back to article Ten USB 3.0 HDD enclosures

Undoubtedly, an HDD enclosure is always a handy thing to own, especially if you're likely to be tempted to upgrade to SSD storage and need to haul files off the old HDD. With USB 3.0 featuring on a range of enclosures, transfer speeds are pretty nifty. Yet, as I discovered during these tests of ten USB 3.0 enclosures, speed isn' …


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  1. batfastad

    ISOs and rugged

    This is something I've wanted for a long time. I thought that surely it was possible to have some drive electronics which can mount an ISO and make that appear to the host as a removeable optical drive to boot from, especially since telling the host a USB device is an optical/removeable/floppy drive is possibly just a USB class identifier. That's a cool feature on the Zalman ZM-VE300.

    Would be even better if you could tell the host system it's a USB floppy drive though that's becoming less and less of a problem these days.

    But what I'd really like is to see a company step up with something properly rugged for 2.5" drives. The Akasa Lokstor X21 looks like the best bet here. I've had a few of those Lacie ones with the orange buffers and they have been very good but I'd like something where you can bring your own drive and with more robust electronics. That, combined with an SSD, makes for pretty robust portable data storage. The weak point in that is the reliability of the SSD itself and I'm still not convinced. Having said that my next laptop purchase will probably feature an SSD.

    The good news is that these should be plenty fast enough to run VMs. I quite like the idea of sticking ESXi on host machines and taking your whole environment with you.

    Enclosures for those small form-factor mSATA SSDs would be great, as they tend to have the same capacity/speed as 2.5" drives but in a more compact package.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: ISOs and rugged find and download Yumi.

      Intended for booting Live Linux CD/DVD images from a pendrive but works with most ISO and other stuff.

      I works with a FAT32 formatted external USB HDD, you just needt to tick the box "Show ALL drives". If the image you want isn't listed, just keep scrolling down to Try unlisted ISO".

      I've used this successfully through a number of previous releases as a hand diagnostics boot device as well for running live ISOs and installer ISOs. With a FreeDOS image booted you can also do your firmware updates.

      1. RICHTO

        Re: ISOs and rugged

        Just install Hyper-V - which is free - and run however many OSs you want - but without all the security holes that Linux invariably comes with....

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: ISOs and rugged

      I'm not certain about this, but you might want to read up on booting from a USB 3 Device. It should be alright if the OS on the SSD already has USB 3 drivers installed, but it will be worth double checking.

      If you want to make your SSD enclosure more rugged, then pipe lagging and some silicon sealant will work, applied to outside of the case, obviously. Not pretty, but will work. If you are closer to a post office than a builder's merchant, then bubble wrap and and package tape...

      1. Tom 35

        bubble wrap?

        Sounds like a good way to melt your drive to me.

      2. Fibbles

        Re: ISOs and rugged

        Bubble wrap is both a thermal insulator and a generator of static electricity. I'm not so sure it'd be a good idea to wrap your hard drive in it.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: ISOs and rugged

          Good points about the bubble wrap- I hadn't thought that one through. I stand by my pipe-lagging modification, though- cut one in half to make two C-sections, glue one piece along each side of the enclosure, thus leaving plenty of exposed metal to disperse heat.

          On the static electricity front, I would hope that a portable HDD enclosure would be tolerant of being slid in and out of laptop bags of various materials...

    3. rob miller

      Re: ISOs and rugged

      the ve300 looked quite tasty to me as well, but my research reveals....

      - not actually available in the uk other than some spendy import sources (for £25 all I find are the ve200 usb 2 version)

      - comments on newegg (worth a read) suggest its not all -that- robust, but the issue may actually be the mini-usb-3 connectoors which seem to be the source of trouble on other devices as well.

      - it needs an ntfs formatted drive (fat32 / exfat appears to need a different firmware) and all windows tools, so not totally usable for linux / os x.

      - yumi looks pretty good too... GPL-2, all that nice source code, Windows executable for ntfs or fat32 filesystems, mmmm. It's like convergent evolution....

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: ISOs and rugged

        > Just install Hyper-V

        I hope Microsoft doesn't actually pay you for this Genghis Khan Subliminal Marketing effort.

        You should also check where in a virtualized system "security" enters the game. It's instructive.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: ISOs and rugged

        Have to admit the ability to mount the images in the _ISO folder as an optical disc is a fantastic feature. Has been very useful indeed to me for having mulitple images lying around. Especially as a lot of machines do not come with optical drives these days.

        However, the major downside is, as you put, the drive must be either NTFS or FAT to use this. Worse still, if there is any fragmentation on the ISO image then you will need to defrag the drive which I couldn't find any *nix based tool to do. Which can be a pain when at various times only the wife's Vista pc is available to do this.

        Still, very useful though. The VE200 comes with a rather natty case too.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why blue LEDs?

    How can anyone who lives in a country where the emergency services use flashing blue lights find blue LEDs in anyway relaxing? Normally, seeing flashing blue lights in your peripheral vision means you should immediately look around for a way to free up the road, lest you delay some poor sod on his way to hospital... And seeing flashing blue lights suddenly appear behind you means pull over and ask the good officer politely how you can help him.

    1. DF118

      Re: Why blue LEDs?

      My theory on blue LEDs is that the world (as in the world outside of R&D labs) had to put up with boring red dome LEDs for decades, then green ones came along, which were mildly distracting, then yellow, orange, multicoloured and white ones, but they were all rather boring. Mankind's nature is to want what he can't have and for a very long time in the world of LEDs, that thing was the colour blue.

      Finally, along came blue LEDs. They were dazzling and bright and shiny and above all very expensive. If your project or gadget had a blue LED it was cool, period. The delayed gratification that happened with blue LEDs elevated them briefly to uber-cool status. Now blue LEDs are cheap, but the coolness factor hasn't decayed enough. At least it hasn't as far as product designers are concerned. After all, they are the same people who drooled longingly at the blue LEDs in the RS catalogue while everyone else was busy thumbing their mum's Littlewoods one, and consequently every new piece of PC hardware we buy has more and more of the fucking things. I can see five right now from where I'm sitting, and that's only because six of my motherboard's eight power phases are idle right now. If I start up a 3D app, this place lights up like bloody Heathrow.

      1. Callam McMillan

        Re: Why blue LEDs?

        Go to a server room and then you'll see the real benefit of blue LEDs. If you're looking for a server in a rack of them, then having a bright blue LED lit up on the machine is a quick way to find one. Otherwise all the lights are Green (good), Amber (Warning), Red (Oh crap... that PSU has died... AGAIN!)

        1. Rusty 1
          Thumb Down

          Re: Why blue LEDs?

          But these enclosures will never be seen in a server room. Similarly the hugely loud fans found in equipment in server rooms would never be tolerated in a home/office environment.

          Blue LEDs are seriously irritating for people with gradually worsening short sight: blue is the first colour to lose focus. And besides that, the light emitted is horribly intense.

          Blue LEDs: not even once.

          1. Eddy Ito

            Re: Why blue LEDs?

            Agreed, blue LEDs in consumer products is the work of the devil or a politician*. There is a big reason why car tail lights tend to be red and emergency lights are often blue. It's the same reason that many devices designed to be used at night tend to use red illumination. It's because red is a nice low energy photon, which is also likely the reason red LEDs came out so long ago, and won't wreak havoc with your night vision. Blue on the other hand is a high energy photon and the LEDs are usually bright enough so you don't need night vision because they illuminate the room sufficiently to see clearly. Either works but when visiting a friend out of state and crashing on the pull out sofa bed in the den I found the blue LEDed wifi router blinking away like a bloody lighthouse in the corner to be a bit distracting.

            *I know, it's a distinction without a difference.

            1. Alan Dougherty

              Re: Why blue LEDs?

              Don't hate me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, blue LED's only became available, after some archaeologists scraped some crystaline blue paint from a cave painting, many years ago (20 or so.. I remember the BBC article, but I don't thing it was so long ago that no-one else can remember).. then found it would be superb if industrialised, and a bit of DC pushed through them..

              Before that, we had red, green, and, well red and green, and maybe some orange, with a bit of plastic lens to mix the red and green..

              Anyway.. the fact we even have blue LEDs, is down to idots, in warm, sweaty countries, filled with bugs, spelunking down caves that they shouldn't bother with, to find paint pigments, left by monkeys like us, that can be used in LEDs..

              Next time you see a blue LED, think of the effort that went into getting *just the right pigment*..

              1. Dave 126 Silver badge

                Re: Why blue LEDs?

                >archaeologists scraped some crystaline blue paint from a cave painting

                I won't hate you, though I've not heard that one... if true, it is pleasing that cavers themselves aided the development of a useful caving tool- energy efficient, shock-resistant lighting. However, I think you may have got your wires crossed, if the following is what you were thinking of:

                "ceramics coloured by Maya Blue have not faded over the centuries. What is even more remarkable is that the colour is resistant to extremes of pH, chemical solvents, and biodegradation. "

                No less fascinating, though!

                I remember a Q&A with Shuji Nakamura in New Scientist- though I've just had to consult Wikipedia- famous at the time because of his dispute with his employers over the size of his bonus for cracking the problem of high-efficiency blue LEDs.

                1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

                  Re: Why blue LEDs?

                  The first time I saw a blue LED was as the power indicators on the front bezel of a VALinux server.

                  It looked cool! Those were good times.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Why blue LEDs?

                    I could be - probably am - wrong, but the story I heard was that the method to produce blue LEDs was patent protected, and - for a time at least - nobody could work out how to produce them without using the patent protected method. Blue LEDs existed, they were just severely overpriced due to the patent holder milking it as much as he could.

                    Rumors being what they are, please take this with a grain of salt. Would be curious if anyone could confirm or deny the story I was told however...

                    1. Nigel 11

                      Re: Why blue LEDs?

                      Why never white LEDs?

                      I can guess: Apple has a patent on them.

                      1. Anonymous Coward
                        Anonymous Coward

                        Re: Why blue LEDs?

                        I have a WD external with a white LED activity indicator. It's much less intrusive than the blue, which is turned around to face the wall.

                        1. Anonymous Coward
                          Anonymous Coward

                          I love blue LEDs.

                          I've spent quite some time swapping other colours for blue LEDs. You need to pick low lumens versions, a single HiBri can light up a room so that's not a good one for equipment. I like them because I use other colours for status lights: green = OK, red = problem. Blue means power on, and nothing more.

                          I don't use white LEDs on kit - I have them lighting the room!

  3. goldcd
    Thumb Up

    Definitely the Zalman that can mount ISOs

    I bought the e-sata version+USB2 version, mainly on a "OOh, that might be useful whim"

    Found the thing to be invaluable and have assembled quite a handy collection of useful ISOs - best thing is that it is recognized as both an optical drive and a HD simultaneously. So you can for example Boot into Linux off a Live-CD and then use the HD for storage. Or boot Ghostzilla, and use it as the storage for the image. Or... etc etc.

    Just one of those fantastic innovations that for very little extra, no real size increase etc becomes an essential item in your laptop bag.

    1. Matt_payne666

      Re: Definitely the Zalman that can mount ISOs

      Ditto, I got the 200 when it was released and it is way beyond awesome for storage, building a pc from the ISO is also so much faster than physical cd.

      The fact that it shows as a BD drive is also a bonus... I've been lusting after the USB3 version for a while, but try as I might, can't find them anywhere for less than £40...

    2. Kevin

      Re: Definitely the Zalman that can mount ISOs

      Yep, seconded. I have the USB 2 version and it is one of the most useful storage devices I have ever bought. Dead quick and it *just works*.

      As for Yumi, well I tried that just a couple of days ago and it didn't work with what I was trying whereas the Zalman got it first time.

      Now, does anyone know of a thumb-drive style USB device that can do the same thing (I mean via hardware, not using some sort of boot loader)?

  4. Steve Evans

    I'm rather partial to the Icy Box enclosures. I've been using them since the IDE days and now have several of the SATA cases too.

    The nice thing is amongst their huge range, they also seem to offer the old design cases with newer internals, which means the USB 3 IB-351StU3 model matches all my old cases (although the IDE one I have is silver).

    Plus they're only about £24 inc VAT.

  5. Richard Lloyd

    I'll put in a mention for the Icy Box too

    I recently bought an Icy Box (yes, around 24-25 quid from Amazon) and put a 3TB Seagate in it. Got 180 Mbytes/sec read from them (beating all the benchmarks shown here!). It should be noted that although the Icy Box is fanless, it isn't silent because you'll hear the disk itself spinning/working.

    Yes, the Icy Box has a bright blue light (cover it with something if it worries you that much!), but it's a good enclosure that does the job well and is half the price of the enclsoures here. So why wasn't it included?!

  6. Dave 126 Silver badge

    maybe of use

    Maplins make me laugh... They have had complete external HDDs in their stores for cheaper than they will sell you a standalone enclosure.

    I did spot some 2.5" USB 2 enlclosures - choose from SATA or IDE internals - in PC World for around £8 just last week... worth snagging in case your laptop dies from anything not HDD related. No doubt they can be found cheaper on the web, if deliveries aren't inconvenient.

    1. 4.1.3_U1

      Re: maybe of use

      I quite agree. At the moment it's usually cheaper (almost) to buy a drive in an external enclosure than a bare drive. Who in their right mind would then buy an empty enclosure?

      Or am I missing something ... ?

    2. Goat Jam
      Thumb Up

      Re: maybe of use

      "2.5" USB 2 enlclosure worth snagging in case your laptop dies from anything not HDD related"

      For emergency hard disk access and general tinkering, you are better off with a drive dock rather than an enclosure.

      Something like this

  7. filholder

    I recently had to buy a bunch of 2TB drives here in spain for a nas i was building. It was cheaper for me basiclly to buy external drives in USB3 cases than bare drives. I paid 99 euros for hitachi externals in local hypermarket and you can look here for the going rate for internal, plus shipping which isnt that cheap.

    So after shipping it was cheaper to buy them and throw after the usb3 cases.


  8. Alister Silver badge

    I would be interested to know whether the electronics in the SATA / USB interface are all built by the individual enclosure manufacturers, or whether, in fact, they buy in existing circuits and chips from one or more sources.

    This would make the performance comparisons interesting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      USB-SATA Electronics

      " would be interested to know whether the electronics in the SATA / USB interface are all built by the individual enclosure manufacturers, or whether, in fact, they buy in existing circuits and chips from one or more sources."

      They tend to use USB - SATA bridging chips from a given manufacturer, e.g. ASMedia, if that's what you're asking?

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: USB-SATA Electronics

        That's what I thought. So when you do comparative speed and performance tests, you would expect to see all the ones using the same chip to perform the same, wouldn't you? (given that the hard drive fitted is the same one in each case)

  9. Luther Blissett

    A missed opportunity

    It would have been illuminating to also benchmark data transfers over eSATA with those enclosures that have them. I predict big FAILs for USB 3.0 - that is what I found comparing eSATA and USB 3.0. But use a quality eSATA cable, as the cheap ones cause SATA fallback and you will never realise the capabilities of your hardware.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never EVER a vertical mount - shoot the designers!

    There is a very good reason why you should always opt for a horizontal design: what lies down can no longer fall.

    These drives are used all over the place, and not always by people with any kind of IT competence. If you set up a drive vertically and it is live, tipping it over may zap your data forever.

    When drives are down, the heads are nicely parked out of the way - this is what gives you the nice "G" ratings for shock resistance. However, a live drive has heads hovering over your data with nothing but a couple of air molecules between the head and the disk surface.

    Trip over the wires, knock it over - whatever the cause, Muphy's law say if it CAN fall over, it will. And when it falls over, that head will no longer hover - for a moment it will scrape instead. If you're lucky, the particles will end up in the air filter and maybe it was an empty sector. If you're unlucky, the disk surface particles repeatedly get between head and surface and release some friends, and heads tends to stay near live data for reasons of speed, so what gets scraped is what you really, really don't want to have removed in that way.

    In short, if the drive falls over, the potential for losing your data is VERY high indeed. If you take a horizontal design, you avoid at least that problem as it is already lying down..

  11. plrndl


    Your benchmarks are meaningless unless you specify a margin of error.

    I'll bet it's greater than any of the differences shown here.

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