USB 3.0 hard drive enclosure with plenty of ports, little appeal
LAST FALL'S flooding in Thailand caused massive devastation and the loss of hundreds of lives. Much less importantly, it also caused many hard drive factories to shut down temporarily, leading to a huge drop in HDD production. Drive prices are coming back down, but for some capacities cost is still prohibitive—which makes upgrading a little less tempting, never mind purchasing a portable drive for backup.
Of course, you can do your part by recycling and repurposing an old drive. And you can make that drive mobile with an enclosure like the Akitio SK-3501 Super-S3, which comes with myriad connection options and lets you give your old drive the new lease on life it deserves.
The Akitio SK-3501 is a basic-looking hard drive enclosure made of aluminum that's a magnet for greasy fingerprints and good for scratching up whatever it's resting on if you forget to attach the rubber feet. Mounting a drive inside of it requires a lot of screwing—that is, four screws to seat the drive into the internal base, and then four screws to bind the internal base to the external frame. Despite its price, the package and presentation actually feels cheap.
That fancy aluminum chassis is a magnet for fingerprints.
Inside, the hard drive connects via standard SATA power and data connectors, and the outside of the enclosure contains eSATA, USB 3.0, and two FireWire 800 ports. With this many ports, there’s a gaggle of controllers jammed into the unit, including an LSI FW843 for FireWire, an Oxford Semi OXUFS944SE FireWire/eSATA/USB 2.0 controller, and a PLX OXU3100 USB 3.0-to-SATA chip.
We’re not 100 percent sure how the drive maps to the ports through the controllers, but since neither the Oxford nor the PLX chip supports 6Gb/s SATA speeds, you’ll be limited to 3Gb/s SATA speeds no matter which connection you use. That’s not a big deal for anyone running a mechanical drive, but high-performance SSD users may have to keep looking. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a USB-to-SATA chip yet that supports SATA 6Gb/s speeds.
You can drop any 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch mechanical or solid-state drive into the SK-3501. We first benchmarked the Akitio enclosure using a 3TB 7,200rpm Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 drive across the USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports. No surprise: USB 3.0 crushes its predecessor with read and write speeds of 96MB/s and 74Mb/s, respectively, vs. 31MB/s reads and 25MB/s writes across USB 2.0. But what happens with a faster drive? To find out, we dropped a speedy OWC Mercury Pro 240GB SSD into the SK-3501 and saw 184.4MB/s read speeds and 178MB/s writes via USB 3.0. We then threw that same SSD into an Asus 2.5-inch USB 3.0 enclosure sporting an ASMedia ASM1051E chip. In the Asus enclosure, the OWC SSD put out 206.6MB/s reads and 175.7MB/s writes—substantially faster in read tests and slightly slower in writes. We also ran the Akitio enclosure with the OWC drive in eSATA mode, and there we saw the Akitio’s best performance: 262MB/s reads and 237MB/s writes. We know the OWC drive is capable of pushing 480MB/s reads and 300MB/s writes, so it’s official: The Akitio enclosure won’t hit 6Gb/s SATA speeds.
It's nice that the Akitio enclosure offers so many connection options—it goes a little way toward explaining its high price. Most folks in a PC-only world don’t need FireWire 800, but those who will use the drive to transfer files between a Mac and PC could. And if you need to, you can daisy chain another drive via the same connection without additional software. But $150 is a terribly steep price to pay for an external enclosure, even with the fancy aluminum shell. For that money, you can buy a USB 3.0 external drive with a 1TB hard drive included. Or you can just get a bigger PC chassis, move your rig into it, and connect your spare hard drive via internal SATA.
Akitio SK-3501 Super-S3
Lots of connection options; fits any standard hard
Bulky, outrageously expensive, and limited to 3Gb/s SATA speeds.