Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

Looking for an external 2.5” SATA enclosure? Check this out

Looking for an external 2.5” SATA enclosure? Check this out

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My stash of mobile 2.5” hard drives keep growing.  I still have a number of PATA drivers, but the SATA drive pile is growing at an exponential rate.  The primary reason is that the drive capacity goes up right about the time I need more capacity for virtual machines and such.

I typically use multibay hard drive caddies that fit in the DVD slot of the laptop series we have deployed for the team.  OEMs like to brand that slot with a cool name.  Lenovo calls it the Ultrabay, although I’m not sure I would have called it that.  Other OEMs have different names.  This works really well for travelers because you don’t have to tote along an external contraption with the wires, power supply, etc.  It also protects the drive from being dropped assuming you don’t drop the entire machine.

In my collection of drives I have acquired several external enclosures that are 2.5” size and SATA I/II interface on the inside.  However, they are USB 2.0 only on the external interface.  This is convenient for quick and dirty work, but not exactly the state-of-the-art case a speed demon might want.  So I went looking for a case with an eSATA port.

Mistake Number One

My first stop as usual was the local Fry’s in Irving, Texas.  I wish they would open one a little closer to home.  Scratch that, it’s probably better if they don’t.  As I perused the isle with the cases, I spy a case from IOGEAR.  One of my favorite PATA USB 2.0 cases is made by IOGEAR so I purchase the GHE7125S3.  Big mistake.  The drive I am putting in the case is the latest generation 2.5” Hitachi 320GB 7200rpm

Although the IOGEAR case seemingly powered up the drive, there is apparently a problem.  The drive is never detected by Windows 7 or any of the other operating systems I try.  Scratches head.  So I start trying other drives.  Most of the 100GB drives work (Seagate and Hitachi).  None of the 200 and 320GB drives work (Seagate and Hitachi).  That’s not good.  Time for a return to Fry’s.

I explain to the Fry’s return agent what happened and smartly instead of putting the back-to-shelf label on the boxes, he marks them return to maker.  As it should be.  I’m not sure what the issue is with the IOGEAR enclosures, but considering I bought two and they both exhibited this behavior, it looks like there is an engineering issue to me.  Fry’s issues my credit card credit and head to the isle one more time.

Score !!!

nst-260su-bkThis time I spy the Vantec NexStar 3 case.  I’ve been using the NexStar cases now for about 7-8 years so it’s always nice to go back to a maker and brand you are familiar with.  I only see one box of the 2.5” NexStar 3 NST-260SU-BK case so I snatch it up.  Snatching in Fry’s is required if there is only one item on a busy day.  

I have been using two variations of the NexStar cases (now three).  For 2.5” drives, I have been using some cheapo NexStar PATA cases for years.  They aren’t anything fancy but the case is a solid aluminum design with a single USB 2.0 connector.  There is no fan so heat could become an issue with long term sustained use.  These cases are no longer made so I didn’t bother trying to find a link to them.

For 3.5” drives, I’ve been using the NexStar 3 NST-360SU-BL.  This case is an ok design although it isn’t particularly impressive.  There is no fan so if you are looking for a case that cools really well, you should probably look elsewhere.  See http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2009/07/15/how-long-do-your-hard-drives-run-non-stop.aspx for the case I use with my TiVo.  It runs 24x7 365 so cooling is important. 

The reason I use the NST-360SU-BL is because they work (a key requirement).  When I use external storage, it’s usually for a relatively short period of time. Backups, file copies and working on a webcast.  So the drive never really gets scorching hot and stays there for a long period of time.  Less than 4-5 hours is typical.

This is also my typical usage pattern for an external 2.5” enclosure so when I purchased the NST-260SU-BK I wasn’t worried about a fan for cooling.  Not to mention the new drives are running cooler all the time.  As expected the Vantec case works perfectly with all of my drives.  When you first plug the case into Windows 7 using the USB cable, the drive spins up and is detected without issue.  In fact, I tried a number of different USB cables to see if there was really a need for powering the case with two USB ports.  I didn’t see any issues in my testing.

When you plug an eSATA cable into the case, it automatically switches from the external USB port to the eSATA port for I/O.  USB is just supplying the power at that point.  Again, I tested 3-4 different cables including a RoHS power only cable from a Lenovo enclosure.  They all worked just fine with the eSATA cable attached and provided excellent throughput in the data transfers I observed.

So now I have a small form factor 320GB SATA II drive and enclosure capable of handling whatever I throw at it.  No more lugging around a large clunky 3.5” enclosure and power supply.  Rock and roll baby.

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  • I have that case too, but it shoudl have come with a transformer. The USB for power is really annoying.

  • A USB cable is more annoying that a transformer to you?  Not to me.

  • Hi Keith. Correct on the e-Sata preference: it makes a huge performance difference over the slow USB 2.0 drivers.

    I don't know if Raidsonic cases are available in the USA, but you might also like this case I've been using for 10 months now:

    http://www.raidsonic.de/en/pages/products/external_cases.php?we_objectID=4811

    It's a very compact external 2.5" drive case (it's almost the size of the internal drive, plus half a inch at the back for the interfaces), which comes with an extremely useful twist: It has got a 3.5" docking station which gets installed in your desktop (if you have one haha), connects to an internal SATA port and standard MOLEX power, and can accomodate the external drive by simply sliding it in. It's been a HUGE convenience for me at home, saving me of external cable clutter. And when you're done at home, you simply push the drive and it automatically ejects so you can take it with you (of course you will still need to carry a USB cable to power the drive, and an e-Sata cable if USB 2.0 connectivity is not enough when travelling).

  • The standard height for a 2.5" drive is 9.5mm.  Western Digital has just released 750GB and 1TB 2.5" drives, but the height of the drives is 12mm.  Does the Vantec enclosure work with 12mm height drives too?

  • Keith,

    I have been using these for a year now and LOVE them. I just upgraded to 500GB 2.5" Drives. I am up to 6 of these for all of the labs I am running around doing and sending out.

  • About the Raidsonic cases: this is very similar to the Ruby hard drive enclosure made by Addonics, which is what I use.  I also have both a mini storage tower (4 3.5" bays) and a Storage Tower II (2 5.25" bays) external drive enclosures (also made by Addonics).

  • Thanks Matthew.  Nice looking cases but I was looking for small and portable and prefer that the case be powered by a single USB port.  The NexStar 3 fits the bill perfectly.  

    For home enclosures, it's a different story.