Date: March 20, 2008
Author(s): Greg King
External hard drive enclosures are a dime a dozen… kind of. VOX’s solution delivers similar features as the others, such as USB 2.0 and eSATA connections, along with some backup software. In the end though, what should be a killer offering proved to be a very mediocre one.
Gone are the days of paying over a dollar for a gigabyte of space on a hard drive. With platter densities on the rise, more storage capacity than most many will ever use can now be purchased for, quite literally, under 25 cents per gig. This is in stark contrast to only a few years ago, but as access to our personal data at both home and at work grows, we need to be able to move this data from one place to another.
For many, the simplest solution is to purchase an external hard drive and attach it to their computer. Not only will this solution give you total mobility with your data but it also provides a simple, local and easy destination for you to dump your system backups on. Considering most external drives today ship with some form of backup software, there is very little room for excuses as to why you shouldn’t implement some form data recovery plan.
For me, I use a home NAS box to backup my music, pictures and documents on a nightly basis and if I need to transport that data anywhere at all, I have an external hard drive. My personal drive consists of a Vantec NexStar 3 enclosure with a Seagate 250 GB SATA hard drive and for the most part, it allows me to take my music with me on to work and fits nicely in my notebook bag. For those that have no need for a NAS box, an external hard drive provides the perfect device for backing up and storing irreplaceable personal data.
While we are all familiar with companies like Seagate, Western Digital and Maxtor that all provide their own external devices, there are other companies such as Buffalo, LaCie and Iomega who are all quite popular in their own right and might even use one of the other three’s drives in their own devices.
In the past, we have looked at Seagate’s FreeAgent Pro and Maxtor’s OneTouch and while Rory loved the Seagate, Matt found little to like about the OneTouch. What is going to seal the deal for everyday people like you and I is more often than not price and brand loyalty. With so many companies offering their own external solutions, most will go for the most capacity they can get in the price range that they are willing to pay. If there are many that are comparably priced, brand loyalty inevitably comes into play.
One such company that many haven’t heard of is VOX Products. As a relatively unheard of company, VOX has a stable of products that range from single drive, lower capacity hard drives to larger drive that top out at 750 GB. When we were contacted by VOX to see if we were interested in evaluating one of their external hard drives, we jumped at the opportunity. It’s nice to be able to inform you of companies that might otherwise get overlooked and every once in a while, a true gem is found.
On the bench today is the VOX 750 GB external hard drive. Using either the supremely popular USB 2.0 or the newer (and much faster) eSATA, the VOX V1 looks to compete with the larger companies’ offerings by offering the two most popular interfaces available today. While FireWire is faster than USB, its popularity isn’t as high so the exclusion on the V1 shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone but those that only need this connection interface.
Arriving in its retail packaging, the VOX V1 USB/eSATA external hard drive’s box is small and to the point. There are a few Windows endorsements and the sides are adorned with the device’s specifics.
Once opened, we see that the V1 comes packaged securely wedged into two pieces of protective foam. Bundled with the V1 is a refreshingly thorough manual covering both the setup of the device in a Windows environment as well as how to use the included backup utility. Also included is a short USB cable, an eSATA cable, power brick, power supply, a vertical stand and a small disk that contains the backup software.
Designed to rest flat on a desk or vertically when placed in the provided stand, the V1 is an entirely black enclosure with the one visible exception being the grey, blue back lit, backup button on the front. With aluminum side panels and a soft plastic border, the style of the V1 won’t turn many heads but if the performance is in line with similar devices, the lackluster style might be overlooked.
Pressed into the aluminum side panels in large block lettering are the name of the company VOX. On the underside of the V1 is a small keystone like piece of plastic that is intended to never be removed. However, when curiosity overtakes us all, underneath this piece is a warranty sticker informing us that if removed, the one year manufacturer’s warranty is void. This sticker runs the entire width of the V1, covering both the aluminum side panels so tampering with the device should be done only if you have no concern for warranty repair down the road.
On the back of the V1 we find the various I/O ports as well the power connection and switch. Running from left to right, we see the power connector, power switch, eSATA port and the USB 2.0 port. There is also a sticker above the eSATA port that contains a bar code and what appears to be a serial number. Doing a bit of research, this information is used with redeeming your mail in rebate. In our search, we found the V1 at many different e-tailers but the mail in rebate came from Buy.com.
Moving to the interior of the V1, we want to first start by expressing that we do not endorse the blatant disregard for a manufacturer’s warranty. Nor do we recommend this for anyone worried about losing the warranty provided by VOX. That said, let’s break it down.
Popping the side panel off of the VOX was far easier than we would have liked to have seen. This was made even easier by the clear gap between the plastic that runs around the hard drive and the aluminum side panel as seen in the following picture.
With the side panel off of the device, we can start to take a look at what makes this thing work. On the underside of the V1, there is a plastic frame with four mounting screws in place to hold the hard drive to the frame. There are also holes cut into the floor of the V1 to allow heat to escape from the hard drive’s PCB and into the side panel to get dissipated away by the outside air.
VOX has chosen to use a Western Digital 750 GB drive in the V1 and from looking around the web; this drive has been the darling of reviews. The drives model number is WD7500AAKS and alone on NewEgg, sells for just under $150. This drive is a high quality offering and is a welcome site inside VOX’s enclosure. Notice that there is little room between the drive and the side walls of the V1. The thin aluminum sides are all that move heat away from the inside of the V1 but being as thin as they are, and with the surface area that they have, should be able to keep the WD drive under critical temperatures.
Controlling the V1 is an Initio controller chip providing USB connectivity to the device. There is also a white cable attached to the PCB that controls the front backup button as well as powers the blue LED behind it.
When powered on, the V1’s blue backup button glows a nice blue but turns a reddish orange with the drive is accessed. Pushing the button once brings up the IniBackup (version 1.17) software but if a backup job is not selected, this process will error out and force you to setup your own backup procedure.
When the mini CD was loaded into the computer, there was no autorun of any kind so we opened up My Computer and browsed the contents of the disk. Included on the CD is a pair of folders containing the Button Manager backup program and the Windows 98SE drivers that allow the old OS to recognize drives of this size.
Once installed, there wasn’t a start menu link setup so we had to browse to the Initio folder in the Program Files directory to open the program up. Once opened, a simple windowed popped up (the same window that comes up when you press the backup button on the V1) allowing us to create our own job by mapping the source directory and the destination directory.
One can also set the job as active; allow all files in the selected directory to be copied as well as control whether or not only new or archived files will be copied. Also available in the software is the ability to tell the program to backup your files, only copy the selected files and most importantly, restore any files previously backed up.
Once setup, the new job can be saved, modified and deleted as well as executed immediately or at a scheduled time on a later date. While not very in-depth, the scheduling window allows you to pick the day that the job will run and at what time it will be executed. You can setup each backup job to run at an exact time if you would like, backing up different areas of your data in incremental steps.
The backup process as a whole is fast and allows the process to be paused in the middle of a transfer. Obviously times will vary depending upon which interface you decide to use. In our testing, we used both USB and eSATA. When a job is completed you can choose to stay in the program, call main frame in the crude but functional program, or exit out of it.
With the V1 and its software fully examined, testing of the VOX V1 is a pretty straight forward affair. Connecting it to our test machine first by USB and then by eSATA, we ran both HD Tach and HD Tune 2.53. Both programs do essentially the same thing but differ slightly in results so to be fair, we ran them both.
As a comparison, we also ran these tests on the previously mentioned Seagate 250 GB drive in the Vantec NexStar 3 enclosure. Each test was run three times on each drive and on each interface. The numbers were then averages out and recorded for this review. No expansion ports were used and both the eSATA and USB cables were plugged directly into the back of the motherboard. The test PC used was pieced together with the following parts:
As stated above, we choose to run Windows XP in this test but going forward, with SP1 just released for Vista, the newer Microsoft OS will be used from now on. First up is HD Tach.
Interestingly enough, the two drives trade off performance in the burst rate and in the average read when connected with eSATA. When used with USB, performance is very close. Let’s see what HD Tune thinks of the two external hard drives.
Again the same trend appears. For overall average read rates, clearly the Initio chipset used in the V1 is superior but the chip used in the NexStar 3 bests the V1 in burst speed.
It was a pleasant surprise when we were contacted by VOX to see if we wanted to evaluate their external hard drive. The more competition in the market, the more likely companies are to try to provide better products with more features. That said, the VOX V1 offers little competition to the likes of Seagate, Buffalo, LaCie and the more established brand for a variety of reasons.
First off, the build quality of the VOX was adequate at best and suspect at worst. The noticeable gap between the top of the drive and the side panel allowed the side to practically fall off of the drive and while this make it convenient to access the internals of the V1, it also will aid in the warranty being voided in quick order.
Another area where the V1 falls short is in the software bundled with it. While functional, the backup program was clunky and less intuitive than we would have like to of seen. Granted, there is a well documented manual, one of the more instructive that we have seen actually, but still, the software falls well behind that of the more established brands.
Many other companies offer third party programs through deals between the hardware and software vendors. If VOX really wants to bundle solid backup software for free, they should consider looking at what companies like QNAP and Synology have done with their networked backup programs. While the V1 isn’t networkable, the premise of a destination and source drive is the same. Simply put, there is no polish at all to the V1’s backup utility.
Looking around the net, pricing of the V1 is another issue of ours. All but one site, Buy.com, had the V1 priced at well over 200 dollars. NewEgg had it listed for $235. When we consider that the drive used can be purchased for $149.99, you can’t tell me that the cost of the enclosure and all the other small, behind the scenes costs equal 85 dollars.
Comparative products at NewEgg like the Seagate FreeAgent Pro ($165), the LaCie Design 750 GB ($176), the WD My Book Home ($204) and the Buffalo DriveStation ($227) can all be had for a cheaper price, there isn’t any reason why anyone would consider the VOX V1. This goes back to what we covered earlier with brand loyalty. As unfair as it might be, I would go with a more established brand before I considered the V1 simply because it’s in the same price bracket.
Things change though when we go to Buy.com. There they offer the V1 for $139 after rebates. This is a great deal as it’s cheaper than you can purchase the drive by itself alone. Granted, you have to wait for a month or two for your rebate to come in but if you have a bit of patience, this is a spectacular deal.
Reading down through the customer comments though, we see that many have had issues with poor customer support from VOX and have even expressed their discontent with the time it’s taken to receive their rebates. I’m not sure how there can be a $55 discrepancy between the countries most arguably popular e-tailer and Buy.com but there is so if you’re considering this drive, you’d be foolish to go anywhere but there.
All in all, the VOX V1 isn’t great and with the poor software and cheap feeling build quality, it’s hardly even good but I can say that I was pleased with its performance. It didn’t wow us and it didn’t set any records but then again, it never said that it would. I simply works. There really isn’t much more to say.
The case feels cheap but its primary redeeming quality is that VOX chose a home run of a drive in the WD7500AAKS but with its paltry one year warranty and higher prices everywhere but at one site, I can’t in good faith recommend this drive to anyone but those that can find it at a spectacular deal like the one at Buy.com. There are so many other choices, from companies that are established, offer better software packages and warranties that reach up to 5 years, that the VOX V1 shouldn’t be considered against those mentioned earlier.
Because it works and uses a top notch hard drive offering a lot of capacity, the VOX V1 earns a 5 out of 10… the same score Nate gave the Maxtor OneTouch and for a few similar reasons as well.
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