Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Quick review of the Thermaltake BlacX eSATA drive dock

My complete photo library is ~1TB nowadays. By freak occurrence, I once not only lost the photos on my workstation due to hard drive failure, but my back up drive died also at the same time (they weren't connected, there was no power surge, just sheer bad luck)! It took several weeks of hunting around for a controller board for my backup drive before I could fix it and recover the data. Since then, I've been rather OCD about backing up my photos on at least 3 drives.

Before, I just swapped hard drives in and out of an enclosure and copied the master photos on my computer onto the external drives. It worked fine but it was slow and when you back up hundreds of GB of photos on a regular schedule, it gets to be a real pain.

Then I read about the Thermaltake BlacX eSATA drive dock and it sounded like just what I was looking for. It was announced by Thermaltake last year but it wasn't available until recently, and for less then $40, I thought I would jump on it.

It uses an eSATA connection so it's much faster than typical external drives that use USB. Also the docking interface makes it much easier to swap drives in and out, no more unscrewing enclosures and plugging and unplugging power and data cables.

The only question now is how does it really work. I ran a quick test using HD Tach and here are the results:

As you can see, using eSATA, the transfer rate is 2-3X faster than using the USB port. The performance is there and so is the price. You can buy several OEM drives for cheap and just swap them in and out of the dock. This is also much more reliable than buying complete external drive units. A lot of photographers unknowingly buy external drives which are advertised as 1TB etc... but they are actually two 500GB drives cobbled together in a RAID 0 configuration. This is the worst thing you can do because it more than doubles your chance of losing your data due to hardware failure. I say more than because not only do you lose your data if one or more of your drives die, but also if the RAID controller goes bad or the stripe is lost. It also makes recovery of the data much harder than with single drive failures. If you google "dead LaCie drive", you'll see what I mean.

Bottom Line:
So far eSATA drive dock looks like a winner, I would recommend it to anybody that needs an external drive. Just make sure you take care of the bare drives. I'm using this 1TB hard drive with it without problems, you'll also need an eSATA card if you don't have one.