External hard drive enclosures, reliability, heat output
techAdmin
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Someone asked about external hard drive enclosures. Since I've had a lot of experience with a fairly wide variety of them, I thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts and experiences with these convenient but in the end totally unreliable creatures.

I am profoundly disappointed in the quality of external drive enclosures. Most of mine are failing under realworld fulltime use, I no longer consider any external enclosure acceptable as a full time on part of my system. They are ok for mount, do whatever, backup etc, then unmount and turn off.

I have tried both good quality Fan and Fanless type enclosures, and see not that much difference long term in overall reliability, although with hotter running hard disks especially (see below), a fan is highly desirable to avoid that oven-like temperature you get in those little aluminum heat containers they call enclosures.

Use that caused the failures
Consistent, heavy transfer of data, in the 100's of gigabyte ranges. Real use that is, not just copying an mp3 or jpg directory over or whatever. 24/7 operation. In other words, normal heavy use for a computer.

Why do External drive enclosures suck so bad?
It's very simple: they are too cheap. If you have say one with IDE support, that means that the circuit board on the drive has to have these two, at least, features: an IDE supporting chipset, just like your computer's motherboard has, and a USB chipset. Plus whatever else it needs. That's basically a very small, really dumb, computer. With lots of little parts, a case, internal frame, board mounter, power supplies, and so on.

Recommendations: buy quality, do not skimp, research
Brands I have liked, this thermaltake is good. It has some extremely useful features, such as supporting both IDE and SATA drives, although using IDE forces you to use only USB 2 connections. It also has a good quality metal case, with metal internal frame.

However, I have had one of my two fail under real load useage, at least partially fail. But they are still pretty good units, quite a bit better than the average external drive enclosures.

All cheap drive enclosures can be expected to fail at some point.

Check out the Newegg.com Thermaltakes. You can also read the reviews there, but there are a lot of enclosures, so you have to do a lot of reading before you come up with good stuff.

Buy ESATA + USB ALWAYS!!!
Buy esata + usb because one day when you realize how fast, good, and reliable esata is, you'll immediately want to dump all your usb stuff.

Esata used to be really expensive, but it's not any more.

Cooling: all is not as it appears - it's the hard disk as much as fans
What I have found is that while fans are good, they really make far less difference than hard disk efficiency and heat output. For example, a thermaltake fanless all metal enclosure running maxtor drives, which run really hot, compared to one running new sata Seagate Hard Drives, which run really cool, is absolutely astounding; one is almost too hot to touch (the Maxtor), the other (the Seagate)is merely warm.

Most new Seagate drives run cool now, and I think also new Western Digital's may run cool, but I can't say for certain, I only buy Seagate now.

How is the enclosure constructed? Metal or Metal + Plastic?
Other things to watch out for are things you might not think about: is the internal as well as the external frame metal? If not, you'll be sad to discover that no, in fact, those cheap internal plastic frames you attached the hard disk to does not in fact conduct heat at all well.

I have a small 2.5 drive case that has metal externally, but plastic internally, so of course the tiny fitting screws that attach the removable case end stripped the plastic they screwed into.

For serious users, think about getting real quality, which is not real cheap
The one company I truly trust with my data is CRU dataport. This is the Mercedes Benz of hard disk enclosures and removable hard drive systems. They back their products with real warranties, check out their Portable hard disk enclosures. You can find their stuff at Nerds.net. Here's the DataPortable 250, and for full size esata + usb2, try the DataPortable 350. See CRU specs for that one (the nerds got that one a bit wrong) here. Read Product data sheet

While I no longer would use an external drive enclosure for client data, I do still use them for myself, and they are fine for things like backups etc.

But for real data, I now only use Removable drive enclosures, ideally from CRU. As with external drive enclosures, I've played with cheap stuff, and it all breaks over time.
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clivesay
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Joined: 11 Nov 2008
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Do you have recommendations for specific models of the CRU trays?

I see several options with an ebay search [link]

I would appreciate any insight.

Thanks
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techAdmin
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Location: East Coast, West Coast? I know it's one of them.
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I'd say the Dataport 5 series is probably fine, just make sure it's SATA 2, standard size.

Again, I wouldn't buy these from ebay, it might invalidate the warranty, who knows, or be older versions, ie, SATA 1.

The main difference is that the carrier is metal in Dataport 5+ and plastic in Dataport 5, so it just depends on whether saving that roughly $25 to not use metal is worth it long term, seems to be the same warranty.

My guess is the metal carriers are a bit harder to assemble because their frames don't bend, and it's tricky to get the screws into the hard disk, but you only have to do it once, so it doesn't really matter, but I've never tried the plastic ones, to me it's not worth the money the client saves long term, but I guess if it's a budget job, and you're trying to cut 10 or 20 off each part, it would add up for the whole box.

CRU lists these online resellers, or of course you can just buy it from them directly. Of the ones listed, Insight has an ok web site, and you'll notice there that the prices are much lower, $90 for frame carrier Dataport 5+.

For budget jobs, maybe the Dataport 30 might be ok too, though I can't say first hand, I'd say it depends on if the unit will be on all the time, or only on for a weekly backup or whatever.

I haven't had a lot of luck with their listed resellers, but mostly because their stores aren't very well designed, but I assume the ones they list are found to be generally reliable.
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