External hard drive enclosures are great if you have to move large amounts of data around frequently or easily add storage to a packed desktop system.
With USB 2.0, though, transfers have always been capped at 33MB/s at best, making huge data backups a real snooze-fest. On the plus side, this meant your primary disk’s transfer speed didn’t matter at all—any reads and writes were limited by USB 2.0’s bandwidth limit. Those days will be drawing to a close as USB 3.0 takes hold. We’ve already tested one USB 3.0 external hard drive: the WD My Book 3.0 (reviewed April 2009). That was a fine product, but what if you already have a high-capacity backup drive and you just want to speed up your transfer times?
In that case, you may want to peep Vantec’s NexStar 3 SuperSpeed hard drive enclosure. As its name implies, it’s USB 3.0 compliant. Like its predecessors, the NexStar 3 is an aluminum enclosure featuring an on/off switch, power/drive activity LED, power cable, and USB port. It includes a stand for stable vertical storage and little rubber feet on one side so it can sit horizontally. The faceplate of the enclosure is attached to the drive tray. Both the faceplate and drive tray slide out of the case to allow a 3.5-inch drive to be slotted onto the SATA connector and then secured to the tray with four screws. Indeed, the only way the NexStar 3 SuperSpeed differs from its kin is that it includes USB 3.0 instead of just 2.0.
The NexStar 3 SuperSpeed can't keep up with an SSD's SATA speeds, but it does well with mechanical hard drives.
We tested the NexStar 3 SuperSpeed with two drives: the 128GB Kingston SSDNow V+, and a 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, a speedy last-gen mechanical hard drive. We used the NEC PCI-E to USB 3.0 controller that shipped with the WD My Book 3.0.
We compared the results against those of both drives connected directly to the motherboard using a SATA cable.
Transfer speeds from the NexStar 3 were much lower than the theoretical throughput of 5Gb/s listed on the box. In fact, both drives had lower transfer speeds via USB 3.0 than they did via SATA, with the biggest slowdowns coming from the Kingston drive. The drive’s reads bumped up against 180MB/s using SATA but barely reached 111MB/s when connected with the NexStar. The Barracuda went from 103.3MB/s reads and 102MB/s writes using SATA to 91.2MB/s reads and 82.9MB/s writes on the NexStar. Burst speeds suffered on both drives, too—the Barracuda’s near-200MB/s bursts dropped to just over 100MB/s, while the Kingston went from 224MB/s to just 117MB/s.
It’s worth noting that both drives outperformed the My Book 3.0, with its 1TB Caviar drive, and both roughly tripled USB 2.0’s best speeds. It’s probably too early in USB 3.0’s lifespan to expect performance anywhere near the theoretical maximum, of course. This version of the NexStar is designed for 3.5-inch mechanical hard drives; it’s possible that Vantec’s upcoming 2.5-inch version will be better. Still, for now, getting near-internal speeds from your external mechanical drive is nothing to sneeze at.
As an external hard drive enclosure, the Vantec NexStar 3 SuperSpeed succeeds—if your rig is USB 3.0 capable. It’s nice to be able to throw your backup drive into a speedy external chassis and triple your transfer speeds. It won’t match speeds with a drive connected directly to your rig, but if you need a better chassis for your backup drive, this is it. And swapping in a different drive takes only a few minutes. We wouldn’t put an SSD in this enclosure for longer than it takes to clone a drive; but you’d have to be crazy to use SSDs for external storage, anyway.
Vantec NexStar 3 SuperSpeed
Well-constructed, good-looking chassis; quiet.
Performance nowhere near USB 3.0's theoretical maximum.
Kingston SSDNow V+ (Vantex on USB 3.0)
Kingston SSDNow V+ (SATA)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 (Vantec on USB 3.0)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 (SATA)
HDTach Avg. Read (MB/s)
HDTach Avg. Write (MB/s)
HDTach Burst (MB/s)
HDTach CPU Utilization
HDTach Random Access (ms)
Best scores are bolded. HD Tach version 184.108.40.206 used. Tested on our hard drive test bench: an Asus P7P55D Premium running an Intel Core i5-750 @2.67GHz with 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.