3.5"/ 5.25" USB 2.0 External Drive
& USB 2.0 5-Port PCI Card
Date Reviewed: May 30, 2002
Reviewed By: Jason Rabel
Price: ~$80 Enclosure & ~$30 Card
Company: Extreme PC Gear
USB 2.0 - New & Improved:
Most people have heard of USB 2.0 by now, it's not exactly a
standard, however manufacturers are slowly adopting and integrating USB 2.0 into new products. Some devices, such as a mouse or scanner,
wouldn't exactly benefit from the greater bandwidth of USB 2.0 so there is no
need to change them. However other devices such as
external storage and digital cameras / camcorders team up quite well with USB
2.0. Firewire (aka IEEE-1394) has long since been the champion of high-speed for
external devices (if we don't consider SCSI) screaming along at 400Mb/s. However with USB 2.0 they one-upped
firewire by coming in at 480Mb/s (and still maintaining backwards
compatibility at 12Mb/s & 1.5Mb/s).
External Devices At Near Internal Speeds:
One device that has been plagued with the USB bottleneck in the
past was external hard drives / CD-ROM/RWs. Today's motherboards & internal
IDE hard drives max out with the ATA-133 standard which gives a theoretical peak
bandwidth of 133MB/s (Megabytes) transfer. USB 2.0 peak transfer speed is rated
for 480Mb/s (Megabits) which translates to 60MB/s (Megabytes), about half of the
bandwidth the hard drive is supposedly capable of. That may sound bad at first, but
remember that the previous USB maxed out at 12Mb/s = 1.5MB/s (Ouch!), and also
the ATA-133 standard really hasn't proven any significant performance gain over
ATA-100 with today's hard drives so that closes in the gap a little more.
CD-ROM/RW/DVD drives typically use ATA-33 as their highest
transfer speed, which is 33MB/s. Since USB 2.0 has double that bandwidth, these
devices should be able to perform identical when connected to an internal IDE
channel, or connected externally via USB 2.0.
External Devices First Hand:
Now that we have a little background on expected internal vs. external speeds, it's time to take a look at it first hand. Extreme PC Gear was
kind enough to send a USB 2.0 combo they have, which includes a USB 2.0
compatible 3.5"/5.25" External Enclosure, and a USB 2.0 PCI card based
on the NEC chipset (which I will talk more about why the NEC chipset is such a
big deal later).
The external enclosure is able to fit a variety of devices. It
says it will work with CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, & 3.5"
Hard Drives. Essentially anything that uses a standard IDE interface from what I
In the box is the enclosure, which is a nice neutral
silver color. The two strips next to the enclosure are for clamping it together
once you put the device in. A matching silver braded USB 2.0 cable, screws, manual, and
CD-ROM are also included.
Removing the cover reveals the simple setup inside. The front
bezel can be removed if you are installing a device such as a CD-ROM. There is a
single 4-pin power connector, IDE connector, and audio connector. There are also
a variety of holes in the bottom of the enclosure to fit 3.5" &
5.25" devices. Under the front bezel is a LED which is wired into the PCB
in the back to show drive activity. The whole enclosure appears to be shielded
to minimize interference with any other sensitive electronic devices you might
As you can see on the back on the enclosure, there is a standard
power connector (the power cable is included, I forgot to include it in the
previous picture). The exhaust fan is very functional (I put my hand behind it a few times
while it was running and the air coming out was quite warm). Right above the fan is
the audio connector (so you can have a regular audio out if you are going to use
a CD-ROM or similar device). Lastly there is the standard mini USB port on the right.
While it doesn't say USB 2.0 anywhere around the port, the top of the enclosure
has a big seal that says USB 2.0.
Mounting a 3.5" IDE hard drive was a very simple and
straight-forward process, I
did find the IDE cable was a tight fit, if they gave just 1/4" more
length it would of been much nicer, however I can see why they had to keep it
short for using 5.25" devices because of the lack of room in the enclosure.
Once the drive was all hooked up, the top cover was replaced and
those two strips get put on the sides to keep it all together.
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