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Vantec eSATA Products Roundup

Date: November 13, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

Are you looking to add eSATA or S-ATA storage to your PC, but your motherboards lacking a few connections? We are taking a look at a slew of Vantec products that take care of all your S-ATA needs.



Introduction


In this great hardware industry, it’s not uncommon to see standards upgraded time and time again. DDR1 to DDR2, ISA to PCI to AGP to PCI-E, Socket 7 to Socket 775, et cetera. This means constant upgrades to the consumer, and that sometimes leaves them in the dark when they only want a simple upgrade but find out that they need to upgrade their entire system.

Case in point: S-ATA hard drives. S-ATA wasn’t commonplace until a couple years ago, so some older PC’s don’t have any ports but instead rely on the good ‘ole IDE connections. Today, it’s much easier, and sometimes even cheaper, to go with an S-ATA drive over an IDE. Both types have their benefits, but S-ATA is obviously the current and future. Tighter connections that allow better airflow, and overall better bandwidth.

Vantec has a slew of eSATA/SATA products that are developed for people with various needs. Have a computer that only had one or two S-ATA ports to begin with, but need more? Have a computer that has no S-ATA ports at -all-, but see a good deal on a drive? Use your notebook as a desktop replacement, but want to be able to connect to external storage? All of these issues we will tackle today as we take a look at four different Vantec products.

Closer Look

All of the products we are looking at offer eSATA support, but since I don’t have any eSATA drives, I will be sticking to S-ATA.

The first card we have is the UGT-ST300 which is PCI based. For this card Vantec notes that it is 3x faster than USB 2.0 to give us S-ATA 150MB/s speeds. Note that the card has an internal connector as well as an external. The external is for eSATA and the internal for S-ATA. Both drives use slightly different connectors, so you cannot get away with using an S-ATA drive externally here.

The PCI-E version of the card is much smaller overall, even the S-ATA chipset itself is about half the size of the one on the PCI card. For this card, Vantec notes that it’s 6x faster than USB 2.0, to give us a 300MB/s, or 3Gbps that new S-ATA drives offer. This card also has two connectors, the outside being for eSATA and inside for S-ATA.

If you are a laptop user, Vantec has a PCMCIA version of the card, which has the same 150MB/s specs as the PCI card. Here though, are two eSATA ports instead of just one. Since there is room for two, it would have been nice to see a single eSATA and single SATA, instead of dual eSATAs.

The enclosure is small, but large enough to hold a 2.5″ hard drive. It looks like the other NexStars, and that’s a good thing.

Installing either the PCI or PCI-E card is a real breeze… just install like any other card. If you plan to use an S-ATA drive, you connect the cable to the card instead of the motherboard. You will need an S-ATA power cord from the PSU for it to function though. For an eSATA operation, you can simply plug it into the back of the card.

Since I didn’t have an eSATA drive on hand, the PCMCIA card will not be tested. Installation should prove the same though. Insert the card, install the driver, then plug the hard drive in. Simple.



Installation, Performance

The NexStar 3 proves to be the most difficult of the installations, but it’s hardly “difficult”. You need to remove the tray from the enclosure and then slide a 2.5″ S-ATA drive into place. No screws are necessary to secure it. Re-insert the tray into the enclosure and secure the entire unit with two long screws.

Here’s where installation gets fun. Do you want to install via eSATA method, or simply use a USB connector? For the USB connector, you just need to plug one end into the enclosure and the other into a USB port. It’s as easy as using a thumb drive, really. Except here, I have 200GB in my pocket as opposed to 4GB.

For the eSATA method, you first need to install a connector inside of your PC, which plugs into an available S-ATA port. Once done, you can connect the drive to the card via a cable that converts the S-ATA to eSATA.

Regardless of which product you are using, the installation is a real breeze. The most in-depth of the bunch is the enclosure, but it’s a snap.

Testing

To test out the PCI and PCI-E card, I will be using a Western Digital 500GB RE2 drive, and for the enclosure I will be using a Toshiba 2.5″ 200GB drive.

Before testing begins with anything we benchmark, the computer is cleaned up and optimized to run without a hitch. The hard drives were both fully formatted prior to testing. The programs we are using today are HD Tune, HD Tach, Sandra along with a few real world transfers.

Where “No Card” is specified, that simply means the hard drive was installed as normal, without the use of Vantecs products. The goal here is to see if using the products will lesson the overall speed, or use more CPU cycles. Also, the NexStar can be connected via eSATA or USB, so I have tested both to show a difference.

HD Tune

It’s really hard to point out a difference here, as there really is not much of one. The PCI-E cards average read was 0.3MB/s slower than the PCI card and direct installation. The Burst speed was significantly lower also, which is odd since this card is meant to be far faster than the PCI version. CPU Usage overall was the same for all the methods with the 500GB drive.

When taking a look at the NexStar though, it’s easy to see why eSATA is the preferred method. It means faster max speed, faster average and even lower CPU usage.

HD Tach

HD Tach shows similar results… there is virtually no difference between using the cards or plugging it straight into the PC. The Nexstar’s eSATA mode proved 4MB/s quicker on average over the USB mode. Bare in mind that this is only a 4200RPM drive, so if you have a 5400RPM drive you should expect greater speeds than is evidenced here.

SANDRA 2007

Oddly enough, the PCI-E card seems to be worse off than the PCI in each test so far. With SANDRA, the average MB/s is lower, and latency higher. Again with the NexStar, it’s clear just how bad USB can hold back performance.



Real World, Final Thoughts

Our real world transfer tests consist of four sets of files:

The time is calculated in seconds, from the second that the “Copy” button is pushed. Of course, the lower the numbers in the graph, the better.

I expected to see larger differences with the real world tests, although I am unsure why exactly. There are none. Throughout the PCI, PCI-E and direct install tests, only two out of the twelve transfers were one second different. Of course there are large differences between the USB and eSATA on the NexStar, but we are talking about 480Mbps to 3Gbps.

Final Thoughts

All in all, these are great products… all of them. Some have more pluses than others though. For internal storage or eSATA, the PCI card would be recommended over the PCI-E version. There was no noticable differences between either, but where there -were- minor decreases, it was with the PCI-E card. Since the PCI-E version costs around $10 more, the only reason you should choose it is if all of your PCI slots are full.

Though I wasn’t able to test the PCMCIA card, I do wish it didn’t have two eSATA connectors. One eSATA and on S-ATA would have been great, because who’s going to have two eSATA enclosures? I don’t personally know anyone that owns one to begin with.

The NexStar 3 was my favorite product from the bunch, simply because it’s designed for 2.5″ hard drives and is very compact. Although flash thumb drives are better due to the fact that they are more durable, there’s something cool about being able to carry 200GB in your pocket. It hooks up to a PC just like a thumb drive, but holds far more data. Although it’s a tight enclosure, I am not sure I’d want to carry it everywhere. It -is- still a hard drive, so any bumps could potentially ruin it.

One thing that did strike me as odd though, is the fact that a DC adapter was not included. There is a port in the back of the enclosure for it, but none was included. Instead, if you want to use the eSATA mode, you will need to plug in the USB connector in order to provide power. So, you will have both the eSATA and USB connectors plugging into it at the same time. If you don’t care about speed, then the USB cord alone will work fine.

I didn’t touch on the fact that these cards can be used for primary drives also. If your motherboard only has IDE connectors but you have an S-ATA drive, it will function just fine. During the Windows installation you will just need to specify a RAID setup, and access the drive that way.

I have no complaints about any of these products, though wish a power adapter came with the NexStar. Other than that, they all deserve our Editors Choice award.

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