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Hard disk drive enclosures are cases for you to install a hard disk drive outside the computer, being a terrific way to carry a huge amount of data around, for backing up data, for storing and carrying files from home to the office and vice-versa, for storing and carrying videos, etc. The main problem with external hard drives is speed, because most of them are based on the USB 2.0 port, which is limited to 60 MB/s (480 Mbps). Max 4 Active Cooling from Thermaltake, however, also has an eSATA port, which is the best way to connect an external hard drive, as this interface allows the hard disk drive to be accessed at the same speed as it were installed inside the PC. Let’s take a detailed look at this Thermaltake enclosure, including its performance.
The good thing about Max 4 Active Cooling is that it also has a USB 2.0 port, so if you carry your hard drive to a place like your friend’s home where the computer doesn’t have an eSATA port, you can simply hook it up to any available USB 2.0 port.
This unit, by the way, only accepts SATA hard drives. So you will need to buy a SATA hard drive to use with it (it doesn’t come with a hard drive and you will need to install it by yourself; installation, however, isn’t complicated, as we will show in the next page).
As the name implies, this enclosure has an 80 mm fan to cool down the hard drive. The case is made of aluminum.
The unit comes with a stand to make the enclosure to take less space on your desk.
In Figure 3 you see the rear side of the unit, where you can see both eSATA and USB 2.0 ports.
In Figure 4 you see the power supply and cables that come with the unit. As you can see it comes with one eSATA bracket, allowing you to convert any standard SATA port into eSATA, if your motherboard does not provide an eSATA port. So you won’t need to buy any extra part to make this enclosure to work with your computer enjoying the maximum speed provided by the SATA interface. It is important to know that eSATA uses a different plug than SATA, so the cable is different from the standard SATA cable that comes with the motherboard.
Now let’s take a look inside Max 4 Active Cooling.
[nextpage title=”Inside Max 4 Active Cooling”]
As we mentioned, you will need to open this unit to install a SATA hard disk drive, what is done by removing four Phillips screws (you will need to remove the cover that doesn’t have the fan).
This product is based on an Initio INIC-1610L chip, as you can see in Figure 6.
Hard drive installation is really easy. Just unscrew the two plastic parts that will hold the HDD in the unit, add them to the HDD, put the HDD inside the enclosure with these parts in place, screw them back to the enclosure and close the enclosure and that’s it. See this sequence below.
[nextpage title=”How We Tested “]
During our tests we used the configuration listed below.
- CPU: Core 2 Duo E6600
- Motherboard: ASUS P5K-E/WiFi-AP (0401 BIOS)
- Memory: 2 GB Corsair Dominator TWIN2X2048-8500C5D (DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 with 5-5-5-15 timings), configured at 1,066 MHz
- Hard Disk Drive: Two Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160 GB (ST3160815AS, SATA-300, 7,200 rpm, 8 MB buffer) hard disk drives, one for running the operating system and benchmarking software, another for testing the reviewed device.
- Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GTS 320 MB
- Video resolution: 1440×900 75 Hz
- Video Monitor: Samsung Syncmaster 932BW
- Power Supply: OCZ ProXStream 1000 W
- CPU Cooler: Thermaltake TMG i1
- Optical Drive: LG GSA-H54N
Software Configuration p>
- Windows XP Professional using NTFS file system
- Service Pack 2
- Intel Inf driver version: 126.96.36.1999
- NVIDIA video driver version: 169.21
We adopted a 3% error margin. So, performance differences below 3% cannot be considered meaningful. In other words, products where the performance difference is below 3% must be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”Our Tests”]
The software we use for measuring hard disk drive performance, DiskSpeed32, performs really long tests, since it reads all sectors on the hard disk measuring the achieved transfer rate and plotting a graph.
Normally the hard disk transfer rate varies according to the part of the disk that is being read. The disk transfer rate is higher at the disk’s edge, lowering as it approaches its center. This occurs because of the zone bit recording (ZBR): in longer tracks (the ones away from the disk center) there are more sectors and more data is read at each disk spin. Because of that, the software used shows three results: maximum transfer rate (obtained on the first disk cylinders, i.e., on the tracks located near the disk edge), minimum transfer rate (obtained on the last disk cylinders, i.e., on the most inner tracks), and average transfer rate, which is the result that we are usually interested in knowing.
Because of this effect we can also explain the need of hard disk defragging and why professional disk defrag utilities such as Norton Speed Disk allow you to move the operating system files to the beginning of the hard disk. As we explained, data stored on the beginning of the disk are read at a higher transfer rate than data stored in other sectors.
We used a Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160 GB (ST3160815AS, SATA-300, 7,200 rpm, 8 MB buffer) hard disk drive to perform our tests. First we installed it directly on an empty SATA-300 port on our motherboard to see what the performance of this drive is while it is installed inside the PC. We also installed our hard drive on another HDD USB 2.0 enclosure (Thermaltake BlacX) to compare the results. With Max 4 Active Cooling you will see three results. First, with the enclosure connected to the USB 2.0 port; then with it connected to the eSATA-300 port provided on the rear panel of our ASUS P5K-E/WiFi-AP motherboard; and finally with it connected to a regular SATA-300 port using the adapter that comes with the product.
Some people are complaining that some eSATA enclosures aren’t compatible with the on-board eSATA ports available on some motherboards, so we wanted to check this out. Max 4 Active Cooling proved to be 100% compatible with them.
As you can clearly see, eSATA is the best option to connect an external hard drive to the computer, as it allows the hard drive to achieve the exact same performance as if it were installed inside the computer. As you can see installing the enclosure on the eSATA connector available on the motherboard or converting one of the motherboards SATA ports into eSATA made no difference in performance. eSATA provided a maximum transfer rate 236% higher than USB 2.0 and an average transfer rate 145% higher.
When using the USB 2.0 port the performance of Max 4 Active Cooling was the same achieved by Thermaltake BlacX, a HDD docking station that uses USB 2.0 connection.[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Thermaltake Max 4 Active Cooling main features are:
- Accepts 3.5” SATA hard disk drives.
- Connection: USB 2.0 and eSATA-300
- Fan: 80 mm fan that glows blue when turned on
- Fan speed: 1,500 rpm
- Noise level: 20 dBA
- Dimensions: 8.46” x 5.28” x 1.97” (21.5 cm x 13.4 cm x 5 cm)
- Weight: 15 oz (425 g)
- Controller chip: Initio INIC-1610L.
- More information: https://thermaltakeusa.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 50.00
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
In our opinion Thermaltake Max 4 Active Cooling is one of the best HDD enclosures available on the market today. It provides both eSATA and USB 2.0 connections, allowing your hard drive to achieve the same performance as if it were installed inside the PC and at the same time having the flexibility of allowing you to connect it to a USB 2.0 port if the computer you are trying to connect it to (at a friend’s home, for example) doesn’t have an eSATA port and you can’t open it to install the SATA-to-eSATA bracket.
This enclosure was also fully compatible with the eSATA on-board connector provided by our ASUS P5K-E/WiFi-AP motherboard. Since some users are complaining about compatibility issues between eSATA enclosures and on-board eSATA ports, this is terrific news.
The material this enclosure uses is the best – aluminum – and it also has an 80 mm fan to cool down your hard drive.
Max 4 Active Cooling price is perfect for a product with this performance and features.