If you’re a storage hound, chances are good you have a hard drive dock connected to your computer. They’re crazy popular, and for good reason. But what’s not so popular are docks that bundle wireless functionality in. Vantec’s latest does, so let’s dive in and see if it can give us the best of both worlds.
To test out the performance of Vantec’s NexStar WiFi enclosure, I used HD Tune Pro along with a Seagate Constellation ES.3 4TB and Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD for testing via USB 3.0, and then stuck with the Seagate drive to perform a quick real-world test over wireless.
For USB 3.0 testing, we used our current test bench equipped with an ASUS P9X79 PRO, which uses an ASMedia controller. For wireless, we used ASUS’ S56C notebook, which we took a look at just last week.
Let’s first take a look at the mechanical hard drive, which delivered some rather impressive results. In fact, it performed exactly the same here as it did when plugged into the native SATA 6Gbit/s port on the motherboard. To be fair, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s reassuring.
Seagate Constellation ES.3 4TB
The SSD didn’t fare quite as well, however, at least in terms of peak throughput. It performed at about 50% of its peak versus having it plugged straight into a SATA port. While unimpressive, who uses their docks for SSDs? To attain maximum SSD speed, I’m sure a more expensive controller would need to be used, and given the number of people who actually need to use an SSD in their dock, I think the reason to go against a more expensive controller is justified.
Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD
Given the fact that this dock boasts wireless, I expected it to perform quite well, but that wasn’t the case at all. To perform a quick test, I loaded up ASUS’ S56C and then transferred a folder of FLACs. This was the result:
The entire transfer was sporadic in performance, dipping to 1MB/s and then back up to 3MB/s – both of which are a far cry from 802.11g speeds, much less 802.11n. I tested the transfer on a secondary notebook as well, and experienced the same lacking performance.
For the most part, Vantec delivers a nice product with its NexStar. It’s easy to set up, either for wired or wireless connections, looks good, and for the basics, works well. But where it falls flat is with regards to wireless performance – a bit unfortunate since that’s the biggest selling-point of this device.
With 3MB/s max speeds, there’s just no use for this dock where transfers are concerned. I streamed a couple of 720p and under videos, and those streamed just fine, but I’m not so sure about streaming to multiple devices at once. Apart from the transfer performance itself, merely connecting to the device at times was finicky. On one notebook, it timed-out twice in a row trying to connect. After I turned the dock off and on, it connected fine, but again, with horrible throughput performance.
Perhaps even more than the wireless performance, the biggest fault of this enclosure is its inability to utilize both wireless and USB 3.0 at the same time. This just shouldn’t be the case. Most people are not going to want a dock that will only be used wirelessly (because it’s inherently slow to move files around), and likewise, no one is going to want to plug and unplug it all the time.
Instead, people should be able to connect it to their computers and just forget about it. They’d be able to both manage the files using a high-speed connection and also stream to their wireless devices. Whether this is something that can be fixed via the firmware, I’m not sure.
At this point, pricing hasn’t been revealed, but I’d expect the dock to hit retail in less than a month. Thermaltake’s BlacX 5G retails for about $50, so I’d expect this to sit closer to ~$70 because of its wireless functionality.
I wouldn’t recommend this dock at this time, given all that we’ve seen from it. It’s unfortunate, because it promises a lot, and does a lot of things well. If we hear back from Vantec with regards to potential issues or a firmware update that could help things, we’ll update the article with our revised findings.