ICY DOCK has been around for over 12 years now and although they are not a household name, if you have shopped for drive enclosures there is a good chance you have noticed them. In fact, drive enclosures is their one and only business. They specialize in providing a complete lineup of internal and external drive enclosures utilizing various interface technologies. It should not be surprising that they were one of the first companies to market an external enclosure with a eSATA interface.

We recently purchased a couple of their latest models to use in our daily operations and for an upcoming enclosure roundup. However, we were impressed enough with the ICY DOCK MB559US series to provide a review of the 1SMB model today along with on overview of the storage technology utilized in this product.

As hard drive transfer rates have continued to increase, and people have increased their reliance on external hard drive enclosures, the bandwidth limitations of USB have become obvious. Even improvements to the FireWire architecture have been unable to satisfy power users, who have long since begun to clamor for single or multiple hard drives in a non-SCSI external enclosure. Enter eSATA.

eSATA, Firewire and USB Comparison
eSATA FireWire 800 (1394b) USB 2.0
Peak Transfer Rate (MB/sec) 300 100 60
Cable Length (M) 2 4.5 5
Daisy Chain Capable No Yes Yes

Ratified in 2004, the eSATA standard seeks to overcome some of the inherent disadvantages of SCSI (bulkier cabling and connectors, relatively expensive drive price points, etc), while improving on many of the technical shortcomings of USB and FireWire. While suffering from a comparatively short 2 meter cable length restriction, eSATA provides a long sought-after external high performance bus, capable of keeping pace with fairly large RAID arrays. The connector, an often-cited complaint from USB or early SATA adopters, addresses the problem of devices disconnecting too easily, employing a simple retention mechanism which keeps the cable connected to the drive more securely. Cables are far more end-user friendly and flexible compared to SCSI, even with the added shielding compared to its internal SATA cousin.

In addition to the faster bus speed, eSATA enjoys the benefits of sharing a common bus architecture with its devices: Where USB and 1394 have to convert or encapsulate data on the fly in converting from ATA to their native protocols, eSATA does not. As this overhead can easily rob 15% of the bandwidth of those busses, the advantages behind eSATA are obvious. The primary reason for eSATA is external storage since eSATA offers the same interface speeds as SATA. In theory, this technology should and generally does eliminate any performance differences between internal and external drives.

Beyond everything discussed above, eSATA is functionally the same as its internal SATA cousin. Power is supplied via an external source as in internal SATA (rather than in USB, where power and data transfer occur over the same cable), it uses the same four data line communication as internal SATA, and all relevant technologies and feature sets (S.M.A.R.T, drive spinup/spindown, NCQ, etc) are supported although implementation is dependent upon the manufacturer. eSATA drives are recognized as normal drives in the BIOS, which means they can be easily used to boot Windows.

The question, however, is one of value. USB connectors, for example, are on virtually every motherboard sold today. In contrast, there are only a limited number of motherboards on the market today that offer native eSATA capabilities. However, the growth in external devices to take advantage of the additional feature set and improved bandwidth of the eSATA bus is increasing rapidly now. The main question that comes to mind is if these differences are useful in the real world?

In our review today of the ICY DOCK MB559US-1SMB, we will provide a few answers to this question. Let's now find out how ICY DOCK's latest eSATA drive enclosure performs against its internal SATA cousin.

Specifications and Features
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  • sheh - Friday, July 13, 2007 - link

    What would be more interesting is an enclosure that includes a 1000 or even just 100Mbit LAN, in addition to USB (and possibly eSATA). It'd be invaluable being able to hook to older computers at faster than (theoretic) 12Mbit and to be accessible to multiple computers on the network. Reply
  • paulwatsonjr - Friday, July 13, 2007 - link

    On the chart you show that esata is not daisy chain'able (which is true.) However, I thought I remembered seeing something about esata now having some sort of multi-port capability, similar to daisy chaining, that is supported by the latest round of Intel chipsets...
    Reply
  • Farfle - Thursday, July 12, 2007 - link

    There are a ton of these eSata enclosures out there, and all seem to advertise to do the same thing. They probably all do, for the most part at least. I purchased this model from Beyond Micro:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    The main reasons I chose this over other competitors was the following:

    1. On/Off power switch on the front (although, admittedly, kinda useless--not to mention risky--if you're using it as you're system drive, hehe..."Ooops, there goes Windows!")

    2. The AC adapter's power plugin is one of those rounded inner/outer types that makes connecting to the enclosure a snap! I always hate trying to allign those S-Video-type power plug-ins to their mates (like on this Icy Dock model).

    3. Built-in fan. Some HDs get quite hot, and it's nice to have a fan to keep 'em cool. Also, it appears the top of the Beyond Micro drive has an aluminum cover, which better conducts the heat.

    Some bad things about it tho, is installation was kind of unnecesarily complicated. It comes with screws that you need to ensure you utilize, otherwise the cooling effects are minimized, and the noise becomes more apparent.

    I'm not trying to "comment" crap here, but just sharing my experience with this particular product type.

    *Note - One other thing to think about--that applies to all these eSata enclosures--is the PCI bracket. I bought this drive for use in a Baby-atx Low Profile case (one of those computers that can sit under your monitor...like the good ol' PC days). Unfortunately, none of these enclosures come with a Low-profile bracket. I had to purchase this special one from Addonics for $7 + $7 shipping:

    http://www.addonics.com/shopaddonics/default.asp?i...">http://www.addonics.com/shopaddonics/default.asp?i...

    $14 dollars for a stupid little metal bracket is a bit absurd, but I had no other choice (if I wanted to keep the setup pretty). So, unless you have an onboard eSata connection and you're using a low profile computer, you're kinda stuck having to purchase this extra peripheral.

    Reply
  • Googer - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    How would performance have been differant had a Western Digital Raptor been used instead of a 7200 RPM Samsung over USB? Could you post some benchmarks? Reply
  • Dave Robinet - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    I wouldn't expect the Raptor to come out significantly better, to be honest. The transfer rate of either drive saturates the bus, though I'd imagine the Raptor would improve things slightly in heavy small file access times (certain games, etc). As I mentioned, though, it likely wouldn't be much - looking at the Load Level Time benchmark in the 2nd last page would be a best case scenario, IMO.

    Gary's a pretty busy man these days, so I'm not sure I'd count on the benchmarks for the Raptor in the USB this time around. Sorry. :)
    Reply
  • lennylim - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    Good to find a review of this unit. Now that I started searching around, I see that there are a number of other reviews on it, but I don't check those sites as often as Anandtech.

    I first saw something similar at a local B&M. It seems to be sold under a few brand names, like Cremax and SohoTank. What sets it apart from others is a hot swappable, removable tray. While you could buy a 250-300GB HDD for the base unit, each additional HDD tray would only set you back $20 or so. If you use external drives for backups, this seems like a better solution than getting individual enclosures for every drive. Advantage : less clutter. Disadvantage : cannot use more than one unit at a time (unless you get more base units, of course).

    I really like the idea of an external enclosure with a hot swap tray, but would prefer one that is dampened (less noise / vibration, important when the drive is closer to you) and has active cooling (i.e. a fan). And icing on the cake would be to have USB and firewire ports on it as well. Best bet right now seems be to build one using a mini ITX enclosure. Not having an extra power brick (and an on/off switch that cuts power to the power supply, not just the enclosure) will also be nice.

    The short summary about eSATA (how AHCI is necessary for hot swap, etc.) is also useful - something I've been wondering about for a while. Can anyone point to sites with additional info on eSATA, specifically how to add it to an older system without eSATA so that it supports hot swap, any drives that don't play well with hot swap? TIA.
    Reply
  • Dave Robinet - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    Thanks for the comments.

    The simplest way to add eSATA to existing systems is with the use of a controller card (as people often do with SCSI). Which OS are you using?
    Reply
  • lennylim - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    Mainly XP (Pro and Home) and Linux, though support for Linux now mainly falls under the "nice to have". Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 12, 2007 - link

    My P965 board has eSATA through one of the JMicron controllers, support for this has been in the Linux kernels since 2.6.18. so eSATA works fine in my system (2.6.20 kernel), though it might depend more on support for the controller chip than eSATA in general. Reply
  • ninjit - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    Quick question about burst speed.

    You showed that the enclosure had a much lower Burst speed than when the drive was mounted internally, which you attributed to ICY DOCK's controller only supporting the SATA 150 spec at the moment.

    However I just looked at their website for more details, and they specificially mention SATA 300 speed support, and have their own HDTACH results to back it up.

    http://www.icydock.com/MB559US-1S_SPEED_TEST.pdf">http://www.icydock.com/MB559US-1S_SPEED_TEST.pdf

    Could it be a setting or cable issue that caused your tests to drop down to 150?
    Reply

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