If you have a spare hard drive lying around, a great way to get some extra life out of it is to drop it into an external drive enclosure and connect it to your computer. However, drive enclosures vary widely based on price, size, available connections and features. This week, we're going to take a look at five of the best external drive enclosures.
Photo by William Hook.
Zalman's VE series drive enclosures are small, portable sleds that support any SATA drive you toss into them. They connect to your PC via USB or eSATA (in the case of the VE200) or USB 3.0 (in the VE300). You may have to do a little hunting to find them though, because they've been discontinued despite their popularity. What makes the Zalman really special is the digital display on the drive case, one-touch backup and locking features. The VE300 model even works as a virtual optical disk drive, allowing you to mount it as a virtual DVD, CD or Blu-ray drive. You can even mount files on the drive as virtual disks, which is perfect for installing a new OS, for example. Bonus: The enclosure powers itself via USB, so no hefty brick required!
Patriot Memory Gauntlet/Gauntlet Node
The Patriot Gauntlet series of drive enclosures are well known for their rugged, simple design. The Gauntlet 2 supports both 2.5-inch SATA drives and SSDs up to 9.5mm in height, and it's completely powered by its USB 3.0 connection. The enclosure is also backwards compatible, so if you don't have USB 3.0 on your system just yet, it's still a good buy. The Gauntlet Node, on the other hand, is a Wi-Fi-enabled drive, meaning you can stream files and media from it to your iOS or Android device (using Patriot's apps), or to any computer in your house without connecting it directly. It even has an on-board rechargeable battery so you don't have to connect a brick to keep the data flowing.
If you have a larger drive you want to put to good use, the Rosewill RX-358 is a great option. It supports 3.5-inch SATA drives, and connects to your PC via USB 3.0 or eSATA. Slap the drive in, turn it on, and leave the drive enclosure on your desk. You can turn the blue LEDs on the front on or off depending on what you prefer, and the enclosure boasts a shiny 80mm top-mounted fan to keep your drive cool.
Perhaps you're no fan of keeping a bunch of enclosures on your desk, or you need to swap drives frequently. Maybe you have a mix of 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives to use. If this sounds familiar, the Thermaltake BlacX might be for you. Just pop a SATA drive into the top, make sure it's firmly docked, and connect the dock to your computer via eSATA or USB 2.0. If you want USB 3.0 in your dock, there's a model for that supports it. The best part about the BlacX series is that the drives are hot-swappable, so pop one out and put in another just like you're swapping USB keys. Have more than one drive you want to connect? Try the BlacX Duet, which supports two drives. Have a bit more to spend? Grab the USB 3.0-equipped version.
If you need the ultimate in portability, the Vantec NexStar TX offers a rugged aluminium case in an incredibly slim and affordable sled. One of you mentioned that Vantec is almost a standard in a lot of IT shops, and I can concur -- the TX is a popular choice for technicians and minimalists alike looking to make the most of their drives without giving up too much space. The TX supports SATA drives and connects to your PC via USB 2.0. If you need a little more speed or have larger drives, consider the Vantec NexStar 3 NST series, which offer eSATA and USB 3.0 connectivity for your 3.5-inch drives.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Make your case for your favourite -- or alternative -- in the discussions below.