Icy Dock's eSATA Enclosure

Storage
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TEST METHODOLOGY


Our test drive was a 400 GB Samsung Spinpoint T Series.

The Icy Dock was tested for two things: Noise level and power consumption, using a Samsung Spinpoint T Series drive (Model HD401LJ). The drive was measured in free air, and then again inside the enclosure to see whether the enclosure affected noise or power. Hence, noise and power measurements depend partly on the specific drive that we installed.

The following tools were used during testing:

Ambient conditions at the time of testing were 18 dBA and 21°C.

TEST RESULTS

Test Results: Icy Dock MB559US-1S
Feature
Bare Drive
Drive in Icy Dock
Difference
Vibration (Drive Horizontal)
3
3
0
Vibration (Drive Vertical)
3
5
+2
Noise: Idle
20 dBA@1m
23 dBA@1m
+3 dBA@1m
Noise: Seek (AAM)
21 dBA@1m
28 dBA@1m
+7 dBA@1m
Noise: Seek (Normal)
22-23 dBA@1m
31 dBA@1m
+8-9 dBA@1m
Power: Idle
~7W
~9W
~2W
Power: Seek (AAM)
~10W
~12W
~2W
Power: Seek (Normal)
~11W
~13W
~2W
SMART Temperature
40°C
40°C
0°C

The Icy Dock provides no internal damping or acoustic isolation, so it is no surprise that the drive became noisier when installed. The increase is in line with what we would expect. Unless a special effort is made to silence the enclosure, most enclosures will amplify whatever noise sources are inside them — they allow conduction of vibration from the HDD, and act like speaker cabinets to amplify the noise.

Although the measured differences were quite large, the subjective effect was not quite so serious. As a general rule, the enclosure made the drive sound constricted and hollow, no matter what state the drive was in. The hollowness corresponded with a substantial increase in lower frequency noise, giving the sharpish seeks of our test drive a fuller, booming quality that was softer in quality if louder in volume.

Our test drive had quite high vibration — enough to produce a hum that was clearly audible when placed alone on the test bench. The Icy Dock did not affect vibration when placed horizontally, but it did manage to reduce vibration-induced noise when it was standing vertical, bringing the drive more in line with the "average" desktop drive. Some amount of vibration noise could still be heard when listened for, but it was less intrusive than the bare drive itself.

The included power brick appears to be quite efficient, as the total power consumption for the enclosure (which includes efficiency losses in the power brick and the power consumed by the internal circuitry) was only about two watts higher than for the bare drive itself. This means that the only significant source of heat in the enclosure is the drive itself. The enclosure did not appear to affect cooling — the drive remained stable at 40°C whether or not it was installed in the Icy Dock.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

Audio recordings were made of the drives and are presented here in MP3 format. The recordings below contains 10 seconds of ambient noise, 10 seconds of idle noise, 10 seconds of seek noise with AAM enabled and 10 seconds more with AAM disabled.

Keep in mind that the recordings paint only part of the acoustic picture; vibration noise is not recorded, and drives often sound different depending on the angle from which they are heard.

Samsung T Series HD400LJ (Bare Drive)Idle: 20 / AAM: 21 Seek: 22-23 dBA@1m One Meter, One Foot

Samsung T Series HD400LJ (Enclosed in Icy Dock)Idle: 20 / AAM: 21 Seek: 22-23 dBA@1m One Meter, One Foot

Reference Comparatives:

Western Digital WD5000KS Idle: 21 / AAM: 21-22 Seek: 23 dBA@1m One Meter, One Foot

Samsung P80 SP0802N (Nidec)Idle: 21 / AAM: 23-24 Seek: 25-26 dBA@1m One Meter, One Foot

Seagate Barracuda IV ST340016A Idle: 20 / AAM: 23 Seek: 25-26 dBA@1m One Meter, One Foot

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one meter, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

CONCLUSIONS

If you're looking for a way to add portable storage to your system, eSATA is a good way to do it, and Icy Dock's MB559US-1S delivers capably on that front. The enclosure was completely transparent when eSATA was used — our test system recognized the drive immediately in the BIOS without reporting the enclosure. As far as our system was concerned, the drive might as well have been screwed into one of the internal bays and connected to the motherboard via an internal SATA cable. The eSATA cable connection is defintely much more secure than standard SATA, by the way. It actually requires a bit of effort to pull out, unlike standard SATA cables which slip off too easily in comparison.

There is no question that the Icy Dock made our sample drive noisier. The noise measurements bear this out; the enclosure was clearly audible while we were working next to it, while the bare drive was not. This is to be expected: No attempt was made to silence the drive inside the enclosure, and it behaved accordingly. That said, the Icy Dock is no better or worse in this respect than any of its competitors. As yet, we have not come across any external enclosures with low-noise features — with or without eSATA. (Although we have not reviewed any, we've used quite a few external 3.5" HDD storage devices over the years.) For periodic backup or access applications, it's probably perfectly acceptable for most users. You can just turn it off when you're finished using it.

The noise amplication tends to discourage one of the most intriguing uses we can think of for this sort of device. eSATA makes isolating the boot drive externally possible, but the enclosure may make the drive more audible than when it is installed inside the system. A HDD with lower vibration than the one we tried would probably help a bit. More important is a longer cable. The supplied 1m long eSATA cable is not quite long enough to place the Icy Dock'ed HDD in an acoustically padded drawer that could make it inaudible. A 2m long cable would make it much more practical; this is the maximum length officially supported by eSATA and such cables can be found for sale online.

All things considered, the Icy Dock does what it's supposed to, it looks nice, and it's easy to use.

Many thanks to Icy Dock for the opportunity to review this enclosure.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
SPCR's Hard Drive Testing Methodology
SPCR's Recommended Hard Drives
Western Digital Caviar SE16 500 GB: Big, Low Noise Champ?
Samsung Spinpoint T Series: Successor to a Quiet Legacy
Samsung Spinpoint P120 200 & 250 GB Hard Drives

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