May 26, 2007

FireExpress Triplet Enclosure review

At long last, I've finally managed to lay my hands on this beastie... Depending on where you find it, it might be known as FireXpress Triplet 3-in-1 FireWire USB to SATA Dual Drive Enclosure FX2U2S-EB2-35L (this is the one I picked up), or a CSS-35SSA2X (the one was originally wanting to review here). From looking at the online docs and the received product, these are in fact the same unit, but marketed under two separate brand names, the box itself gives no clue as to the actual manufacturer.

My ongoing quest for drive enclosures that support Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC) on SATA drives continues with a review of this stylish enclosure.

As you can see from the photo of the unit, it is styled similarly to the PowerMac G5/Mac Pro systems, and will compliment them well. The unit features aluminum construction, which is great for dissipating the heat generated by the two SATA hard drives. A built in fan (extremely quiet) in the rear of the enclosure keeps air moving past the drives, resulting in little noticable heat while the drives are running. USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 ports are available.

Included with the enclosure is an external power supply, a FireWire 800 cable (9 pin to 9 pin), a FireWire 400 cable (6 pin to 6 pin), and a USB 2.0A to mini-B cable (for attaching to your standard USB 2.0 port. A FireWire 800 to 400 cable would have been a nice addition, but was not included, as a FireWire 400 port is included on the unit itself.

The controller uses the Oxford 924 chipset, which fully supports SATA I and SATA II standards, and supports RAID 0 (Striping or Spanning), or can allow each drive to been seen separately. RAID 0 Striping was set (via an internal jumper) by default, and as the drive I was installing were identical (500Gb each) I left this setting unchanged. The controller type is a very important choice when considering an enclosure, older version of the Oxford chipset (922, etc) did not fully support SATA II, and non-Oxford chipsets to my knowledge do not currently support this standard either, so be sure to check this when looking at other enclosures you are considering.

OS X had no problems dealing with this drive or the RAID configuration, after plugging it in and turning it on, I immediately saw a message that the drive needed to be initialized, and Disk Utility made quick work of it, giving a total of 931.4 Gb usable space after formatting. My test system was lacking a FireWire 800 port, but tests using FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 showed that there were no problems in maximizing the available connection speed. As with any other similar device, running the connection through a hub rather than a dedicated port may result in slower than optimal throughput.

The unit includes an aluminum 'base', two separate brackets that attach on opposite sides of the drive in either a horizontal or vertical configuration. I use the term 'attach' loosely here, as the drive enclosure just sits on top of these brackets. There is a small rubbery pad at each end that at first I thought might have a removable film covering a sticky pad, but this was not the case. If the unit is going to be sitting flat and undisturbed, I'm sure that this will work fine. Four small rubber feet were also included, which might work better for some, I just left both of these off. The drive is currently sitting behind my LCD display, so the looks aren't all that important at this point. What I was expecting was that the aluminum brackets would use screws to attach, a bit of careful work with a drill and some self tapping screws would do the job nicely, if you were so inclined.

As I mentioned earlier, the enclosure will definitely handle drives using Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC), an increasingly common feature that helps reduce electromagnetic interference, especially between drives in close proximity with each others, such as you might have in a RAID setup, so that is a definite plus here.

Most serious computer users will eventually run out of drive space, requiring internal drive upgrades and/or external storage. Having an enclosure available that will let you continue to use your original drive after an upgrade is a great thing to have, and with SATA drives becomming the standard on most systems, this enclosure would be a great one to consider. Or if you come across some bargain drives, setting up your own RAID is a snap, since there really is no such thing as having too much storage.

Posted by Jim at May 26, 2007 10:59 PM | TrackBack