STLab 3.5" Hard Disk Drive Enclosure: Now with SATA Interface

Today we would like to proceed with our tests of external hard disk drive enclosures from STLab. This time we will look at the advantage of the Serial ATA interface compared with the USB 2.0. You may guess that SATA is better, but I don’t think you know how much better it can be. Check out our review for more performance details!

by Andrey Kuznetcov
07/08/2005 | 07:36 AM

Not so long ago we reviewed two external enclosures for hard disk drives designed by STLab and VIPoweR (for more details please see our review called Two 3.5" External Enclosures for Hard Disk Drives with USB 2.0 Interface). Both solutions supported USB 2.0 interface.

 

Today we would like to introduce to you another product from STLab, that differs from the previously reviewed one by the support of Serial ATA interface in addition to the USB 2.0. Of course, in our today’s article we will be focusing specifically on the performance of the device via this particular interface.

Closer Look: STLab S-121 USB2.0/SA-HDD3-EUR-1

Since we have already described the STLab S-101 in the article mentioned above, and even included the pictures of the S-121 model there, we will not dwell on the detailed description of the latter. I would only like to mention that all enclosures from STLab feature metal casing, which makes them very mechanically robust. Another positive consequence of this solid design is the superior heat dissipation the enclosure provides under heavy HDD workload even without any additional air coolers. And our testing will prove that.

The screenshot above taken from the manufacturer’s web-site shows clearly that there are three modifications of the enclosure available that look very similar to one another. Besides the two models I have already mentioned above, there is the third one, which supports not only USB 2.0 interface but also FireWire 1394a. In other words, each user will be able to find something meeting his of her specific needs.

The recommended retail price of the S-121 model is about $55.

Testbed and Methods

As you may have already guessed we will stick to the same testing methodology as in our previous test session mentioned above. We estimated the efficiency of the enclosure in question with the help of a Hitachi HDS722525VLAT80 hard disk drive. Its potential performance is high enough to ensure significant workload on the SATA interface, that is more powerful than the previously considered USB 2.0.

We used WinBench 99 2.0 and FC-Test 1.0 to investigate the speed characteristics of the hard disk drive. The testbed was configured as follows:

Of course, the results obtained in this test session will be compared with those obtained in our previous test session (for details please check our review called Two 3.5" External Enclosures for Hard Disk Drives with USB 2.0 Interface).

Performance in WinBench 99

We will start the discussion of the Winbench 99 results with the internal transfer rate measurements:

As we see, the bandwidth of the SATA interface appeared just enough not to spoil the nice and smooth transfer graph: perfect stepping shape exceeding the 60MB/s point.

Now let’s see what results were obtained for the enclosure with the hard disk drive formatted for FAT32 file system. Note that hereinafter any mention of the S-121 enclosure implies that it works via SATA interface. On the first diagram we see that our today’s hero is winning a convincing victory. The use of Serial ATA interface allows it to outperform its opponents working via USB 2.0 interface in both subtests of the Disk WinMark benchmark.

Even when the test storage capacity has been reduced to 32GB formatted for FAT32, the picture remains the same, as we can see from the next diagram. Only the numeric representation of the testing participants’ performance got slightly different. Again, the S-121 solution working via SATA interface outperforms its rivals. Just like in the previous case the performance advantage of our hero is most evident in High-End Disk WinMark test.

Now let’s pass over to the NTFS file system. In case the entire HDD storage capacity is involved, we see that S-121 dashes far ahead the competitors. In particular we would like to point out that it appeared almost 1.5 times faster than that VIPoweR solution in both subtests.

Does the reduction of the test storage space to 32GB change anything? The diagram above doesn’t show anything other than the higher overall numeric values. STLab S-121 is again significantly ahead of the competitors.

Performance in FC-Test

As usual, the major testing tool for singling out the fastest HDD enclosure is our own FC-Test. This benchmarking utility measures the time it takes to create (i.e. to write), to read and to copy several sets of files that differ in size and number of files included. Knowing this time we can calculate the speed of the drive.

The Windows and Programs patterns consist of many smaller files, while the other three patterns include just a few files but of larger size. Two 32GB partitions are created on the drive for the copy operations and the file patterns are first copied within the same partition (copy near) and then from one partition to another (copy far).

We will start with the discussion of the results obtained for FAT32 file system. The diagram of the file creation (i.e. write) speed suggests that the hard drive worked faster in the STLab S-121 enclosure. It retains its first position in all five patterns.

On the read speed diagram we see an indisputable triumph of the SATA interface supported by the S-121 chassis. The performance difference in patterns working with larger files is almost twofold that’s why we have every right to announce our hero’s victory.

When the drives were copying filed within a single partition, the S-121 solution again won the race. The HDD managed to run considerably faster in all five patterns when installed into this chassis.

The next diagram shows us how fast the files could be copied from one partition to another. Again we see that the SATA interface ensures indisputable advantage for the hard drive. S-121 container proves the most efficient when working in patterns with larger files.

Now it’s high time we paid some attention to the NTFS file system. The file creation (writing) doesn’t reveal any new leaders. Again the S-121 enclosure solution looks much more preferable.

The file read speed diagram doesn’t reveal anything new. As always the S-121 enclosure ensures the best results in all five patterns.

The same is true for file copy near test. As we have expected, S-121 solution is much more efficient than its opponents. The hard disk drive installed in this enclosure provides much faster file copying in all five patterns.

The last diagram shows the results during file copying from one partition to another. The outcome was actually quite predictable: S-121 proved the winner.

Conclusion

I don’t have even the slightest doubt that by this time you have already made up your mind about the STLab S-121 enclosure. If you connect it to your computer via the SATA interface it will provide much more efficient than its opponents. The performance difference you will notice in this case is so great that if you have the opportunity to use this particular interface, then you should definitely do so to reach the highest performance of your external storage subsystem. The price difference between the S-101 and S-121 models is not that significant, while the performance advantage you acquire with the addition of the SATA interface besides the regular USB 2.0 will increase the performance of the hard disk drive you are using especially if its features 7,200rpm spindle rotation speed.

The use of STLab S-121 enclosure will be absolutely justified if you can connect it to a SATA port at least in one of the locations, such as home or office. The advantages of this solution will not keep you waiting for long: you will be able to transfer much more data a lot faster, no doubt.