In this day and age, where we all have hundreds of gigabytes of music, videos and por-- er, games, many computer users are looking for some form of external storage to back up vital data from their main PC to give them that much needed data security in case of an emergency. While a Network Attached Storage solution is typically the best choice in most cases – certainly where large amounts of storage is required – those who want to move their backed up data around various physical locations will find that a NAS appliance doesn’t necessarily fit their needs.
In this case, the ideal solution is an external hard drive enclosure, or so you’d think. Back in the middle of October, we had a look at Cooler Master’s X-Craft USB 2.0 hard drive enclosure, finding it to be a little more expensive than most drive-less enclosures, but still a relatively decent buy. After testing the X-Craft, we decided that it’d be interesting to have a look at an all-in-one solution - specifically, in the form of Seagate’s 500GB eSATA device.
Seagate’s enclosure is about 60mm deep, 180mm long and 165mm across, making it slightly larger than your average hard drive enclosure. The aesthetics are fairly bland in the grand scheme of things, at least in comparison to Cooler Master’s sleek X-Craft design, but then this is more of a consumer device, rather than being designed for the enthusiast.
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Inside the enclosure, Seagate has included a 500GB, 7,200 RPM drive with 16MB of cache and support for Native Command Queuing and hot-swapping. Not surprisingly, this is right in line with Seagate’s 500GB desktop drives, which sport almost exactly the same specifications on paper.
Unlike many external hard drives, the power button is located on the front of the unit, meaning that you aren’t going to be tangling with the device’s power and data cables whilst powering the drive up. If you don’t use an external enclosure every day, this probably won’t be all that important to you, but I find myself using my external hard drive on a near-daily basis. For me then, this is a good thing, especially considering the number of times where I’ve found myself knocking the power cable out when reaching around to turn my own external enclosure on.
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With the power button moved to the front, the back of the enclosure is relatively bare with only connectors for power and eSATA 3Gbps on the rear. In the bundle, Seagate has included a PCI-based Promise eSATA300 TX2 disk controller for those that don’t have the luxury of on-board eSATA ports on their motherboard. As you will have probably guessed, the TX2 supports the eSATA 3Gbps standard much like Seagate’s enclosure. The main controller chip on the card is the PDC20775 chip, which is actually a re-badged Marvell controller chip.
Although this is forward looking on Seagate’s part - since eSATA is super-fast in theory - it’s nonetheless a shortcoming of the device. Since the device is designed to be used across multiple machines, the lack of any alternative connectivity will prevent this device from being used on a notebook in most cases. To the best of our knowledge, there are no notebooks with an eSATA port built in, meaning that you’re going to have to spend money on a PCMCIA eSATA adapter if you want to use it with your notebook (and if your notebook only has ExpressCard, you could be totally out of luck).
It would have been better to see a USB 2.0 or Firewire fallback on the back of the enclosure to ensure cross-compatibility with additional machines that don’t support eSATA (although Seagate does make a USB 2.0 version of the device separately).