I decided to buy an external hard drive enclosure for the purpose of backing up and storing additional data on my laptop. At a local computer store, I looked at my options knowing that I wanted a Firewire based external IDE hard drive enclosure. Based on price and availability, I picked up an Ultra 3.5″external hard drive enclosure with USB2.0 and Firewire 400 interface connectivity.
In this article, Ultra's Stackable 3.5" Hard Drive Enclosure will be examined and performance tests will be conducted on both the USB 2.0 and Firewire interfaces.
The enclosure is made of black plastic. It has a matte finish rather than a glossy finish which is much more common, but because of this you won't get fingerprint marks all over it. Although made of plastic, its structure is firm. It's not comparable to an aluminum enclosure, but it is more than sturdy enough to be transported around without worry.
On the sides, the Ultra name is molded into the enclosure as part of the design. The "Stackable" moniker in the name of the enclosure comes from the fact that if you have more than one of these enclosures, that you can stack them one on top of another and daisy chain them using the Firewire interface. While we only have one enclosure to test, it is assumed this is possible due to some of the plastic grooves in the enclosure.
The front of the enclosure features slits for ventilation and prominently has LED blocks to indicate power and hard drive activity.
The back of the enclosure contains the interface ports for the unit, one USB 2.0 port and two Firewire 400 (IEEE1394) ports. As well, the DC power plug and power switch are on the back.
As the enclosure is plastic, and therefore an insulator of heat, it must be actively cooled to avoid overheating. For cooling, there is a 30mm fan in the back. In conjunction with the ventilation slits of the front, the fan provides a stream of airflow going across the hard drive.
Inside, all of the ports and the 30mm fan are visible. The enclosure provides a standard IDE cable and 4 pin molex connector, all of which will work with all standard IDE hard drives. As well, there are six holes for the screws used to mount the hard drive in place, all of which lined up perfectly with the Western Digital WD1600JB hard drive used for testing.
This unit from Ultra is revision 5 and features the Prolific 3507 chipset for its IDE to USB/1EEE1394 interface.
Power is provided by an AC power brick, so it can potentially block a few adjacent sockets.
There are no measurements in this section, however this will be based on a subjective evaluation.
In terms of noise, the enclosure was not loud itself. The fan must have been spinning at a low speed as noise was very minimal. The noise issue is introduced depending on which hard drive you use. The hard drive used in this evaluation, a Western Digital WD1600JB, is a relatively loud hard drive. When the enclosure was active with the hard drive, the whine of the hard drive was clearly audible in the test environment. The enclosure did not really dampen the sound that well as sound levels were only slightly lower if the enclosure was open versus being closed. So word to the wise, use a quiet hard drive for this unit if noise is an issue.
The operating temperature of the unit was acceptable. The enclosure felt slightly warm to the touch and exhaust air from the fan was slightly warm when the hard drive was constantly being accessed. Temperatures never exceeded the safety threshold.
The Macbook used for testing was equipped with a Core 2 Duo 2GHz processor, 2GB (2×2GB) Kingston 667MHz memory. Mac OSX 10.4.8 and Windows XP SP2 with Boot Camp 1.1.2 beta drivers were used. The hard drive in the laptop was a Fujitsu 80GB (model: MHV2080BHPL) SATA 5400RPM drive with 8MB cache. The hard drive in the enclosure was a Western Digital 160GB (model: WD1600JS) IDE 7200RPM drive with 8MB cache.
In all of the synthetic tests, the Ultra enclosure using the USB 2.0 interface was the least competitive. It was consistently slowest in all areas of the test.
In comparing the Ultra enclosure using the Firewire interface to the internal Macbook hard drive, the competition was much more stiff. Generally, for random accesses the Ultra enclosure using the Firewire interface was faster. This can be attributed to the hard drive used in the enclosure having a faster spindle speed (7200RPM vs 5400RPM) than the Macbook internal hard drive. For sequential accesses, the internal hard drive proved to be faster for 3/4 tests. On average, the Ultra enclosure is very comparable in performance to the internal hard drive.
The real world test was excerpted from a past article. For more details on the real-world drive test, please see the article Comparison of File Systems, Interfaces and Operating Systems.
To reiterate the results of the test, the Firewire performance of the Ultra Stackable enclosure is very competitive. Especially considering the high data transfer rate of even small files, comparing this enclosure in Firewire mode to an internal laptop hard drive shows indiscernible performance differences when using the right file system.
If you are planning on using this enclosure with your notebook and the Firewire interface, you will be pleased to know that you can potentially have an external storage solution that offers similar speeds to your laptop's internal hard drive. This can help to make file copies and backups go by quicker.
Overall with the Firewire interface, the performance and quality of Ultra's Stackable 3.5" enclosure was great. The strength of this enclosure kit is in its value. I purchased this enclosure because it was the cheapest Firewire & USB kit available to me, and it exceeded my expectations.
So if you are looking for a low cost Firewire external hard drive enclosure, look no further than Ultra's Stackable 3.5" hard drive enclosure.