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March 29, 2007 by Mike Chin
Actively Cooled HDD Enclosure
UPDATE - June 29, 2008
Occasional comments about the fan in the MX-1 being noisier than described here surfaced in the discussion thread very soon after this article was posted. They were a minority, however, as many reported the similar quiet acoustics we found. Over time, however, the complaints about the MX-1's fan noise have grown. We caution prospective buyers that the production fan might have changed (without any official version change), in which case, our acoustic assessment might no longer be valid.
External single hard drive enclosures are a dime a dozen. Almost every brand in the PC industry has at least one, and often, many more than one. They appear to vary only by appearance, interface options, and price. The most common interface is USB 2.0, but eSATA (external SATA) is becoming increasingly popular, and Firewire or IEEE 1394 appears to be on the wane. The typical HDD enclosure is made of extruded aluminum pieces that fit into each other. Usually it's only marginally bigger than the drive it encloses. Some are made of plastic or a combination of plastic and aluminum. On one end, there is an input/output panel, and perhaps a power switch. They are invariably powered by an external power dongle that supplies the 12V and 5V lines need by 3.5" drives.
There is rarely any attention paid to cooling other than the conduction between the HDD and the aluminum. In the plastic boxes, the conduction is pretty ineffective for cooling. In most cases, the drive tends to get pretty hot after a short while. The few that have active cooling usually use a tiny 40mm fan more notable for its whiny noise than for effective cooling. For most SPCR readers, fan cooled external HDD boxes are anathema. Noise conscious users try to combine a quiet drive like one from SPCR's recommended list with an enclosure that's reasonably sturdy, fanless, and not too resonant.
It looks a bit different from most HDD enclosures.
Its singular Antec logo and soft blue LED aren't loud, either.
The MX-1 is Antec's first and only external hard drive enclosure, and it's decidedly different from any others we've seen. They pointedly call it an Actively Cooled Hard Drive Enclosure. It include a fan, one quiet enough that Antec says it measures less than 22 dBA@1m. That's quieter than most hard drives. It's made mostly of plastic, but Antec also claims it keeps the drive very cool. Those are pretty good reasons for us to be interested:
- It is possible to boot from an eSATA drive, which means the main PC can be completely free of any HDD noise, and the OS drive could be remotely located in an acoustically isolated position. The speed of eSATA is essentially identical to SATA, which makes this a no-compromise from a performance perspective.
- Single high capacity hard drives (500~1000GB) are handy for storing large numbers of big video, music, and photo files, but they tend to be multiple platter, with higher than usual noise and vibration. Remotely locating such a data drive has always been one of SPCR's recommended strategies for low noise operation. The MX-1 shows promise in this role.
- Even a bare hard drive running while resting on a table top in cool 20°C room quickly reaches ~50°C. (A drive's temperature inside a well designed quiet PC will be a good 10°C lower, because the HDD will be positioned in the main airflow path of the case.) The upper safe operational limit for modern HDDs is 55~60°C. Any external enclosure that provides good cooling with no additional audible noise is welcome.
SPECIFICATIONS (from Antec's MX-1 product page)
- Dual output interface - USB2.0 and eSATA (external
Serial ATA) allows you to transfer data up to
480Mbps or 3Gbps respectively
- Support up to 750G SATA hard disk drive
- Unique HDD cooler brings fresh air in and around the
HDD for maximum cooling to protect your valuable asset
- Two layer (plastic with aluminum) structure upper
and lower covers to absorb HDD and fan noise
- Carbon-glass filled frame to reinforce the strength of
the whole enclosure
- Built-in silicone pad to absorb HDD noise
- Included USB cable, eSATA cable, and eSATA bracket
to convert internal SATA to eSATA
- Stand included
- Very quiet fan operation - under 22 dBA (presumably at one meter)
- Noise Level: 20 dbA with the blower on inside the
- Supports Windows 2000 / XP / ME / VISTA
- Dimensions: 2.25" x 5.75" x 8.7" (5.7 x 14.6 x 22 cm)
- Input: 100~240 VAC, 47/64 Hz, 1A
- Output: 5V, 1.5A; 12V 1.8A
Aside from the slight discrepancy in dBA numbers (22 vs. 20), there's nothing askance here.
The MX-1 comes in a typical full-color corrugated retail box with a plastic handle. (We don't know what the VERIS mark is about.)
A typical retail package box: At least no throwaway plastic is used!
Inside, the contents are more plentiful than you'd expect for a drive enclosure. Clockwise from the left in the photo below, there's the MX-1 itself, which is a bit bigger than most, a ~1m eSATA cable, a SATA-to-eSATA adapter plate (for PCI slot cover), a plastic vertical stand, a ~1m USB cable, two fold letter sheets of instructions, four long screws for HDD mounting, and a small AC/DC adapter.
Lots of goodies in the box.
Here is the business end of the MX-1. This end has it all: eSATA and USB connectors, power connector, power switch, intake vent above and exhaust vent below.
The business end of the MX-1
There are four small hard rubber pads on the bottom. Both the top and bottom panels have an outer skin of aluminum over a plastic base, much like the side panels of the Antec P180, presumably for improved stiffness and acoustic insulation. It's not heavy, but feels sturdy and well built.
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