eSATA drive enclosures are potentially useful for silencers because they allow the boot drive to be placed remotely for the ultimate in acoustic isolation. Icy Dock makes nothing but hard drive enclosures, and they have one of the first eSATA enclosures on the market, a most stylish device some people wouldn’t want to hide.
September 26, 2006 by Devon
|Icy Dock MB559US-1S
eSATA / USB2.0 External Drive Enclosure
It’s been well over a year since the standard for External SATA — eSATA
— was announced, but devices that use the standard have only recently begun
to find their way onto retail shelves. The main use for eSATA is external storage,
as eSATA offers the same 3.0 Gbps interface speed as SATA — effectively
eliminating the performance gap between internal and external drives. It has
other advantages as well. Unlike USB or Firewire devices, eSATA drives are recognized
as regular drives in the BIOS, which means they can be used to boot Windows.
Why would you want to boot Windows from an external drive? External drives can
be located away from the main system, cooled independently, and buried in a
pile of cushions if necessary.
Enter Icy Dock, a company that specializes specifically in drive enclosures.
With such a specialized lineup, it’s in their interest to keep up with the latest
technology, so it’s no surprise that they are one of the first companies to
offer an external enclosure with an eSATA interface. And, if your system isn’t
new enough to support eSATA, they also throw in an adapter that converts an
internal SATA header into an eSATA header mounted in a PCI slot. A USB 2.0 connection
is also included, just in case the drive needs to be plugged into a system that
does not support eSATA.
The enclosure accepts standard SATA desktop drives, so all of the latest drives
are supported. Drives are loaded in removable trays that are compatible with
several other Icy Dock models, making it possible to hot swap multiple drives
or to use the same drive with several different enclosures.
Note that the review sample is one of two similar models. There’s also the MB559 which offers Firewire 400 and USB 2.0 interfaces.
A plethora of cables: 1m long eSATA, eSATA-to-SATA adapter, USB, and a fanless
FYI: eSATA on left is much more secure than SATA on right.
ICY DOCK MB559US-1S (from Icy
Dock’s web site)
|Host Interface||eSATA + USB2.0 combo|
|Drive Fit||1 x 3.5” SATA I / II|
|Drive Type||Standalone with horizontal or vertical
|Transfer Rate||3 Gb/sec. via eSATA
480 Mb/sec. via USB2.0
|Insert & Extract
|15 pin direct hard drive connection|
|Structure||Aluminum body w/ partial plastic|
|Drive Cooling||Aluminum heat dispersion w/ top ventilation
|Indication||Device Power & Drive Activity|
|OS Requirement||Windows 98/SE/ME/2000/XP
Mac OS 9.0 or higher
|Dimension (L x W x H)||194 x 142.6 x 42.6 mm|
The Icy Dock MB559US-1S is a sleek white and silver box that would
not look out of place next to one of Apple’s iMac’s — or a custom built
system in an Antec P150. The enclosure is fanless, and relies on convection
cooling and conduction to the chassis to prevent the drive it holds from overheating.
It can be placed either horizontally or vertically, but the vertical position
is likely to be better for cooling.
White and silver — a good match for an Antec P150.
The enclosure sits on four tiny feet when in vertical position.
For vertical position, four feet with tiny rubber pads flip out of the bottom
of the enclosure. The rubber pads are quite hard, but are surprisingly effective
at damping vibration, perhaps because they do not allow the whole side to contact
the surface it is standing on. The feet can be folded flush into the enclosure
when the enclosure is being moved or used in a horizontal orientation. A small
button on the back panel releases the feet.
Although Icy Dock advertises a “built-in security slot” that allows
the enclosure to be locked in place, the lock does not secure the drive caddy
inside, which can be removed from the enclosure without undoing the lock. Icy
Dock does sell enclosures
with Caddies that lock, but the MB559US-1S isn’t one of them.
Left to right: A button to release the feet, security lock (Kensington),
power, USB 2.0, eSATA, and a power switch.
Aside from the button to release the feet and the security slot, the connections
on the back panel are pretty much what you’d expect: Power (from an external
power brick), the advertised USB 2.0 and eSATA connections, and power switch.
The power switch did not function when both USB and eSATA connections were present,
preventing the drive from accidentally being mounted twice via separate connections.
The enclosure with the caddy fully installed…
The Icy Dock is unusual in that it allows the drive to be easily removed and
swapped with other compatible enclosures. It uses a caddy system that reflects
the company’s history in making internal enclosures — the kind found
in servers and media labs. In addition to making the drives swappable, this
simplifies installation because the drive can be installed in the caddy outside
of the enclosure instead of taking the whole thing apart.
Inserting and removing the caddy is a simple matter: One gray button is all
that is needed to release the drive, which pulls out easily. Replacing the drive
is just a matter of ensuring that the lever (illustrated below) is fully extended
before pushing the caddy back into place. The process should be familiar to
anyone who has worked with drive caddies before.
…the grey switch allows a lever to pop out…
…which serves as a handle to pull the caddy out.
Our test drive was a 400 GB Samsung Spinpoint T Series.
The Icy Dock was tested for two things: Noise level and power consumption,
using a Samsung Spinpoint T
Series drive (Model HD401LJ). The drive was measured in free
air, and then again inside the enclosure to see whether the enclosure affected
noise or power. Hence, noise and power measurements depend partly on the
specific drive that we installed.
The following tools were used during testing:
- SPCR’s Digital Audio Recording System
(modified Shuttle Zen w/pro recording sound card, preamp and mic) —
Measures <16 [email protected]
- B&K model 1613 sound level meter
- Seasonic Power Angel AC power meter
- An old Pentium 4-based system with fully passive cooling — silent
for practical purposes
HDD Feature Tool v1.98 — used to generate seek patterns for testing
Ambient conditions at the time of testing were 18 dBA and 21°C.
Test Results: Icy Dock MB559US-1S
Drive in Icy Dock
Vibration (Drive Horizontal)
Vibration (Drive Vertical)
Noise: Seek (AAM)
Noise: Seek (Normal)
22-23 [email protected]
+8-9 [email protected]
Power: Seek (AAM)
Power: Seek (Normal)
The Icy Dock provides no internal damping or acoustic isolation, so it is no
surprise that the drive became noisier when installed. The increase is in line
with what we would expect. Unless a special effort is made
to silence the enclosure, most enclosures will amplify whatever noise sources
are inside them — they allow conduction of vibration from the HDD, and act like speaker
cabinets to amplify the noise.
Although the measured differences were quite large, the subjective effect was
not quite so serious. As a general rule, the enclosure made the drive sound
constricted and hollow, no matter what state the drive was in. The hollowness
corresponded with a substantial increase in lower frequency noise, giving the
sharpish seeks of our test drive a fuller, booming quality that was softer in
quality if louder in volume.
Our test drive had quite high vibration — enough to produce a hum that
was clearly audible when placed alone on the test bench. The Icy Dock did not
affect vibration when placed horizontally, but it did manage to reduce vibration-induced
noise when it was standing vertical, bringing the drive more in line with the
“average” desktop drive. Some amount of vibration noise could still
be heard when listened for, but it was less intrusive than the bare drive itself.
The included power brick appears to be quite efficient, as the total power
consumption for the enclosure (which includes efficiency losses in the power
brick and the power consumed by the internal circuitry) was only about two watts
higher than for the bare drive itself. This means that the only significant source of
heat in the enclosure is the drive itself. The enclosure did not appear to affect
cooling — the drive remained stable at 40°C whether or not it was installed
in the Icy Dock.
Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here
in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 10 seconds of ambient noise, 10
seconds of idle noise, 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds
more with AAM disabled.
Keep in mind that the recordings paint only part of the acoustic
picture; vibration noise is not recorded, and drives often sound different depending
on the angle from which they are heard.
Samsung T Series HD400LJ (Bare Drive) — Idle:
20 / AAM: 21 Seek: 22-23 [email protected] — One
Meter, One Foot
Samsung T Series HD400LJ (Enclosed in Icy Dock) —
Idle: 20 / AAM: 21 Seek: 22-23 [email protected] — One
Meter, One Foot
Western Digital WD5000KS — Idle: 21 / AAM: 21-22
Seek: 23 [email protected] — One
Samsung P80 SP0802N (Nidec) — Idle: 21 / AAM:
23-24 Seek: 25-26 [email protected] — One
Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A — Idle: 20 / AAM:
23 Seek: 25-26 [email protected] — One
Meter, One Foot
HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE
These recordings were made
The one meter recording
The one foot recording is
More details about how
we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio
Recording Methods Revised.
If you’re looking for a way to add portable storage to your system,
eSATA is a good way to do it, and Icy Dock’s MB559US-1S delivers capably on
that front. The enclosure was completely transparent when eSATA was used —
our test system recognized the drive immediately in the BIOS without reporting
the enclosure. As far as our system was concerned, the drive might as well have been screwed into
one of the internal bays and connected to the motherboard via an internal SATA cable. The eSATA cable connection is defintely much more secure than standard SATA, by the way. It actually requires a bit of effort to pull out, unlike standard SATA cables which slip off too easily in comparison.
There is no question that the Icy Dock made our sample drive noisier.
The noise measurements bear this out; the enclosure was clearly audible while
we were working next to it, while the bare drive was not. This is to be expected:
No attempt was made to silence the drive inside the enclosure, and it behaved
accordingly. That said, the Icy Dock is no better or worse in this respect than
any of its competitors. As yet, we have not come across any external
enclosures with low-noise features — with or without eSATA. (Although we have not reviewed any, we’ve used quite a few external 3.5″ HDD storage devices over the years.) For periodic backup or access applications, it’s probably perfectly acceptable for most users. You can just turn it off when you’re finished using it.
The noise amplication tends to discourage one of the most
intriguing uses we can think of for this sort of device. eSATA makes isolating the boot
externally possible, but the enclosure may make the drive more audible than when it is installed inside the system. A HDD with lower vibration than the one we tried would probably help a bit. More important is a longer cable. The supplied 1m long eSATA cable is not quite long enough to place the Icy Dock’ed HDD in an acoustically padded drawer that could make it inaudible. A 2m long cable would make it much more practical; this is the maximum length officially supported by eSATA and such cables can be found for sale online.
All things considered, the Icy Dock does what it’s supposed to,
it looks nice, and it’s easy to use.
Many thanks to Icy
Dock for the opportunity to review this enclosure.
SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR’s Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR’s Recommended Hard Drives
Western Digital Caviar SE16 500 GB: Big,
Low Noise Champ?
Samsung Spinpoint T Series: Successor to
a Quiet Legacy
Samsung Spinpoint P120 200 & 250 GB Hard
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