While not perfect for all users, the drive dock easily matches the performance of more typical USB 3.0 enclosures. Just be aware that your drive is not protected, as it would be inside an enclosure.
July 2010 Anthony Garland
For anyone who has never seen, alone used a dock station, the appearance of the USB 3.0 drive dock will come as a bit of surprise. Much like a war hammer looks short, squat and heavy compared to a rapier, so too does a dock look much too short, way too wide when compared to the rakishly thin lines of many 2.5″ portable and 3.5″ external hard drives. This is because, as the name suggests, a hard drive docks into the device and is not enclosed in it, like it would be in an enclosure. Thus the odd shape. The best way to think of a dock is to consider it a highly specialized tool that is has been designed and refined for one job with one major priority. In the case of docking stations, their main priority is ease of use and quick access to the drive.
With dimensions of 5.31″ x 5.31″ x 7.69″, the SIIG USB 3.0 drive dock is even more squat in appearance than some other docks out there. The reason for its added girth is it appears to share a common form factor with that of a dual drive bay docking station. Sadly, this version is a single drive only capable unit. On the positive side, this extra width does make it a even more stable platform than usual. So too does its 1.92 lb. weight help keep it from being unstable or even appearing unstable when heavy 3.5″ 4 platter drives are used.
Please don’t get us wrong, this drive dock is not a huge piece of equipment by any stretch. In fact it is only slightly wider and yet shorter than a typical 50 DVD spindle. This means it will not take up all that much real-estate on your desk, and will in fact have a smaller foot print than most enclosures when not in use.
The matte black plastic of the SIIG USB 3.0 dock has a grip like rubber texture to it which makes gives it a very reassuring feel to it. Where this is a dual bay design, that only happens to be using one of the bays, the secondary bay has been setup as a small “miscellaneous” storage tray. This small tray however is however too small to be really all that practical and does give the SIIG a decidedly odd look.
Where this model can accept both the smaller 2.5″ and larger 3.5″ drives, an external power source is needed to provide the necessary power to the larger drives. As with many, this means an external power brick and exterior plug setup, instead of a more expensive and exotic built in power supply.
On the front of the USB 3.0 drive dock is a small push button ON/OFF switch and four LEDs. Interestingly enough only the far left LED blinks to show activity and the other three glow a constant blue whenever the unit is powered on. Where this model has an integrated fan I was slightly disappointed to see no fan control abilities available and the fan simply spins at one constant speed; though the fan is fairly quiet and you really have to listen hard to hear it. To allow the fan to draw air in and over not only the hard but also to a lesser extent the internal components, both sides of the enclosure have 72 holes drilled through the plastic. This allows the fan to suck in fresh air from the other side of the dock and exhaust the hot air out the other. While hard drives by their very nature do not need active cooling until they hit about 50 Celsius, this small fan did keep my hot running Seagate 2TB XT cool to the touch even during extended testing; something that many “passive” enclosures were unable to do!
The one thing, which was conspicuous by its absence, was an ejection mechanism. A simple little push button leaver on the side to help disengage your drive from the SATA ports really is a handy feature to have on a drive dock; so I was a more than a little disappointed when I noticed this feature missing.
Unfortunately, there is one last caveat, the SIIG dock does not have a cover for the hard drives, such as some docking stations do, so there is a slightly elevated risk of hard drive damage. With that being said, modern hard drives are not exactly fragile items when not in use; and when in use, a good bump or bang is just as likely to kill it if its inside a metal or plastic enclosure as if it was in a dock. So this is only an issue if you plan on leaving the drive running inside the dock 24/7.
As is becoming a recorrouing theme, the SIIG USB 3.0 drive dock is every bit as good and even slightly better than my enclosure. Great performance coupled with extremely fast setup time… what’s not to like?
As with the synthetic results, the real world results tell us that the SIIG is every bit the equal of the Vantec Nexstar 3. Considering it takes a good minute to install or uninstall a drive from the Vantec enclosure, compared to about 5 seconds for the SIIG, that is just bloody awesome. This dock really has no major down side to it, or at least has none other than the first generation USB 3.0 controller chip it uses. This is something I cannot fault the SIIG dock for using as the other options are all worse then it.
The difference between internal and external gap really is the direct result of this “young” technology and the controller companies inexperience in building USB 3.0 to SATA bridge controllers which can truly harness all that potential. As time goes by and as second, third (etc.) generation SuperSpeed USB controllers come on the scene which bridge the performance gap then yes this dock will seem slow… but I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon! In the mean time, this dock is still one of the fastest USB 3.0 devices going and to get better then it you are going to have to opt for eSATA.
Even the most simple and user friendly external drive enclosure is down right tedious in its setup when compared to a dock and the SIIG USB 3.0 hard drive dock is no exception. It literally only takes a couple seconds to remove one drive and plug in another and be back up and running. Hell, you have to wait longer for the hard drive platters to stop spinning before removing it than it takes to swap hard drives!
When it comes to the performance of the dock, there is not much not to like. It is just as fast as your typical SuperSpeed USB enclosure so there really is no trade-off here to speak of. Actually, the SIIG was slightly faster than our Vantec Nexstar 3 but the differences were so minor as to be easily accounted for by controller batch to batch variances.
To my way of thinking, if you are looking quick and easy access to a hard drive’s data for short periods at a time, then a dock is good solution. If you have multiple hard drives, it becomes a very good solution. Should you fall into one of these broad categories and are looking for a fast and easy to use dock, then the SIIG is highly recommended. The combination of good looks, design and integrate cooling fan really are a winning combination.