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Icy Dock Blizzard HDD Enclosure & EZ-Dock Docking Station

We examine a pair of external storage options from Icy Dock. The Blizzard is an oddly shaped, actively cooled HDD enclosure with some nifty extra features, while the EZ-Dock is a conventional but sleek looking docking station.

February 6, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Blizzard MB080U3S-1SB HDD Enclosure EZ-Dock MB981U3S-1S HDD Docking Station
Manufacturer
Icy Dock
Street Price
US$60 US$45

The storage accessory market has many cheap products built by nameless/faceless
OEMs, resold with cosmetic tweaks under umpteen brands. They are good enough
for those looking for the bare minimum — utilitarian equipment that does
what it’s designed for and nothing more. Icy Dock devices are a bit more expensive
than the usual rabble but more extra goes into their products, whether it be
in build quality, aesthetics, or features.

Icy Dock Blizzard (MB080U3S-1SB)

Hard drives enclosures are designed for adding semi-permanent external storage
to a PC or NAS/router. They are usually composed of an interface adapter and
a metal or plastic casing to protect the drive from outside elements like errant
hands/feet, unruly pets, and curious children. The 2.5 inch models can be powered
through a USB, FireWire, or powered eSATA cable, making them great for portable
operation. The Icy Dock Blizzard belongs to the larger 3.5 inch variety, supporting
full sized desktop drives that require AC power. Higher-end models come with
a fan which isn’t a bad idea if the drive used is to be left on 24-7 but there’s
more to the Blizzard than that.

Blizzard unboxed.

This is one of the most unusual looking enclosures on the market. It’s a single
bay model equipped with an 80 mm fan positioned at the front, blowing across
the entire drive. Most actively cooled enclosures place the fan on the side,
which limits cooling but has minimal impact on the overall dimensions. Furthermore,
the Blizzard’s fan is placed at an angle, giving it an odd diamond shape at
the front while the rear is substantially thinner. The fan has both automatic
and adjustable speeds and there’s a brightness dial at the back for fan LEDs,
which come in two colors, blue for normal operation, and red when/ if the drive
temperature exceeds 50°C. To top it all off, assembly is completely tool-less
Our sample version of the Blizzard supports both USB 3.0 and eSATA (the MB080USEB-1SB
has eSATA, USB 2.0, and FireWire) and ships with thick cables measuring about
a meter long.


Icy Dock Blizzard MB080U3S-1SB: Specifications
(from the product website)
Model Number MB080U3S-1SB
Color Black
Drive Fit Single 3.5″ SATA I / II / III hard drive
Host Interface 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port
1 x USB 3.0 port (USB 2.0 compatible)
Transfer Rate (max. bus speed) Up to 3Gb/s via eSATA
Up to 5Gb/s via USB 3.0
Up to 480Mb/s via USB 2.0
Drive Cooling 80mm fan
Fan Speed Control High/ Low/ Auto
HDD Access Indication Flashing orange LED
Power Indication Green LED
Over Heat Indicator Red ambient LED light (when temperature reach 50° C)
OS Requirement Windows XP/ 2003/ VISTA/ 7/ 8
Mac OS 10.22.8 and higher
Power Supply 12V/2A power adapter
Structure ABS shell with metal frame
Dimension (L x W x H) 237.5 x 126 x 146 mm
Weight 648g

Icy Dock EZ-Dock (MB981U3S-1S)

Hard drive docking stations can be used just like an enclosure but it’s a more
transitory solution that doesn’t afford the drive any physical protection. The
advantage is the ability to swap drives in and out very quickly which makes
it especially convenient for IT professionals. At SPCR, we find docking stations
extremely useful for quickly installing system images onto drives used for hardware
testing. These devices work with both 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch drives, which isn’t
always the case with enclosures.

EZ-Dock unboxed.

The EZ-Dock lacks the many bells and whistles of the Blizzard. For a docking
station it is quite attractive, decked out in glossy black with smooth contours.
The dock is seemingly encased in an outer shell that affords some protection
to the release mechanism. It gives the whole unit a sense of extra stability
though it might actually be sturdier overall with a unibody design. Like the
Blizzard, it connects through both eSATA and USB 3.0 with one meter long cables.
An alternate variant, the MB981U3-1SA trades eSATA connectivity for old
school IDE support.


Icy Dock EZ-Dock MB981U3S-1S: Specifications
(from the product website)
Model Number MB981U3S-1S
Color Black
Drive Fit 2.5″ / 3.5″ SATA 1.5 / 3 / 6 Gbps hard drive or SSD x 1
Connection Interface SuperSpeed USB 3.0 & eSATA
Transfer Rate Up to 5 Gbps via USB 3.0
Up to 480 Mbps via USB 2.0
Up to 3 Gbps via eSATA
Structure ABS
LED Indication Device Power & Drive Activity
LED Display Color Power: Amber; Drive Activity: Amber flashing
Power ON / Off Power Button
Dimension (L x W x H) 150 x 79.7 x 92mm
Weight 361g

PHYSICAL DETAILS: Icy Dock Blizzard

The Blizzard measures 23.7 x 12.6 x 14.6 cm or 9.3 x 5.0 x 5.7 inches (L x W x H) and weighs approximately 650 grams or 1.4 lb (similar to the weight of a typical high capacity 3.5 inch hard drive). The exterior is composed of black plastic with a matte finish. The enclosure’s fan is mounted to a front vent with a vertical grill which extended down the spine to give it a more inclusive uniform aesthetic.


The Blizzard’s odd contours are complemented by the slightly depressed
nameplate. If you look at it from the corner of your eye it almost looks
like a distortion in the space-time continuum. The enclosure is tool-less
— pressing the buttons at the sides looses the fan compartment so
you can pull it off with your fingers.


The enclosure’s extra features makes the rear panel surprisingly packed.
There’s a triple toggle switch (High/Low/Auto) to control the fan speed
and a dial to adjust the LED luminosity. There are ventilation holes on
both sides but they are miniscule. The plastic feet are broad, making
it difficult to knock over by accident.


Inside, the drive is guided along rails to the connectors at the back. At the top/front, there’s a small green and orange LED indicating power and activity respectively. Despite the plastic housing, it appears to be sturdy. The walls are thick and if the enclosure is knocked over, the corners preventing it from falling as far/hard as a rectangular casing.


The 80 mm fan has a distinctly industrial looking design with a large hub at the center, creating a significant dead-spot. As it’s only tasked with cooling a single drive, it should still be able to generate a satisfactory level of airflow.


The fan gets its power through two metal contacts at the bottom of the enclosure.


Powering the enclosure and drive is an Energy Star class V compliant 12V adapter with a total output of 2.0A for 24W — plenty for any modern hard drive.

PHYSICAL DETAILS: Icy Dock EZ-Dock

The EZ-Dock measures 15.0 x 8.0 x 9.2 cm or 5.9 x 3.1 x 3.6 inches
(L x W x H) and weighs about 360 grams or 0.79 lb. Like the Blizzard it’s constructed
primarily of plastic.


The EZ-Dock shares design features with many similar devices. 2.5/3.5
inch drives are plugged in vertically though the appropriate flap. Drives
can be ejected with a lever on the side — some cheaper docks require
you physically pull the drive out yourself.


The eSATA, USB, and power connectors are located at the back of the device.
Bottom rubber pads give it stability.


The EZ-Dock’s mechanism is nice and big, and looks like it could handle
thousands of ejections without issue.


If we have one complaint, it’s the LED on the power button. It’s incredibly dim, even in low light.


The EZ-Dock is powered using the same 12V adapter as the Blizzard.

TESTING

Summary of primary HDD testing tools:

Key Components in HDD Test Platform:

Drives Used in Testing:

TEST RESULTS

Note: As the EZ-Dock exposes most of the drive in open air, it has
no effect on the noise or the temperature of the drive. Thus environmental measurements
were restricted to the Blizzard alone.

Due to the nature of the device, the Blizzard is likely to be placed near one’s person so we tested it for noise at the ISO 7779 standard seated user distance of 0.6m. The hard drive used in testing was the Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB which produced an idle and seek noise level of 17 dBA@1m and 18~19 dBA@1m respectively in our original open hard drive test setup. This translates to approximately 21 dBA and 22~23 dBA respectively at 0.6m.

Icy Dock Blizzard: Baseline Noise Measurements
HDD only (no fan)
Idle: 22~23 dBA
Seek: 29 dBA
Fan only (no HDD)
Low: 29 dBA
High: 35 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 0.6m at diagonal angle from
the center of the device.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

According to our measurements, the enclosure’s fan produced 29 dBA@0.6m on the low speed setting and 35 dBA@0.6m on the high setting. Though the noise level was a bit high, the sound generated was generally smooth though lower in pitch than most case fans spinning in open air, probably due to being enclosed in a tight space. Also, the low speed setting emitted the same level of noise as our test hard drive when seeking, making them a perfect complement for one another. We were unable to observe the automatic setting ramping up the fan speed; apparently the drive simply didn’t get hot enough under our testing conditions.

When the drive was idle, there was a negligible acoustic difference between the drive sitting out in the open and inside the Blizzard. Seek activity was much louder however and the enclosure had a noticeable increase in vibration as well. Cooling and ease of assembly were taken into consideration but like most enclosures, no thought was given with regards to dampening vibration.

Icy Dock Blizzard: Operational Measurements
HDD State
Temperature
SPL @0.6m
AC Power
Idle
28°C
29 dBA
~12.0W
Seek
33°C
31~32 dBA
~13.3W
Fan set to low.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.
Ambient temperature: 20°C.

In operation, our test hard drive ran a very cool 28°C when idle and there was only a 5°C increase after prolonged seek activity with the enclosure’s fan set to low speed. The noise produced by the fan and drive added up correctly but the sound was slightly different than in our baseline tests. Somehow the drive and fan interaction created a low pitched hum that wasn’t observed previously. For an actively cooled 3.5″ enclsoure, we didn’t find it particularly loud.

Much of the noise difference between the drive at idle and during seek was
in the lower frequency range of 70~120 Hz, undoubtedly caused by vibration.

USB 3.0 Performance

To coax maximum performance out of each device we tested them with a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive using CrystalDiskMark’s 1000 MB setting using 0x00 fill test data to take advantage of the SandForce controller’s proficiency with compressed data.

Connected to an Intel-based USB 3.0 controller, both Icy Dock devices scored
within the same range as the MUKii
TransImp Dock
which had been our temporary storage work horse for the
better part of two years. USB 3.0 is limited to 5 Gbps but the results are far
worse than that of a standard 6 Gbps SATA controller. This is apparently an
issue with interface standard itself; we have yet to encounter a USB 3.0 controller
that comes close to taking advantage of all the speed benefits of modern SSDs.

With eSATA, there is no need for any testing. The interface is identical in
performance to internal SATA, and the only significant potential bottleneck
is the extra length of the cable. For all intents and purpose, the eSATA interface
is the same as connecting the drive directly to the SATA connectors on the motherboard.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR’s
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual user. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 second segments of room ambiance, then the device/fan
at various states/levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that
the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don’t change the volume
setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In a market filled to the brim with basic drive enclosures, the Icy Dock Blizzard
is a top of the line model with all the extras. It’s got a controllable fan
that blows across almost the entire drive, LEDs that connote power, activity,
and temperature, and assembly is completely tool-free. It seems like a bit of
waste to have all these fancy features for just a single drive, though. The
fan is more than capable at the low speed setting; the high and automatic settings
aren’t really necessary. In addition, the fan makes enclosure as wide as a dual
drive model — the extra width feels squandered. It’s also very unlikely
a hard drive will heat up past 50°C, making the secondary lighting superfluous
for most users. All these extra doodads add up, to the tune of US$60, about
double the price of basic models in the marketplace. Adding a second drive bay
wouldn’t cost that much more and would better make use of the space that the
Blizzard occupies. In its current from, it’s a bit like an awkward candlelit
dinner for one.

The EZ-Dock is the Blizzard’s antithesis. There are multitudes of similar
products and the EZ-Dock could easily be lost just another iteration. It offers
no bonus functionality, unless you consider that many cheaper docking stations
don’t even have a release mechanism. This is really a necessary feature in our
view, so rather than praising Icy Dock for including one, it’s more appropriate
to chastise the devices that are lacking one. The EZ-Dock is well-built and
more attractive than most; that counts for something. Like the Blizzard, its
pricing (US$45) is a bit higher than some of its competitors but the
difference is small.

Many thanks to Icy Dock for the Blizzard and EZ-Dock samples.

* * *


Icy Dock Blizzard
is Recommended by SPCR


Icy Dock EZ-Dock
is Recommended by SPCR

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

ADATA XPG SX300 128GB & Intel 525 Series 180GB mSATA SSDs
Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB SSD Review
Intel 520 Series 120GB SandForce SSD
Crucial M4 64GB: Solid-State on a Budget
Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB vs. Samsung 830 Series 128GB
Icy Dock 2.5″/3.5″ Drive Accessories

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