In general 3.5” hard drive docking stations are not very portable. Since the 3.5” hard drives consume significantly more power than their 2.5”counterparts they can’t be powered by the 5V USB port. This means that you will have to carry the adapter. Furthermore, the fact that you have 2 different ports on the docking station means that you have to carry around 2 cables just in case you come across a computer without an e-SATA port. The problems do not end there either. Because of its upright design, the docking station has to be wider that 1” cross section of the slim hard drive enclosures. So carrying it around can be bulky.
The dock also does not offer as much protection as the hard drive enclosure. As you can see in the pictures, part of hard drives is exposed, and that rubber sleeve will not be able to provide adequate protection in case of impact situations (hard drive and station fall on the floor).
The dock was primarily designed with Versatility and Speed in mind. So just how closely does it match up to the speed of the motherboard interface? Here are the results:
CrystalDiskMark is a utility that writes and reads data 3 types of data to random limited region on a hard drive. The type of data that is read/written from/to the hard drive in the first test is Sequential. This means that all the bits and pieces of the file are to be located in the same region on the hard drive. The second type of data is 512K. In the second test the data is broken up into pieces of 512KB and spread out throughout the drive. The third test and also the most time consuming is the 4 KB read/write. Similarly to the second, the data is broken up in pieces and scattered across the testing space and the read/written.
In all of these tests there was no significant difference between the write speeds on any level and in any test size. This means that the HDD docking station controller is capable of keeping up with the speeds of SATA drive. The read speeds however experienced about a 30 – 40 MB/second drop. This indicates the limits of the micro controller used in the station’s interface.
The test measures the read/write speeds across the entire drive as well as measure the latencies. Similarly to CrystalDiskMark, there is no significant difference between the performance of the drive while it is plugged into the motherboard or the controller. Since the drive is a solid state, there is not arching downward decline in speeds that is present in drives with platters. The write speeds of the hard drive while plugged into the docking station closely matched the speeds obtained when the drive was plugged into the motherboard. Reading speeds of the hard drive in the docking station trailed by approximately 15 MB/s behind those of the motherboard.
Despite the limits of the micro controller on the iStarUSA’s xAGE-N99-SAU/US, the drive still showed pretty snappy results. The docking station definitely overcomes its portability issues with sheer speed, which will ultimately cause it to end up in a single location: IT Professional’s desk. Through its versatility and adaptability to multiple hard drives in addition to its speed, the xAGE-N99 is a perfect choice for people that are in constant need of swapping out drives and transferring data. At a price point $20~$25 this docking station is definitely affordable enough to earn its keep in any environment.