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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  • Gary Key - Thursday, July 12, 2007 - link

    We discovered an issue with the Intel Matrix Storage driver version 7.0.0.1020 and our ICY DOCK review unit that prevented true SATA 3Gb/s operation. An update to version 7.5.0.1017 did not work, even after an uninstall of the 7.0.0.1020 driver. However, after reinstalling Windows XP-SP2 and installing driver 7.5.0.1017, the unit performed as advertised. This was repeatable on our DFI P965 board with the ICH8R.

    We are still looking into why this occurred as it was not repeatable on our P35 board with the ICH9R nor the Intel BadAxe 2 board with the ICH7R. We will publish updated HDTach results shortly. There were not any differences in our actual benchmarks other than the normal variance between benchmark runs that is typically +/- .05%.
    Reply
  • Stan11003 - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    I think I could buy a 250GB drive for the cost of this enclosure.... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    Which would work great as an internal-only HDD. Reply

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