Thermaltake BlacX HDD Docking Station Review
By Gabriel Torres on March 12, 2008
BlacX is a USB 2.0 SATA hard disk drive enclosure for you to install your hard drive outside your computer. O.k., you’ve seen hundreds of devices like this before, but what makes this Thermaltake product really unique is the fact that it is a docking station, allowing you to install and remove hard drives with the computer turned on and without needing to open the device to install your hard drive – just insert your hard drive on the available slot on the docking station. In fact hard disk drive installation with this unit remembers the installation of cartridges in older video game consoles. Sounds interesting? Read on.
As you can see in Figure 1, contrary to other HDD enclosures around, BlacX is opened, so you install your hard drive by just inserting it on the available slot – imagine installing a cartridge on an old video game console, it is the same thing. This slot allows both 3.5” and 2.5” hard disk drives, as it has a retractable frame to make 2.5” drives to fit the slot. BlacX only accepts SATA hard disk drives.
Since the hard disk drive is exposed this device doesn’t need a cooling system for the hard drive.
In Figure 4 you see the rear side of the unit and in Figure 5 you see the power supply and the USB A/B cable that come with the product.
BlacX supports hot swap, so you can add and remove hard disk drives with your computer turned on (don’t forget that you need to “eject” the drive first in Windows by right clicking it and choosing “eject;” another way to do this is to use the “Safely Remove Hardware” wizard that appears next to the Windows clock).
The only problem with this unit is that it uses USB 2.0 interface, which is limited to transfers up to 60 MB/s (480 Mbps). For users that need to copy a large amount of data on a regular basis eSATA interface is a better option, as the hard drive achieves the same performance as if it were installed inside the computer.
During our tests we used the configuration listed below.
We adopted a 3% error margin. So, performance differences below 3% cannot be considered meaningful. In other words, products where the performance difference is below 3% must be considered as having similar performance.
The software we use for measuring hard disk drive performance, DiskSpeed32, performs really long tests, since it reads all sectors on the hard disk measuring the achieved transfer rate and plotting a graph.
Normally the hard disk transfer rate varies according to the part of the disk that is being read. The disk transfer rate is higher at the disk's edge, lowering as it approaches its center. This occurs because of the zone bit recording (ZBR): in longer tracks (the ones away from the disk center) there are more sectors and more data is read at each disk spin. Because of that, the software used shows three results: maximum transfer rate (obtained on the first disk cylinders, i.e., on the tracks located near the disk edge), minimum transfer rate (obtained on the last disk cylinders, i.e., on the most inner tracks), and average transfer rate, which is the result that we are usually interested in knowing.
Because of this effect we can also explain the need of hard disk defragging and why professional disk defrag utilities such as Norton Speed Disk allow you to move the operating system files to the beginning of the hard disk. As we explained, data stored on the beginning of the disk are read at a higher transfer rate than data stored in other sectors.
We used a Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160 GB (ST3160815AS, SATA-300, 7,200 rpm, 8 MB buffer) hard disk drive to perform our tests. First we installed it directly on an empty SATA-300 port on our motherboard to see what the performance of this drive is while it is installed inside the PC. We also installed our hard drive on another HDD enclosure (Thermaltake Max 4) to compare the results. This other enclosure also has an eSATA port so we are also including the results achieved using this connection for you to have an idea of the performance difference between eSATA and USB 2.0.
Thermaltake BlacX achieved exactly the same performance as Thermaltake Max 4 using USB 2.0 connection. The big problem with USB 2.0 is the low performance compared to the SATA port: our hard disk drive installed on the SATA port achieved a maximum transfer rate 237% higher and an average transfer rate 145% higher. As you also can see on our chart eSATA port makes the hard disk drive to achieve the same performance as if it were installed inside the PC. BlacX, however, doesn’t have this connectivity option.
Thermaltake BlacX main features are:
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
BlacX is an interesting option if you are looking for a hard disk drive enclosure where you can add and remove hard drives very quickly without the need of using tools and/or opening boxes and with the computer turned on.
The main problem with BlacX is that since it is connected to the USB port hard disk drives connected to it won’t achieve the same performance as if they were installed inside the PC. However, this is a problem that all USB 2.0 enclosures have. Unless you buy an eSATA enclosure you will have to live with it.