By Datech at 2009-09-10 19:10
The Thermaltake BlackX SATA Hard Drive USB Docking station is the perfect, hot swappable solution for drive docking, migration, and backup on the go. The storage peripheral is a useful – and now my preferred – alternative to external hard drive enclosures and removable drive bays.
Running a business without the proper tools is a recipe for disaster. Plumbers don’t show up at your house without a pipe wrench and some spare PVC. Pest control companies never walk in with anything less than a full arsenal of insecticide. If you’re running a computer repair business how professional do you look when you tell a client you are about to back up their hard drive with a 1GB flash drive?
I’ve done that before, and believe me when I say it takes a long time to transfer three years worth of family photos 1GB at a time. Recently, I was lucky enough to be complaining about that very concept loudly enough for Thermaltake to answer my calls. To say that the BlacX docking station isn’t useful, especially to a techie, is a flat out lie. As of writing this I have had the unit for a week and I have already used it three times for non-testing purposes.
As you can tell from the box I received the eSATA + USB 2.0 version of the BlacX docking system:
The box gives you the basic features and specifications overview in a nice, easy to read package:
The box was well packed and included the main unit protected with styrofoam, an eSATA cable, a USB 2.0 A to B cable, the DC 12V/2A power cable, and two different manuals:
The transformer on the power cable isn’t too large, but it will definitely have to go on the end of most common power strips or in the transformer plug of a surge protector. The docking station comes with a long power cable with a sizable transformer, a mid-length eSATA cable, and a short USB A to B cable:
The unit is a simple yet sturdy box with a receptacle and status indicator light on top and an eject button on the front:
The receptacle on top is protected by a fold-down flap. When used with a 2.5” laptop hard drive this flap acts as an anchor for the drive; when used with a 3.5” internal drive the flap will fold down and out of the way:
The rear of the unit shows the simplicity of this piece of technology. From left to right we have the power button, the DC-in power adaptor receptacle, the USB B plug-in, and the eSATA port:
Whether you use a 2.5” or 3.5” drive, both will fit snug in the top receptacle:
When the unit is on, but not in use, the status indicator light glows blue around the light ring:
When the unit is on and files are being transferred to and from the drive the right side of the light ring changes to red:
My first impression when I unboxed and set up the docking station was, "Cool, this thing is compact, unobtrusive, and can easily rest on my desk and stay connected at all time. This thing will sure be useful for hot swapping drives and migrating and backing up data." Thankfully, that feeling has lasted and I don't foresee it fading at all.
Since a docking station is a pretty simple concept the notable specs goes like this:
- It's a standalone unit
- It requires external power
- Uses USB 2.0
- Uses eSATA
- Only supports SATA hard drives
- Supports both 2.5" and 3.5" hard drives
- Has a power switch for quickly powering off drives
- Has an eject button that allows for peace of mind when removing drives from the unit
The fact that it is a fairly compact yet sturdy standalone unit means that I can unplug it and take it anywhere I go. This ease of use is super desirable for me as I'm often at a client's house and have no effective way to backup their hard drive. Though some will disagree, I also like the fact that it requires external power. Some docking stations and USB to IDE/SATA cables don't have external power and don't always work correctly on USB power. This feature allows you to always have consistent power to the drive you are working with.
By supporting both USB and eSATA the docking device becomes desirable to all types of computer users. The vast majority of computers support USB, and the USB 2.0 transfer speed of 480Mbps is acceptable to just about any user. For those who have upgraded to a few eSATA ports on your motherboard or PCI slots you can take advantage of a 3Gbps transfer rate as well. Since the docking station supports hard drives up to 2TB of storage, the eSATA port will come in very handy as the life span of the station increases.
The SATA drive support vs IDE/PATA is one of current standards. You don't buy IDE or PATA drives anymore, so why waste the development time to make the station support both? This can become a hassle for computer techs as the client probably won't know what type of drive he has, but it is always worth taking along in the event that the customer has a SATA drive. The fact that the docking station will support both laptop and regular internal drives makes this product a go to for any kind of drive maintenance.
The other two features, the power switch and the eject button, aren't entirely necessary to most people. However, the fact that they are there increases the desirability of the unit that much more. If I'm not using the drive – press– ok, it's off. Time to swap some drives out – press – ok, here's your drive sir.
The only reservation I have about continually using the BlacX is the fact that it offers little to no protection for the hard drive you are using. If it is on the edge of the desk the unit and the exposed hard drive can easily be bumped or brushed by numerous objects as they pass. Also, anyone who allows food and drink at their desk are extremely likely to have a mishap that could severely damage a drive in such an exposed state. All it would take is one quick jab or a few ounces of liquid to royally mess up any hard drive in use in the BlacX.
In order to test the actual vs. theoretical throughput of the device I used SiSoft Sandra for their drive comparison abilities. Since I don't have an eSATA port though, I can only comment on the USB 2.0 functionality until my eSATA port PCI slot arrives. Since this is a simple hard drive dock the main thing we pay attention to is the transfer time over the USB cable. Thinks like drive index and seek time will still be fairly dependent on the drive you actually use.
Drive Index: 32.56 MB/s
Random Access Time: 17.32 ms
Read Speed Min: 31 MB/s
Read Speed Max: 34 MB/s
Read Speed Avg: 33.4 MB/s
Read Speed Burst: 34.4 MB/s
This shows that, while the drive speed through USB 2.0 may be less than an internal SATA drive, the throughput is still as fast as it should be. Once I am able to test the eSATA we will have further proof that the BlacX Docking Station is worth the use.
All in all, if you're looking for a quick and easy hard drive migration, backup, and maintenance tool look no further than Thermaltake's BlacX HDD Docking Station. They currently have four different flavors of the BlacX line: the BlacX Duet for docking two hard drives at once; the 4 USB port BlacX - SE; the regular BlacX without eSATA; and this product, the BlacX HDD Docking Station with eSATA.
The Thermaltake BlacX with eSATA can be found at Newegg and Xoxide for around $40, and at several other online retailers with prices ranging from $30 to just over $70.
Verdict: 4 out of 5