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Belkin's USB 2.0 drive enclosure is a straight-forward design. The kit includes a drive enclosure consisting of a bottom tray, top cover, two side panels and an optional front bezel (to be used when installing a hard drive into the enclosure). Also included in the kit are two sets of screws (fine threaded and course threaded depending), USB cable, power cord, a driver CD for Windows 98 SE users and a small pamphlet detailing installation of a drive into the enclosure. The enclosure itself will support a single 5.25 inch half-height optical drive or a standard 3.5 inch desktop hard drive. The drives must use one of the IDE standard interfaces up to ATA-100.
Belkin USB 2.0 Enclosure Parts
Installation of the drive is fairly simple. The optical or hard drive is set to be a single master drive configuration and the cabled plugged into the IDE, power and audio connectors. The audio connector is a simple flat plug instead of an MPC-2 standard connector which is a bit of a problem as the cable could be put in backwards. The drive is then screwed down into the bottom tray through the holes on the bottom of the tray that match the drive. The top cover is put in place and the two side panels are installed to hold the top panel down. The optional front bezel is put in place if a hard drive is installed inside of the case. That's it for the installation of the enclosure.
Support for the USB 2.0 enclosure is universal in most modern operating systems. No driver installation is required for Windows ME/2000/XP or Macintosh OS X systems. Simply plug the USB drive into the computer and power up the device and the OS should automatically detect and begin using the device. A driver CD is included for Windows 98 SE users to allow the drive to function. Older versions of Windows do not properly support USB connections and are not supported.
Hard Drive Support
Belkin USB 2.0 with Hard Drive Installed
To test the hard drive support of the enclosure, I took an older IBM DeskStar 30 GB hard drive and tested its performance both installed on the IDE controller inside of the computer and through the USB enclosure connected to a USB 2.0 port. The stats on the hard drive are:
The ATA/66 Interface has a theoretical maximum of 66 MB/s, but even current hard drives are unable to have sustained transfers of this speed. The USB 2.0 interface has a maximum data transfer rate of 60MB/s (480 Mbps).
To test the drive performance, I used SiSoft's Sandra Drive Index Test. This test is a sequenced read and write performance test that generates a standard index value of the drives throughput performance. The test results were as follows:
The enclosure rated about 25% slower than the drive internally, but the performance is still respectable given the age of the drive. The enclosure allows for a significant throughput when used in a USB 2.0 port. USB 1.1 ports are not very advisable for use with a hard drive as the maximum theoretical bandwidth is a mere 1.5 MB/s (12 Mbps). This is significantly lower than the drives abilities.
Optical Drive Performance
Belkin USB 2.0 with CD-RW Drive
To test the drive enclosures performance for an optical drive, I used the Samsung SM-348B CD-RW Combo drive that was recently reviewed. I was going to do a full comparison of the numbers generated by Nero's CDSpeed benchmarking tool, but this benchmark is unable to properly run across any form of external USB optical drives. This is a shame because the benchmark provides very detailed performance numbers. My test therefore was a comparison of the time it took to record a CD image file to CD-R media when both internal to the system on the IDE connector and through a USB 2.0 port.
The test of the drives performance was to record a full size CD image to a blank CD-R disc via Easy CD Creator 5 and to record the total time it took to complete the operation. The times to complete a full size 650MB image to CD were:
The USB 2.0 enclosure configuration was just under 20 seconds slower than the drive in the internal configurations. Most users would not notice the time difference between the drive being installed internally or in the enclosure. Similar to that of the hard drive, plugging the enclosure into a USB 1.1 port would greatly reduce the recording speeds. The maximum recording speed allowed on a USB 1.1 interface would be approximately 10x speed or lower.
The Belkin USB drive enclosure is a good investment if you need to make an external device for you computer. I would highly recommend the product to those who have an older hard drive laying around and would like to convert it into a portable drive that can be used to transport large amounts of data or even generate backups. It can also be used for people who would like to take a CD or DVD burner and allow that drive to be used by multiple systems in the household. This is particularly attractive if you are already looking at a portable device. Many manufacturers build USB external devices based on internal products and typically charge $100 over the internal product price, a difference that is generally higher than the Belkin enclosure. Buying the internal product and the Belkin USB enclosure will likely cost less than the external product for the same manufacturer.
There are caveats to Belkin's enclosure though. Most notably is that while the performance is respectable for devices installed into the enclosure, they still will be lower than if that product was installed internally to the computer. From my tests is appears that performance is about 75 to 80% that of the internal product. The enclosure is also not highly recommended if you plan on using it exclusively with a system that uses USB 1.1 ports. The performance drop from using USB 1.1 is enough to look at other upgrades. Another small pet peeve I have is with their included stickers for the bottom of the enclosure. If you use these stickers, they cover up the installation holes used to mount the drive. Placing the stickers on the drive will make it harder to swap the drive installed within the enclosure at a later date.
Enclosure without Stickers (right) and with Stickers (left)
I would also like to see Belkin and other manufacturers to look at producing smaller drive enclosures specifically for hard drives alone. A number of companies do this for 2.5 inch notebook drives, but it would be nice to see a few made for 3.5 inch desktop drives as well. This enclosure dwarfs the 3.5 inch drives when installed.
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