Review iNeo USB 3.0 2.5" Hard drive enclosure and adapter
Storage kit. When buying an external hard drive, one often doesn’t know which brand of drive is actually mounted inside the housing. As external SSDs are quite expensive, one may chose to building one's own external drive to suite ones expectations and needs. During our test, the 3 units from iNeo Technologies had to prove to us that they provided a solid foundation with which to support such a project.
2.5" enclosures are very popular as they are small, lite and usually don’t require an additional power source. They offer a good compromise between mobility, flexibility, and price. The alternatives in the 1.8" and 3.5" ranges are focused on providing maximum mobility and capacity respectively.
We chose 3 iNeo models for our test which are all designed for SATA hard drives and feature USB 3.0 interfaces to connect to your desktop or laptop. We will be looking at two traditional 2.5" enclosures and an adapter.
Test scope and hardware
We tested the enclosures and the adapter with a conventional 2.5" hard drive, and an SSD. We used Windows 7 Home Premium as well as MacOs X (only USB 2.0). The hardware consisted of a Samsung HM320JI 320 GB running at 5400 rpm, a Kingston Solid State Drive from the NOW V line-up with 30 GB, an MSI 880 GMA-E45 motherboard for USB 3.0 tests and a MacMini GF9400 for the USB 2.0 tests using MacOS X 10.6.6. In addition, we used several note- and netbooks to get a good evaluation.
The white iNeo iPile hard drive enclosure (I-NA215U Plus) is made entirely out of plastic. Nevertheless, it is very rigid thanks to the stiffening elements which are integrated into the design. Thanks to its color, the shiny white surface is also very forgiving when it comes to finger prints and appears to be pretty low maintenance. The underside, which is made to look like aluminum, has all the technology mounted to it as well as rubber feet which will prevent movement on most surfaces.
The SATA-USB 3.0 Adapter (I-NA214U Plus), which is also made from white plastics does not have the same level of finish of the other two enclosures (varying gap widths), but this has no effect on its functionality. A small advantage of these is that there is no effort required for the assembly. One simply slides the hard drive into the SATA-USB 3.0 adapter.
The black 2.5" (I-NA 201U+ ) enclosure has been around for a bit longer than the iPile range, and is made from thin aluminum with a matt finish. The packaging notes that it supports drives up to 1 TB, but in reality one can only fit drives with a height of up to 9.5mm which currently equates to 750 GB. This error has already been corrected on the manufacturer’s website. The level of finish is as impressive on this unit as it is for the others.
Performance and Transfer Rates
We tried regular hard drives and SSDs on each model and put them through their paces several times using HD Tune Pro 4.6, Crystal Disk Mark 2.2 and Xbench 1.3.
The maximum transfer rate that can be achieved depends mainly on the drive in use, as well as the chosen interface. The interface on the computer or laptop plays a role as well. The notebooks with USB 3.0 interfaces which we have tested so far managed a transfer rate of 120 MB/s (Intel chipset). We started our test with a USB 3.0 interface on an AMD desktop system, which just managed 240 MB/s using an OCZ Enyo.
The results of the USB 3.0 interface under Windows 7 are very good. The performance figures of all 3 test units were the same and we could not detect any difference between the internal and external interfaces. The Samsung drive managed to reach an almost identical value of 69 MB/s (read), in both scenarios.
The results of the Kingston SSDs are also on par with the performance figures of the native SATA interfaces. The iNeo SATA-USB 3.0 adapter and the black iNeo NA201U+. achieve 178 MB/s and 175 MB/s (sequential reading), respectively. It could be that more performance could be gained with different drives, but we could not test this as we did not have any faster units available. Only the white iNeo iPile didn’t quite reach the mark with 153 MB/s under the same conditions. It appears that the inbuilt controller is not capable of providing higher rates.
The notebooks proved to have the usual restrictions. Here we achieved a maximum of 111 MB/s with an HP ProBook 6540b and a Raidsonic USB 3.0 ExpressCard extension. This result is on par with our previous tests.
All in all, the 3 test units offer a significant performance increase under Windows when compared to USB 2.0, Firewire 400 or Firewire 800 as long as you install a drive which can keep up. Firewire 800 is rarely found in the world of Windows, which means the alternatives here are USB 2.0 with 35 MB/s and Firewire 400 with roughly 40 MB/s. In comparison, USB 3.0 gave us 180 MB/s, with nearly 240 MB/s being achieved with an OCZ Enyo. We can therefore conclude that if one wants to build a high performance external drive which has a transfer rate of over 153 MB/s, the only enclosure that one should avoid from our line-up is the white iNeo iPile.
Performance on MacOs
MacOs X 10.6.6 had no problems identifying the 3 types of hardware in our test. We tested both FAT and MacOs Extended formating types. Those who wish to use their drive under Windows as well as MacOs should use FAT or exFAT to ensure compatibility. We could only use USB 2.0 under MacOs X and could therefore only reach a certain level of performance. Using xBench 1.3 we measured 36 MB/s on all 3 test units (sequential read). USB 2.0 is definitely the limiting factor here. Compared to solutions which are solely for MacOs the iNeo unites definitely underperform compared to the Firewire 400/800 alternatives. Firewire 800 can achieve 80 MB/s with MacOs (LaCie d2 Quadra 79,5 MB/s with MacMini). For those who use both OS systems, the iNeo will still offer maximum performance under Windows as well as compatibility with a Mac.
None of the test units require an additional power supply (in contrast to the Transcends StoreJet). The power requirements are satisfied using just the USB 3.0 cable. On some drives the increased level of consumption during the start up phase result in an unreliable, or nonexistent activation of the drive. This is more common with hard drives running at 7200 rpm than at 5400 rpm and virtually never happens with SSD. Desktops are also often more tolerant in this respect than notebooks as the latter are not always in line with standard USB specification. This phenomenon is not predictable however. As the power requirements are very different from one storage device to the next, one should consider asking about the maximum power requirements of the unit in question, before one commits to a purchase. As long as these are within the USB 3.0 specifications (900 mA), one shouldn’t have any problems.
The iNeo units offer good performance and have sufficient reserves for all conventional 2.5" drives that are currently available. Only fast SSDs will be restricted by the white iNeo iPile I-NA215U which reaches its limit at around 150 MB/s. The enclosures are sturdy, easy to maintain and well built. The adapter has varying gap widths but other than that it has the same level of quality as the others. All units are easy to use and assembled within a few minutes. We could not find any sharp edges, fragile parts or manufacturing errors. The lack of an optional power supply may cause some issues.
Prices and availability are not yet know for the German speaking countries. Amazon.com is currently offering the adpater at $20,-, the black enclosure for $25,- and $30,- for the white enclosure. It is not currently known when they will become available in the sales regions of D, A, or CH.