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3.5"/ 5.25" USB 2.0 External Drive Enclosure
& 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 brand new 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 gather.

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 have nearby.

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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