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Cooler Master X-Craft 350 HD Enclosure

Date: March 2, 2007
Author(s): Greg King

In the world of external hard drives, eSATA is the clear way to go. With both USB and eSATA on the Cooler Master X-Craft 350, it is positioned with plenty of bells and whistles to entice you to buy it. But is it worth it?



Introduction


The need for truly portable storage is getting greater everyday and this can be proven by the immense popularity of thumb drives. Consumers can now purchase up to 16GBs worth of capacity and when they are done with it, they can simply throw it in their pocket and go about their business as usual. These are truly amazing times in the world of portable storage. There comes a time though, that 16GBs just isn’t going to cut it and its times like these when we turn to the good old hard drive.

When large data backups are needed, it’s nice to be able to plug a hard drive into your PC, pull any and all critical data and then migrate it to another PC. To address this need, many companies over the past years have produced enclosures for just such uses. Ranging in connectivity from eSATA, USE and Firewire, external enclosures provide a perfect way to either store or move critical data. This is especially handy for home users who have more than one PC but lack a home network by which to transfer files.

With the companies jumping into the hard drive enclosure market, Cooler Master has decided to test the waters and offer up their X-Craft 350 for evaluation. Armed with eSATA and USB 2.0 for connectivity, the 350 appears to be a winner on paper but how will things look one performance is factored in. With my trusty Seagate Barracuda 250GB SATA drive, I intend to find this out.

The Goods

Cooler Master has packaged the X-Craft in a colorful and informative box. Just by looking around it, most relevant information can be found on either the back or the front.

Once opened, we see a well organized box with all the essential hardware and software packed away.

With everything out of the package, we can get into what is included with the X-Craft 350. For starters, we see the unit itself.

The bottom of the 350 if made entirely of a metal mesh to helping the circulation of air across the hard drive itself. This not only looks incredible, but also adds considerable functionality to the enclosure as well.

On the front of the enclosure, we find more mesh and a Cooler Master logo on the front. This serves as a power light as well as an activity light too. When powered on, the logo will glow a pleasant blue and when the hard drive is writing or seeking, it will indicate this with a red/pink glow.

On the back of the 350, we see all of the connectivity that the X-Craft offers. From the left to right, we see an upstream USB B connector, a pair of USB 2.0 connections for anything you can think of, the ever important eSATA port, the power connector and the on/off switch. Located directly below the eSATA port is a small rectangular button that we will use to disassemble the enclosure but there will be more on this later.

Before we get into the interior of the 350, let’s take a look at the other accessories that ship with the X-Craft.

The X-Craft 350 ships with a stand, a power supply and power cable, a PCI SATA to eSATA pass through, an eSATA cable as well as a USB B to A cable to be used if your PC lacks SATA ports on the motherboard.

For good measure, Cooler Master has also included a disk with back up software and a simple but effective manual.

Onward to installation!



Installation

With all of the accessories accounted for, we turn out attention to the actual installation of the hard drive itself. As stated earlier, we are using the unfortunate Seagate Barracuda 250GB SATA drive that has now become the external hard drive of choice. Our first step is to break open the X-Craft and see what we are working with on the inside, and then install the hard drive.

To open up the 350, you first have to press in the silver button directly below the eSATA port. This will allow you to pull back on the back end of the enclosure, effectively splitting the unit into two pieces.

At the top, we can see the circuit board that houses all of the cable connections.

To hold the hard drive in place, there are four small posts, two on either side that will keep the hard drive from moving around inside the enclosure. There are small washers that rest on springs to provide a bit of cushioning to the hard drive during transportation.

In lieu of a small fan, Cooler Master has placed a large thermal pad on the top of the casing to help transfer some of the heat generated by the hard drive when in use into the case itself. This is covered by a blue film that should be removed before installation of the hard drive.

With the hard drive installed, it should look like this.

Before we put the 350 back together, let’s take a look at everything hooked up. Notice that the SATA and power cables end up on the opposite end relative to where they connect to the board. While this isn’t a big deal, it might make sense to have them on the sides that they will be connecting on, which would mean shorter cables. I know, it’s a petty complaint but not entirely invalid.

It should be mentioned that the X-Craft can be used with slim 3.5” drives as well. To make up for the shorter drives, Cooler Master has included a pair of adapters, that slip into the holes on the hard drive and then slip onto the four posts on the X-Craft itself.

While the previous pictures do not do a great job of showing off the case and how reflective it is, the following pictures helps convey the polish that the X-Craft . Also, we can see how the enclosure can be laid down on its side.

Not only can the X-Craft be laid down flat, it can also be stood straight up. With the included stand, the device can go vertical as well. The stand simply slides on a rail on the bottom of the enclosure. This is something that I do not care for either as it doesn’t really lock down very tight at all and allows the X-Craft to wobble a bit. This was never in danger of tipping over, but it still wasn’t as secure as it should have been.

Let’s now check out the performance and also conclude with our final thoughts.



Performance, Final Thoughts

To test out the performance of the X-Craft, we will use HD Tach to measure the transfer speeds of the drive. While this primarily shows the actual performance of the hard drive itself, it does a good job of showing the benefits of using eSATA over USB. As our results will show, there really isn’t any comparison.

First up is the USB test.

Paying close attention to the numbers that the USB connection provided, let’s look at the eSATA results.

As we can see, there really isn’t any reason to not use eSATA. The numbers, all across the board, are much higher with the eSATA than they when USB was used, with the exception of CPU usage. The eSATA drive only had 4% utilization compared to the USB’s 11%. These are taken with a 2% margin of error.

Final Thoughts

The Cooler Master X-Craft 350 makes for one good looking external hard drive enclosure. It offers the incredibly fast eSATA as well as USB 2.0. Also on the X-Craft is a pair of USB ports for anything that you might want to plug in but don’t exactly want to dig to get to the back of your PC case.

Provided with the X-Craft is a program that allows you to back up your data with a simple push of a button. This button happens to be the Cooler Master back lit logo on the front of the enclosure. We experienced problems with the software and never could get it to function correctly but if we do get it to work, we will post back in the related forum thread about our results.

Taking everything into consideration, the Cooler Master X-Craft 350 a device that lives up to Cooler Master name. While I wish there was a another way to get the enclosure open, once you get it the first time, it gets easier. I blame lackluster directions more than I do the design of the unit itself.

When it comes to external hard drive enclosures, the X-Craft is something that I am comfortable recommending. With a street price of 45 dollars, the comparable Vantec NexStar 3 can be found for $35 and the only thing it lacks, aside from superb ventilation, is the pair of extra USB ports on the back. Are these inclusions worth an extra 10 dollars? That’s something that only you can answer. I more than likely will never use the extra USB ports but they are nice to have, just in case. I honestly like the X-Craft 350. I like the way it looks and I like its versatility. Because of these factors, the Cooler Master X-Craft 350 earns a respectable 8 out of 10.

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