September 25, 2006

CoolGear SATA PRO-35AXC Enclosure

As promised, what follows is my review of the CoolGear eSATA HDD Enclosure (3.5"), not a terribly snappy name, but relatively descriptive. The drive is available from as well as, and possibly other resellers, is apparently CoolGear's own retail site from what I can tell, and they do offer the drive at a slightly lower price, though CoolDrives' site has prettier pictures.

This enclosure uses the newer Oxford 924 chipset, most other SATA drive enclosures that I found were based on the older 922 chipset, or even older versions. The specifications indicated that it supported both SATA I and SATA II drives up to 750Gb capacity, most other enclosures I had checked out seemed to top out at about 500Gb, so this one definitely seems a bit more cutting edge than the others, so playing a hunch, I gave it a whirl.

As I had mentioned previously, my main goal was to find an enclosure that, when attached to a system via USB 2.0 or Firewire, would properly recognize a Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC) enabled hard drive, this type of drive most commonly used in RAID arrays or multi drive systems. The SSC functions primarily to reduce EMF emmissions, and is almost a requirement for densely packed drive arrays, and it just happens that the drives commonly found in Apple's Xserves will typically have SSC enabled, and unfortunately it is not possible to disable this setting. Occasionally I have a need to transfer data from one of these drives to another system, perform data recovery, or other functions requiring that the hard drive be accessed via another system, and I generally don't keep spare Xserves sitting at my desk waiting for such moments to occur. Hence, my desire for a suitable external enclosure that could attach to most any other system.

And boy, does this enclosure have options for attaching. It includes a USB 2.0 port, dual FireWire 800 (1394b) ports, and an eSATA port for direct connection to a SATA controller card. Now, if your system only has the older FireWire 400 (1394a) ports, don't despair, as FireWire 800 can in fact attach directly to the slower FireWire 400 ports (with appropriate cable) and work without problems, though of course at the slower speed. The USB 2.0 port is actually a mini-B connector, like that found on most newer digital cameras, rather than the usual 'B' connector found on printers and such. However, don't let any of that bother you, because this drive comes with all the cables you could possibly need.

Included are the external power supply (of course), a full FireWire 800 cable (9 pin to 9 pin), a FireWire 800 to 400 cable (9 pin to 6 pin), a USB 2.0A to mini-B cable (for attaching to your standard USB 2.0 port, and of course, an eSATA to eSATA (Type 'I' connectors) cable for attaching directly to an SATA controller card (not included).

Three screws hold the back of the enclosure on, you'll need a very small phillips screwdriver (specifically a size 00 would be ideal), removing these allows the drive sled to slide out from the top housing. Shock mounts are on all four points where the drive attaches to the case to prevent vibration, a green LED on the front indicates power, this switches to red to indicate drive activity.

The aluminum construction is very solid feeling, not like aluminum looking plastic enclosures many manufacturers are making. The back of the drive has a very clean layout, the ports nicely spaced to allow cables to plug in. The only thing that actually felt wrong was the rocker switch for power seemed like it was recessed just a tad too far into the case, but my unit looks exactly as the web site says it should, and the switch works as you'd expect, but it feels slightly cheap, lacking a nice, crisp click when switching positions. A very minor nit to pick, really, since you're not likely to be turning the drive off and on all day long, and mine will only be powered down when I unplug the power cable anyway...

System Profiler gives some details on the enclosure, as well as the 400Gb drive I used for testing. Again, this model is using Oxford's 924 chipset, supports SATA I and II drives, including Spread Spectrum Clocking enabled drives, includes two FireWire 800 ports, a USB 2.0 port, and a eSATA port, and supports drive sizes up to 750Gb.

The bottom of the enclosure is vented to allow some airflow into the case, but are no other vents elsewhere to help heat escape. Despite that, even after running for several hours, the top of the case was warm, but not exceptionally so, and the sides (all part of the same aluminum piece) were still fairly cool. A small fan would have been a nice addition, but considering the small dimentions of the enclosure, even fitting a 20mm square fan would be a challenge.

Performance of the drive is excellent, attached to my desktop system (PowerMac G4 Quicksilver) at home via FireWire 400 (supporting speeds up to 40MB/s), and going through a Belkin FireWire hub at that, the drive was still able to copy a 300Gb disk image to an ATA drive on the internal 133Mhz bus faster than I could copy between ATA drives, one on the internal 133Mhz bus, and the other on the internal 100Mhz bus. USB 2.0 speeds are generally 48MB/s, and FireWire 800 speeds can reach 80Mb/s, so the faster your available ports, the better performance you'll see. Anyone with a SATA card in their machines can attach the drive directly via the eSATA port, and see performance up to 300MB/s for SATA II, or 150MB/s for SATA I.

All in all, this is definitely a great enclosure, it looks sharp, and is a fantastic addition for any system, be it as a permanent addition, or just temporary storage.

Posted by Jim at September 25, 2006 9:46 PM | TrackBack