Review Firstcom USB 2.0 housing for SATA Slim
A second chance. Not every computer has an internal optical drive these days. Those who cannot live without such a device, will not be able to avoid finding an "external" solution. We had a look to see how well Firstcom’s external USB 2.0 housing could meet our expectations.
Despite the availability of online software and media downloads, streaming and memory sticks, optical drives are still occasionally required on to fulfill daily tasks. It is however not always the case that a desktop PCs or laptops are supplied with an inbuilt DVD or Blu-Ray player. Especially subnotebooks often gain much of their mobility by leaving these components out.
The simplest answer is to purchase an external solution which can be connected with USB 2.0 to just about any computer, whether it is a desktop or laptop running on Windows, Linux or MacOs. The easiest solution would be to buy a complete external drive off the shelf from any well stocked electronics store. We tested the external Blu-Ray drive from Buffalo for example. Those who would like to continue using the drives found in their old laptops, want to replace the optical drive in their laptop with a second hard drive (on selected models), or wish to chose their own optical drive, will have to chose an external housing into which this can be mounted.
These are available from a wide range of suppliers, with varying features and prices. There are also models available with the now outdated IDE interface, which is interesting for those who want to give their old hardware a second chance. For our test we chose a model from Firstcom with a SATA interface, which is available from about 12.- Euro. The matt black finish (also available in other colors), gives it a very conservative and minimalistic appearance. Unfortunately, this level of minimalism also does not include a front panel which would provide the appropriate cover at the front.
The upper and lower parts can be separated to reveal a simple circuit board with a SATA port, USB 2.0 and a socket for an additional power supply. If more power is needed, it can be delivered through the USB and/or the additional socket that is (USB cable is included, the power supply isn’t). Some units require more than 1000 mA, which is well above what a regular USB 2.0 (500 mA), can provide. Even with a second USB 2.0 connection supplying the power, one should not expect much more than 600 mA. As many manufacturers turn a blind eye to this restriction however, it is usually not a problem. USB 3.0 seems to be a bit more stringent however as we have found in our tests that not all 2.5" hard drives were willing to start up.
In order to install ones drive of choice, there isn’t much that needs to be done. Slide in the drive, secure it with screws at the back if necessary… and that’s it! We used the DVD drive from an HP Probook 6540b which, after installation, made this housing's lack of an appropriate front panel really obvious. The front panel of the HP Probook doesn’t look right and sticks out quite a bit which doesn’t look good either. From a purely functional point of view however, there were no issues to speak of. The drive was recognized on all of our test units using MacOsX, Windows 7, Windows Vista and Ubuntu Linux 9.
When dismantling the unit one should separate the upper and lower half of the housing which is held together by plastic clips. The SATA port holds on to the internal device quite well which can only be pulled out with great force.
Firstcom offers a cheap and effective solution for those who want to use their drive of choice. The housing looks good, the installation is simple and the price is very fair. An additional power supply can be attached, however only the USB option is provided and an actual power supply is not. It also does not have a front panel which could improve the esthetic value of the housing significantly.