Continuing my series of reviewing every hard drive solution I’ve ever touched, I want to talk about the Vantec NexStar. Not only this particular hard drive dock but the general concept, the goods and bads about it, including some benchmarks.
I’ve always like the idea of the hard drive dock. Recently I needed to back up a massive amount of data and was on a tight budget to do it. I purchased 5 of these NexStar docks for about $35 $39 a piece, and a box ofÂ 1 TB hard drives. The dock works by plugging your favorite raw SATA drive right in to the top (like a Nintendo Cart). It has a power button on the front and USB and eSATA connections on the back. Vantec makes other versions, one with the addition of FireWire. Â Mine performed very well. In practice, using the eSATA connection I was able to fill up a TB in about 3 hours. When I started having problems with my FreeAgent drive I did benchmarks on all of these solutions.Benchmarks using the dock with the pictured Hitachi Deskstar hard drive out performed the internal hard drive on my new 8-core Mac Pro. I’ll attribute this to the differences between the two physical hard drives and not the dock or the eSATA connection. Â But the point is that unlike the FreeAgent (which sucks – sorry), the SATA connection on the back of the drive is simply being passed through to the computer. Â Using this dock is just like having the drive internal in your computer.
Here are the benchmark results: Â Write: 85.0 MB/s, Read: 82.7 MB/s.
These numbers basically top out the speed of the physical drive. Note that this is different than the speed of the connection. Â Currenty SATA has a spec max of 3Gb/s. Converting giga BITS to mega BYTES per second that’s equivalent to 375MB/s. SATA burst rates can reach very high speeds, especially if the data is cached, but for sustainable bandwidth from a single hard drive I’ve not seen numbers too much higher than 90 or 100 MB/s. Â The 85 write speed is very good.
There are many advantages to this type of solution.
- eSATA Speed – You get the full bandwidth of the drive.
- USB Speed – I also benchmarked USB connectivity which came in around Write: 24.3 MB/s and Read: 28.2 MB/s, which is in line with other USB devices.
- Cheap – $35 for the dock plus the price of the drive.
- VersatileÂ – Drives can be quickly and easily plugged and played.
- Heat raises – The heat generated by the drive raises up and away from it.
Depending on your environment, there is a serious downside that has to be considered. Â These drives are extremely NON-IDIOT-PROOF. More than once I’ve seen people press the eject button while the drive is still spinning. Â This is a sure fire way to eventually crash a head. Â If your environment has… well… let’s call them “un-trained non-hacker types” using the docs you are putting your data at risk. There is a procedure that has to be followed to eject a disc:
- Eject the drive icon off the desktop.
- Press the power button on the dock and wait for it to spin down.
- Press the Eject button on the dock and carefully remove the scolding hot hard drive from it.
This brings up two final “danger” points. Â First is that the physical drive is exposed to the environment. Â Most raw drives have a circuit board on the back which you want to avoid touching in our out of use. Â Doing so could discharge static electricity and harm the electronics. Â There’s also no protection from dust and accidents. Spilling your coke on it would beÂ disastrous. Second is that the physical drives do get very hot so be careful when handling them.
My bottom line is that I love these docks but they are not for everyone. But if you are the hacker type and are prepared to take the necessary precautions, this solution is for you.