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eSATA hard drive

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June 8, 2008 7:22:34 PM

I'm in the midst of building a new system and am wanting to get a external hard drive for back-up purposes and would like the eSATA interface. At first I was going to get a pre-made external hard drive but it seems there's not a lot of good eSATA drives out there right now with good warranties (at least I can't find reviews for them--if anyone has any please let me know).

My planned system build includes the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 drive and I was thinking about getting an extra one and also getting an external enclosure and going about it that way. This way I can get the 5 year Seagate warranty versus a 1 or 3 year warranty with most other external hard drives and (depending on the price of the enclosure) it saves me money.

What should I look for in a hard drive enclosure? What are the good brand names? Except for Thermaltake, Silverstone, and Enermax I don't really recognize any of the brands that Newegg has to offer? Anyone have an enclosure with an eSATA interface they really like?

Thanks a lot for your help.

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a c 357 G Storage
June 9, 2008 4:43:29 PM

1. There are two interfaces you will be chosing. First is between computer and external drive. For this I agree with you on eSATA - faster than USB2, similar to Firewire 400 (aka IEEE 1394a), not as fast as the less-common Firewire 800 (aka IEEE 1394b). But I would chose a unit that also has USB2 as a second option, just because it is SO common you could take your unit almost anywhere. Some cases even have three interfaces built in.
2. Second interface is within the case to the HDD - I'd definitely get a case that takes a SATA or SATA II drive, rather than IDE.
3. Do you need a case with built-in fan cooling? For many current HDD's, they seem to run cool enough with a metal case and no fan, but some prefer a fan hoping to make the HDD live longer. Fan cases are a bit more expensive. You definitely need a fan, I think, if you're mounting a DVD burner in the case, but you are not this time.
4. Make sure the case comes with its own power supply system - most 3½" drive cases do, but not smaller ones for 2½" drives.
5. Real eSATA vs. adapters. A real eSATA controller, either included in your mobo or added with a PCI card, will have some features important to eSATA operation, like support for longer signal cables and hot swapping. Some plain SATA controllers have these features, anyway, and some don't. Many cases come with an adapter plate you mount in place of a PCI card. It plugs into a plain SATA controller port on your mobo and gives you the proper connector for an eSATA cable on the back of your case. However, you only get the features included in your plain SATA controller. That may be OK, or you might find it's not what you need. If you have and use a true eSATA controller for your external drive, there will be no worries.

Case makers generally are not well known names. In my case, I bought an AZIO case from Newegg with both eSATA and USB2 connections, and hooked into the true eSATA port provided by my mobo. Inside I mounted a 500GB Seagate SATA II drive. Works just fine as my backup device. When I'm not using it I just turn off the power switch on the case and it doen't even exist in My Computer. But turn it on, and suddenly it is there!
June 10, 2008 9:47:39 AM

Thanks a lot for your help Paperdoc.

From my plans right now I was going to use the eSATA bracket that came with the case. My MOBO selection was either going to be a Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS3L or EP35-DS3R. I liked the idea of spending an extra $30 on the later MOBO because it comes with an eSATA bracket that, as you mentioned, plugs into a SATA port on your MOBO. On those two motherboards, how do I tell the features of the SATA controller and whether or not they'll be enough?

Really the only reason I was going with the more expensive motherboard was for the eSATA bracket (and it has 8 SATA connectors vs. 4) but since the drives come with that bracket it doesn't seem like I'd need to spend the extra $30--seems like it'd either be better to save that money or to spend it on a dedicated eSATA controller. It seems like though since the motherboard comes with an eSATA bracket that the plain SATA controller would be good enough.

My main concern is it seems like many prefabricated eSATA hard drives is the lack of transfer speed compared to that of a plain internal SATA drive and the whole point to be going with eSATA is so there's no speed decrease.

Does the hard drive case you buy have any effect on the speed of the hard drive you put in it? Or is the difference between all those cases appearance, materials, and whether or not it has a fan?

Thanks again for your help.
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a c 379 G Storage
June 10, 2008 11:30:44 AM

I have this enclosure. I have identical drives in the enclosure and inside my PC. HDTach shows the same performance on both drives and theoretically they should have the same performance.

I used the included eSATA bracket and connected it to one of my mobo sata connectors so it doesn't support hot swap, but I run it 24/7 anyhow since I use it as a storage drive and not a backup drive.
a c 357 G Storage
June 10, 2008 2:54:39 PM

I looked at the Gigabyte site for your mobo's and neither specifically says it includes an eSATA controller. It appears the more expensive -DS3R board has several extra features, and includes a second SATA controller. That may be the one intended for use with the eSATA bracket, but it does not make any statement about whether that controller has eSATA features in it.

Anyway, the main features in question are the provisions for using longer signal cables to reach the external device, and Hot Swapping. Although Gigabyte does not make statements, one would certainly hope that they include long cable support on a mobo that provides an eSATA connector! On the other hand, buying the less expensive -DS3L and using the free bracket with the external drive case makes sense, and it's a reasonable bet (but not a certainty) that it will work. BY the way, check to make sure that the adapter bracket we talked about IS included with the external case you buy!

Regarding the Hot Swap feature, it may be included anyway. But many people don't ever need that, as hawkeye22 has indicated. It's only important if you plan to unplug and reconnect the external drive while your machine is running.

The slower transfer speeds reported for external drives, compared to internal SATA drives, usually is because the externals in question are USB2-connected. USB2 is a slower system, anyway, and it requires an interface "translater" circuit in the external case. If your external case accepts a SATAII drive and it uses a eSATA connection system, there actually is no "translator" involved - it is just like connecting the SATA controller directly to the drive. Hawkeye22 said it, and I have seen other reports confirming that external SATAII drives connected this way run at the same speed as internals. A real bonus for eSATA system!

The case you buy may have an impact on the data transfer speed, mainly via the interface system. As I said, apparently eSATA connected to a SATA drive is a straight-through connection, whereas most others (USB2 or Firewire between computer and case, and IDE instead of SATA drives) will use some intereface circuitry to translate signals. It is the efficiency of this interface and the OS's drivers involved that impact the data transfer speed, and usually you can't make general rules on that. You pretty much need to see actual tests and product reviews. The only exception seems to be eSATA, but even there the only reason I can say what I said is that I saw actual review test results posted.
June 10, 2008 6:05:40 PM

Thanks hawkeye22 and Paperdoc. This is really good information for me to have. Hotswapping would be a nice feature since I'll be using this for backup purposes but it's also not 100% necessary either. If I go with the cheaper MOBO and discover I MUST HAVE the hotswapping and that it doesn't support it I could always buy a $30 eSATA card to pop in my computer.

Paperdoc, the one reason I mention the transfer speeds on the eSATA is I was reading a review on Tom's that said one of the Seagate eSATA drives seemed to bottleneck at 40MB/s and I was looking at some of the performance of the others in their comparison chart and many were around 50-70MB/sec and the internal SATA drives on the Tom's Chart seemed to be faster than that.

I do like the idea of buying the enclosure simply because I can buy any hard drive I want and if the enclosure screws up for some reason I don't void the warranty of the drive. And with the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 being so cheap now and it seems like one of the top ranking drives on the hard drive charts I might as well save some money and go with that one and an enclosure.

I appreciate the link to your enclosure hawkeye22. I assume you like it and you've had no problems with it?

Thanks again for your help.
a c 379 G Storage
June 11, 2008 4:36:47 AM

I like the enclosure I have. I've heard it can get warm depending on the drive you use in it, but it's aluminum and dissipates heat fast. Also, even though your controller may not support hot swap, you can go to the "safely remove devices" icon in your system tray and halt it, then power it down and disconnect it. Also, this enclosure supports hot swap, but the controller on my mobo does not.

I've had my external drive running 24/7 for 6 or 7 months now with no problems.
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