With the advent of Serial ATA storage, a new era was ushered in for the PC. The cumbersome grey ribbon cables we all grew up with were a thing of the past, as was the bottlenecked Parallel ATA bus. Not only did SATA improve performance and unclutter cases, it also gave mainstream PCs the ability to “hot-swap” hard drives without restarting the host operating system, a trick that had been out of reach for everyone except server operators running immensely expensive SCSI controllers and drives.
Of course, the early adopters of SATA quietly snuck them into the innards of new PCs, often adding separate controllers to motherboards without native SATA support, and not taking steps to leverage the availability of hot swapping drives...the first SATA drives were little more than add-ons, and, aside from a fancy new cable, not much different for the end user than a good IDE drive, bolted away inside the case.
Fast forward to the present, however, and we can see that SATA’s hold on the PC market is gaining. SATA drives are fetching lower prices than their old IDE counterparts, and with the improved SATA300 spec, they are starting to open an appreciable gap in performance over last-gen drives. The new generation of chipsets now support SATA natively across the board, and manufacturers are beginning to provide external SATA ports for people wishing to run (and hot-swap) SATA drives in external enclosures.
Icy Dock - Old Dog, New Tricks
Icy Dock is a Chinese Company which has been around for 12 years, opening its first U.S. office in 1998, its first European office in 1999, and registering the brand name “Icy Dock” in 2004. In that time, the company has produced hard drive enclosures exclusively, so their products are the result of over a decade of experience, not simply another addition to a wider range of peripherals. My favorite online retailer lists over 50 Icy Dock products, starting with an internal IDE hard drive rack, and progressing up to some impressive multi-drive hot swap racks for pro and server environments.
Following is a close look at today’s sample, the MB559, in order to see what all that experience has created for the consumer.
The MB559 Enclosure
The MB559’s packaging was somewhat surprising to me when I took it out of the shipping box. With it’s clear plastic upper shell, it presented more like a knick-knack at the card shop than a computer component, but a closer examination revealed why... this thing is beautiful! The MB559 has a great look, combining an aluminum chassis and a white painted frame. Sleek and awesome!
Opening the lower box revealed a generous package of accessories, with a brick power supply, eSATA cable (different from a standard SATA cable), USB cable, and a mounting bracket for those without eSATA support built into their motherboards. The bracket would obviously take up an expansion slot, and requires a free SATA connector to function. The only item missing from this package is a spare drive tray... more on this later.
The process of installing a hard drive into this unit continued its solid first impression. Because the MB559 is designed for hot swapping drives, there are no cables to connect. The hard drive is installed into the rack (after removing the protective white spacer) with four drive screws, and the rack slides into the enclosure. Power and data ports built into the interior of the enclosure enter the ports at the rear of the drive with a perfect fit, assisted by the fact that two of the drive mounting holes are non-slotted, ensuring the correct drive alignment and depth. An aluminum lever then secures the drive tray, and clicks into its own plastic retainer/release.
As you can see from the photographs, the size of this unit is quite impressive, barely adding to the dimensions of the bare HD. As mentioned, there are no attachment cables that must be hidden away inside, and no active cooling. Icy Dock has likely produced here the smallest 3.5” enclosure possible... as you can see below, it is a good bit smaller than my optical drives!
Continue on to the HDTACH results and Conclusion