Review: Coolmax Xtreme Files F1-B Drive

Storage
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INSTALLATION

Setup consists of placing the unit somewhere convenient and safe (like your desktop), plugging the USB and power cables in the back, plugging the AC adapter into the wall output, and plugging the other end of the USB cable into a USB 2.0 port on your computer. Windows XP recognizes Xtreme Files as an external drive and is ready to use as an additional storage device in well under a minute, usually only 10 seconds or so, the exact time depending on the speed and particulars of your system.

The sticker on the bottom indicates that the hard drive is a Western Digital Caviar WD800JB with 8MB of cache, which is confirmed by software. This is a fairly fast drive. A quick run of SiSoft Sandra benchmarks produced this data:

Drive
Transfer Rate
Random Access Time
Xtreme Files (WD800JB)
19 Mb/s
10 ms + 4 ms rotational latency = 15 ms
"C" drive: Seagate 7200.7 80G IDE
49 Mb/s
7 ms + 4 ms rotational latency = 11 ms

This is about what can be expected with the USB 2.0 interface, as hardware tests everywhere have shown 99% of products only manage to reach ~20 Mb/sec max (~150 mbps, far from the "theoretical limit of 480 mbps"). It is generally quick enough for any backup activities. Given the USB 2.0 interface limitation, Coolmax could easily have gone with a more economical or more capacious 5400 RPM drive.

A supplied installation CD contains drivers and software for the one-button backup utilities. This is the only source of the correct software for the device. At time of writing, a software file marked XtremeDriver at Coolmax.com support is NOT the same as the software on the installation CD. This is apparently for the Xtreme Files 4-in-1 Enclosures for HDD, which are sold without a hard drive and do not have the same functionality as the product under review.

The software installed without a hitch, despite it not being Windows XP certified. After installation, an active tray icon on the bottom right shows in blue when the Xtreme Files device is plugged in and the power turned on. This icon turns red when the power to the device is turned off or when the USB cable is unplugged. It has no function other than to indicate the readiness of the Xtreme Files device, although the right mouse button can be used to turn it off.


Blue icon indicates Xtreme Files device readiness.

DRIVE NOISE

Some SPCR regulars may be aghast that the chosen drive is a Western Digital; they do not have a great reputation for acoustics. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this WD800JB.

You have to put something soft between the feet-less Xtreme Files Drive and the surface you place it on. I used a thin pad of soft foam that prevented it from sliding around and also provided some damping to prevent the vibrations from getting into the desktop. Set up this way, the acoustics of the Xtreme Files / WD800JB are modest and benign, with relatively little high pitched noise in idle and a moderate degree of chatter during seeks. I prefer to turn the device off using the handy power switch when not using it, but mine is a very quiet environment. With higher ambient noise, the noise of the Xtreme Files drive will not be particularly intrusive.

Here is a comparison of sound pressure levels (SPL) and associated MP3 sound files of the Xtreme Files / WD800JB against a Samsung SP80 HDD (often recommended as the quietest 3.5" drive available currently). The Samsung was installed in another USB external enclosure and both drives were placed on a soft pad in a room with no other noise sources, with a long USB 2.0 connection to a remote computer. The microphone for the recording system was placed 3" from the center of the top of each drive. The plastic / metal casing of the external enclosures for the drives provide no attenuation of noise; the drives might as well be bare.

HDD
Xtreme Files / WD800JB
Samsung SP80
Idle SPL
23 dBA@1m
20 dBA@1m
Peak Seek SPL (defrag)
28 dBA@1m
25 dBA@1m
MP3 File*
*In these recordings, the drives idle for 10 seconds, then defragment for 10 seconds.

For the sake of reference, here is an MP3 file of a Nexus 92mm fan at 12V that measures 20 dBA @ 1meter. It is also recorded with the mic 3" away.



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