the notebook. Install the Qio drivers from included CD (personally, I always check manufacturer’s web sites before installing drivers just in case there happened to be an upgrade between the time the product shipped from factory and my installation). Install whatever drivers are appropriate to your media — Panasonic P2 or Sony SxS). You’re then read to roll.
Note that at this time Sonnet only has drivers for Mac OS, including OS 10.6 Snow Leopard. I have tested the unit under both 10.5.8 and 10.6.3 and have found no compatibility problems. Windows drivers will follow. So Windows users wanting to take advantage of the Qio need to watch Sonnet’s site for the announcement.
The Qio is much more than just a card reader. The back panel has 4 eSata ports. Internal to the device is Sonnet’s E4P SATA host controller. The device also then performs yet another function of extending the computer bus to provide expanded eSata storage. Each port-multiplied SATA port can support up to 5 drives, allowing a maximum of 20 drives to be connected to the Qio. The controller supports virtually any SATA interface except for those based around the Oxford OXU931DS chip. These include the WD MyBook Premium ES Edition and Seagate FreeAgent Pro. I have tested the device with Sonnet’s F2 Fusion RAID as well as with an EZQuest 5-drive eSata RAID, two Wiebetech eSata enclosures and a few other generic SATA boxes I had sitting around. All drives mount perfectly on the Mac and I experienced no transfer issues. What is most impressive is that this device recognizes software RAIDs such as that on the Fusion F2 or enclosure controller-based RAIDs such as the EZQuest or devices from Sonnet or other vendors. It was really a major boost to productivity to be able to plug a single eSata cable into a 5-drive RAID 5 all connected to the MacBook Pro via Express34 from the Qio.
Inasmuch as the device is also a bus extender, those front ports are not just for reading solid-state cards. The SxS (Express34) or P2 (PC Card) slots will also accept most card-based device controllers or expansion cards such as firewire or SATA cards.
Sonnet has tested and I have confirmed independently that the AJA IO Express capture/display card works. So now imagine this editing scenario on your MacBook Pro. Plug the Qio into the Express34 slot. Plug the IO Express Express34 controller into one of the SxS slots. Hang a bunch of drives or even a SATA RAID off the Qio’s eSata ports. You have a complete tape or tapeless ingest system with the output capability offered by the IO Express. And you have access to large, fast storage.
In my testing, I was unable to get the Matrox MXO2 Mini Max to work via the Qio. That is most unfortunate since Avid Media Composer 5 will support Matrox MXO2 Mini for display so this is a most important product for Avid editors. Both Matrox and Sonnet are aware and I do hope that a fix is in sight. The Mac will recognize the presence of the MXO2 interface card in the Qio but it won’t see the device. I’m presuming this would be a relatively easy firmware or software fix.
And one more thing. Sonnet has designed the Qio to work with their Fusion F2 RAID, a unique flat design in which two 2.5” drives are positioned side by side rather than on top of one another. The F2 enclosure fits perfectly atop the Qio (or you can reverse the order). The Qio ships with short eSata jumpers so you’re not dealing with long cable lengths (it ships in addition, of course, with a more standard length 1 meter eSata cable). The F2 takes power either from external AC adapter, external DC power or even a powered firewire port. The Qio has a pass-through power port which supplies the necessary 7.2v for the F2, or for any other externally powered drive for that matter.
But back to its main purpose. Once installed with all drivers, simply insert a solid-state card of your choice and it mounts immediately. Copy or ingest to your hard drive or directly to your NLE. Personally, I think the combination of the Qio and Shotput Pro v3 from Imagine Products (www.imagineproducts.com) represents the optimal approach to the transfer of solid-state media. You can always drag-copy files to your Mac drives (and soon, to your PC drives). Shotput Pro bypasses the finder for faster transfer with error correction. Regardless, though, of what method you utilize for copy or ingest, transfer takes place at the speed of your connection of the Qio to the host computer. Note that the internal bus of the MacPro could be some 25% faster (or greater) than the transfer rate of the Express34 slot on a MacBook Pro. This will affect your transfer time, of course. In my testing primarily on the MacBook Pro with Shotput Pro, P2 media transferred at the rate of about 1gb/minute while CF and SxS cards could transfer between 2.5 to 3 times faster. I consider these transfer rates more than acceptable for professional use.
Who needs the Qio? Any editor who deals with a variety of solid-state media. Nothing is worse than having a client drop off a P2 card and you have no way to read it. “Er, can I plug your camera into my computer so I can copy the contents of the card?” Or, “I know I have that little USB CF card reader somewhere around here…” And it’s not just for editors needing multiple formats. A solid piece of equipment to me is far preferable to an inexpensive card reader which might be slow and much more subject to failure when you need it most. The Qio is most useful to anyone who needs to extend the bus capability of their computer to additional storage and other compatible card-based devices.
The Qio represents the only product of its kind on the market and I am pleased to recommend it with great enthusiasm.
Sonnet Technologies Qio
Reads and writes to any solid-state media. Fast interface. 4 eSata ports for storage expansion. Acts as bus extender for other plug-in card devices.
CONS: Pricey. Only supplied with PCIe or Express34 interface. No PC drivers yet. Some third-party device incompatibility.
BOTTOM LINE: Sets new standards in
what is possible for an extremely portable
MSRP: $999 with one interface card; spare PCIe or Express34 adapter $199