Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Oh, sweet SATAsfaction


By Joe Dolittle

We've gotten a number of interesting drive enclosures in recently, and this week, we're taking a look at two of them: the NetDisk from IOCell Networks and the InfoSafe eSATA removable enclosure from StarTech.

IOCell Networks NetDisk 351UNE

It's a little hard to pigeonhole the IOCell Networks NetDisk 351UNE, shown in Figure A, into a single category.


It's network device, it's a USB device, it's a SATA device. It slices and it dices! (click for larger image)

At its most basic, it's an add-on USB drive enclosure for your computer. Simple and basic. The enclosure also has an eSATA connection, so you can plug the case directly into your computer and it'll run just as fast as an internal SATA drive. We liked that a lot.

What's more interesting is the NDAS (Network Direct Attached Storage) capability of the 351UNE. NDAS is a protocol that lets you use an Ethernet cable to connect the drive to your network, but it's not like a typical NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive, nor is it like an iSCSI drive, both of which allow you to connect the drive to the network.

NDAS is a proprietary format that does not use TCP/IP across the Ethernet cable. Now, according to the products' manual, you can connect the 351UNE to a router and other PCs or Macs can access the device, using its included, custom driver. We did not find that to be only intermittently so. We tried connecting the 351UNE through 10BaseT, 100BaseT, and our gigabit switch and could not get the slower switches to work.

However, when we connected the device to the PC directly over an Ethernet cable (and yes, we used different cables) the connection was rock solid and pretty amazingly fast. Of course, the PC that had a gigabit networking card was faster than the one that had a 100-megabit card, but that's to be expected.

So, what didn't we like? We didn't like that this wasn't a regular, ol' network device, even though a typical NAS is a lot slower. We didn't like the fact that since it used a dedicated, non-TCP/IP network connection, it wasn't the more standard iSCSI. And we didn't like that, even though we install their latest custom drivers, we couldn't get the thing to talk through a switch.

What we did like was price. You can get it for about $65 from NewEgg. And we liked the USB and SATA connections. Were this to have been a much more expensive device, we would have rated it a 4 out of 5. But since it's priced aggressively, we consider the NDAS to be a non-essential bell and aren't going to ding the device a point for being fussy with the lab's switches.

We give the IOCell Networks NetDisk 351UNE a 4-out-of-5.


InfoSafe 3.5" eSATA/USB 2.0 enclosure

Next up is the InfoSafe 3.5" eSATA/USB 2.0 enclosure, shown in Figure B.


This is a black box you'll enjoy using. (click for larger image)

We love this enclosure. It was a bit of a challenge getting the thing open the first time, but that appeared to be more user brain damage than a design error. We've actually had this installed on one of our lab computers for about six months, and it hasn't given us any problems at all (knock on particle-board). Many of the external enclosures we've seen eventually become annoying, but this one just works.

We give it a solid, works-like-a-champ 4-out-of-5.