Over the past few months we’ve looked at a couple of products from Ultra and its fair to say that we’ve been impressed by each one so when they offered us the chance to look at their external HD enclosure we were happy to accept.

The Unit and Set-Up

The Ultra MPD is a very compact unit, barely bigger than a 3.5inch hard drive width and thickness wise. The unit is slightly longer to incorporate the IDE and power circuitry, USB and Firewire sockets and the 40mm cooling fan.

Installing our test Western Digital IDE drive was very easy, the drive slipped into place and providing you don’t have massive fingers inserting the plugs will also be easy due to the fact that the cable length is pretty much perfect and there isn’t much excess wire to get in the way. Air is circulated from the rear and as there is a slight gap between the sides of the MPD and the HD there is no risk of overheating.

The front of the unit features some brightly coloured LED’s, two for power which light up bright blue and 3 for HD access which light up red (or maybe it’s a reddish shade of pink ). On the rear are the connectors for the drive. There are two Firewire ports, a USB port and the power supply connector. Most of these are self explanatory however the reason for the 2nd Firewire port is that you can actually connect multiple Ultra MPD units together (up to 3) through the Firewire interface and all are accessible through your single motherboard Firewire socket. An excellent feature in our opinion.


The bundle Ultra has included with their unit isn’t sparse, everything you’re going to need is included in the box. The items are:

Enclosure
1x USB cable
1x Firewire Cable
1x Power adaptor
1x Power adaptor extension including on/off switch
4x screws to hold drive in place
1x Manual
1x Driver CD (Not required for Windows XP)


So now that we had the Drive installed and everything unboxed we proceeded to connect the unit to our test PC. We deliberately didn’t read the manual in order to see how easy the unit was to set up. Trying USB first we watched as Windows XP found the new device and asked if we wanted drivers installed automatically. We opted to do this and windows installed a USB mass storage device, and then registered it as a western digital hard drive, great! The drive was immediately accessible though My Computer and we could perform all functions you would expect from a normal IDE drive. Next we unplugged the USB drive and connected the Firewire cable, through this method of connection the drive was again immediately available with no real effort required. Quite probably the easiest hard drive installation I’ve ever performed.

Before we look at the performance of the drive, here’s a quick look at the main features/specs of the unit.

Features
Supports High Speed USB2.0, USB1.1 and Firewire
Hot-Swappable - Plug-n-Play
Compatible With 3.5" IDE Hard Drives
Built-in Cooling Fan
Easy Installation

Specifications
Interface: IDE to USB 2.0 and Firewire
Supports: 3.5" ATA 133/100/66/33 Drives
Max Capacity Supported: 300GB
Dimensions: 190 x 125 x 45mm
Weight: 240g
Compatible OS:
- Window 98SE / ME / 2000 / XP
- Mac OS 8.6 & Above

Performance
Our test system consisted of the following:

Athlon64 FX-53
MSI K8TNeo2-FIR (Via based) Motherboard with Bios 3.0
2x512mb Corsair DDR400 @ 2-3-6-2
Samsung SATA 80mb HD – 7200RPM, 8mb cache
ATI Radeon X800 XTPE
Windows XP SP2 + all critical updates
Catalyst 8.07beta
Via Hyperion 4.51
40GB IDE 7200Rpm Western Digital Drive

The test system was built from scratch, a format of the hard drive was performed (NTFS) and then Windows XP was installed (inc. Sp2). Following the completion of the install the Hyperion drivers were installed. Then the Windows Update Critical Updates were installed. Following a reboot the Catalyst drivers were installed and finally the hard drive was de-fragmented.

Good Benchmarking Practice:
Each benchmark was performed 3 times and the middle result for each test is shown in the tables which follow.

What was the test?
The test involved copying of 2 files to and from our Ultra MPD and Samsung SATA drive under the 3 possible connections, USB1, 2 and Firewire. To give an indication of normal copying speed we transferred the same 2 files between 2 partitions on our SATA drive and the results were as follows:

  Time (seconds)
File Size  
62.3mb 2.0
972mb 59

Here are the results for the Ultra MPD:

  File Size /Direction 62.3mb to ultra 972mb to ultra   62.3mb from
ultra
972mb from
ultra
Connection            
usb1   2.9 38   2.1 35
usb2   2.3 36   2 34
Firewire   2 40   2.1 27

We can see from the results that transferring smaller files to the Ultra MPD is quickest on the Firewire connection; larger files are pretty much the same across the board. On the way back to the SATA drive, from the Ultra MPD, we can see that the smaller files are similar across all connections however the Firewire has a much faster transfer despite its lower theoretical speed compared to USB 2.0. There are two additional points of note, firstly the difference between firewire/usb2 and usb1 is pretty minimal in most cases so even if you only have a usb1 capable motherboard you should still get excellent performance from the unit. Secondly is the comparison times from large files over Firewire compared to partition to partition. The Firewire time is less than half of the partition to partition speed making the Ultra MPD ideal solution for backing up large volumes of data such as ghost images of your operating system.

Conclusion
As with many people I have a couple of systems I use during my working week and at home. There is my main Desktop and test PC at home, a laptop which I cart round with me to work and back and an iBook which I use when the mood takes me. As I’m sure most of you know, even the smallest, lightest laptops can become a real nightmare to carry over distance or a long period of time, the Ultra MPD allowed one benefit I wasn’t expecting when I first agreed to review it. More and more since the unit arrived I’ve been leaving my laptop at work and just carrying the Ultra MPD around with me. The benefits of this are numerous, for example I don’t need to worry about connecting to networks at home and work to transfer files too and from the laptop, I just plug the drive into the relevant machine and off I go. Also it’s great to have such a light unit in my laptop bag, it’s really no heavier than a normal hard drive which is excellent. I also have the ability to upgrade the storage (max 300gb) in the unit as required which can’t be said for most laptops, or external hard drives. I’ve also saved money on blank CD’s and DVD’s which were previously a solution for moving files between machines even transferring from PC to MPD is quicker than burning a CD.

As well as being light the unit is almost silent, when on you can’t notice the 40mm fan whirring away and could be forgiven for thinking that its not actually on. Aesthetically the Ultra MPD is pleasing, it wouldn’t look out of place on most desks and the bright coloured LED’s do draw peoples attention. On the performance front again we have no complaints; the unit is fast enough even when transferring large volumes of data.
So how could the product be improved? Well there are only two minor things really; the first would be finding some other way of powering the unit rather than an external supply. This restriction makes the unit slightly less portable than some other external units, maybe even having a second power supply in the box could be a solution as you could have one at home and one at work. Secondly some bundled backup software would be nice, for example Norton Ghost or similar. These two minor quibbles are really nit picking though and don’t detract from what is really an excellent storage solution.

 


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