Thermaltake BlacX 5G USB 3.0 HDD Docking Station Review

ajmatson - 2010-09-17 12:21:20 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: October 6, 2010
Price: $59.99

Introduction:

Thermaltake changed the way we swap hard drives in 2008, when they introduced the original BlacX Docking Station.  They took it to the next level when they brought to us a dual drive configuration with the ability to read and write to two separate drives simultaneously with the BlacX Duet. The BlacX Duet also brought eSATA to the docks, giving us faster read and write speeds to the docked drives. Once more Thermaltake re-writes the dock design with newer technology that is designed to give us blazing fast transfer speeds - up to 5Gbps with the Thermaltake BlacX 5G. The BlacX 5G uses the new USB 3.0 interface found on newer motherboards and offers transfer speeds topping out at 5Gbps, which is a huge improvement over the limit of 480Mbps for USB 2.0, making USB 3.0 up to 10 times faster. The BlacX also supports Serial ATA drives with the new 3.0 specification which increases speeds up to 6Gbps, as well as SATA 2.0 and 1.0 drives. With the fast combination of the increased USB interface and the faster SATA 6Gbps drives this device is a force to be reckoned with. Now that I have you intrigued, let's tear it open and start looking at the dock in its glory.

 

Closer Look:

The Thermaltake BlacX 5G comes packaged in the dark black and reddish themed box that Thermaltake has been using for some time. On the front there are the logos for the technology support, including USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0Gbps. There is also a picture of the dock with a drive in it. Flipping over to the rear there is a list of some of the features in an impressive twelve different languages. On the sides is where most of the useful information is stated. The left side displays a breakdown of the features of the BlacX 5G as well as some pictures showing how the features work and what is included with the dock. On the right is a listing of the specifications for the Thermaltake BlacX 5G, which will be listed for you later in the review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once everything is removed from the box you can see what sets the BlacX 5G apart. Included with the dock itself is a power cable, a blue USB 3.0 cable, the instructions, warranty, and two silicone protectors for your hard drives which we will take a better look at in a minute.

 

Now that everything is out of the box, we can see how the drive works.

Closer Look:

The Thermaltake BlacX 5G looks almost identical to the original BlacX with the exception of a new power button and the re-placement of the eject lever. Other than that, they are twins on the outside. The BlacX 5G is designed to be an open dock, which allows you to quickly place a hard drive into the slot and start transferring.  This process does not require the removal of any screws, installation of a drive into an enclosure or even the repeat of such process with multiple drives.  Hence, the BlacX 5G makes copying data from multiple drives faster and easier then before. The open dock also helps fight the heat that normally builds up in a standard enclosure, since the design is completely open. On the front of the dock there is the logo and right above it on the top is the Superspeed logo with the power button. On the rear is the power port and the blue USB 3.0 port. To eject the drive safely, there is an eject lever on the right side of the dock. When you push it a set of gears and a lever slide the drive up allowing you to remove it without damaging the SATA power or data interfaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back of the dock is the connection area. To the left is the DC IN power plug port and to the right is the blue USB 3.0 port. When you look at the USB 3.0 port, you can see it closely resembles a 2.0 port with the addition of the bottom connector. If you look at the USB 3.0 cable pictured below you can see the split between the top and the bottom of the connector better. This allows the data to travel at "Superspeed" by signals running at full duplex over both sets of pins, giving you the faster transfer speeds. An older USB 2.0 cable can be used on the dock but, since it only has the single pair of wires, the dock will run at reduced speeds.

 

Looking down inside the dock, you can see the Serial ATA interface which provides the data and power connection. Next to the interface you can see the ejecting mechanism which safely allows the drive to be removed. Just as with other BlacX docks, the 5G can accommodate both 3.5 inch and 2.5 inch hard drives and SSDs. The flap that covers the interface adjusts based on what size drive is inserted, keeping it stable when spinning so that no damage will occur to the interface on the dock or the drive.

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To add even more protection to the drives Thermaltake has included two silicone sleeves which slide over the drives. This keeps them from being damaged when being laid down before and after being used in the dock. This also protects them when in the dock from falling or other debris. I found them to be very useful for keeping a tight grip on the drives when they are being inserted and removed from the dock.

 

Now that everything has been taken out and examined, we can plug it in and see how the USB 3.0 perform.

Specifications:

Enclosure Interface:  
SATA / SSD to USB 3.0
Transfer Rate:
USB 3.0: up to 5Gbps
HDD Compatible:
SATA I / II / III & SSD
HDD Capacity:
All Standard 2.5” or 3.5” SATA & SSD Hard Drives
OS Compatible:
Microsoft Windows 7 / Vista / XP / 2003 / 2000
Mac 10.3 and later
Material:
ABS Plastic
Power:
Input: 100-240V / 50-60Hz ; Output: 12V / 2A
Dimension:
136 (W) x 73 (D) x 88 (H) mm
5.35 (W) x 2.87 (D) x 3.46 (H) inch
Accessory:
USB 3.0 Cable
Power Adaptor (CE, FCC, GOST R Certified)
HDD Silicone Jacket - 3.5" (x1) & 2.5" (x1)
Fan:
N/A
Weight:
312 g / 0.69 lbs
Special Features:
*Supports SATA III (6 Gb/s) Hard Drives with maximum speed up to 5.0 Gb/s (maximum theoretical speed offered by USB 3.0).

 

Features:

 

All information courtsey of Thermaltake USA @ http://www.thermaltakeusa.com/Product.aspx?S=1268&ID=1981#Tab0

Testing:

Now we get down to the performance side of the review. I have seen early runs of USB 3.0 at CES 2010, but this is the first time since getting my USB 3.0 motherboard that I have been able to see the true speeds first hand. I am going to be running a series of benchmarks that will test the speeds of the dock and the drives that are attached to it. I will be using three drives in the tests, a Seagate 750GB 7200 RPM 3.5 inch HDD, a Seagate Momentus HT 500GB Hybrid Drive, and an OCZ Vertex 2 120GB Solid State Drive. I will also be using the same three drives in the original BlacX and a Kingwin EZ-Dock for comparison. The EZ-Dock features USB 2.0 and eSATA so both interfaces will be run to show the differences between USB 3.0 and eSATA.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Docks:

 

Drives used:

 

Benchmarks:

 

 

HD Tune:

HDTune allows you to do many things with hard drives beyond benchmarking, however, for the purposes of this review I just used it for benchmarking. After the benchmark finished I recorded the Average Transfer Rate, Access Time, Burst Rate, and CPU Usage.

 

 

 

SiSoft Sandra:

SiSoft Sandra allows you to run a veriety of hardware benchmarks on your PC. For the purposes of testing I investigated Physical and File Systems in both Drive Index and Access Time. Upon completion of each test I marked down testing statistics

 

 

 

Real Time File Transfer:

Here I take 10MB, 100MB, and 500MB zipped files and transfer them from Internal drive to external and internal to internal. During each transfer I start a stopwatch at the beginning and stop it at the end and then record the time it took for the transfer to complete. For me 1 second was an instant transfer, as in no dialog box showed for it, it completed before one could be displayed.

 

 

The USB 3.0 tests' performance just literally blew away the USB 2.0 tests' performance. There was just no competition between the two. The transfers were that on par with the internal and eSATA connections, which allows you to have internal transfer speeds from an external dock.

Conclusion:

The Thermaltake BlacX 5G is an amazing external transfer solution. I was impressed with the early USB 3.0 results at CES and I am even more impressed with them now. The transfer speeds and real world tests were almost dead on with internal and eSATA speeds. They, by far, trumped the aging USB 2.0 tests with no prejudice. If you look at the real time transfer tests, which is what this dock is all about (transferring files), the slowest time it took to transfer a 1GB file was 10.8 seconds on the 3.5 inch hard drive. The USB 2.0 version of the Thermaltake BlacX and the EZ-Dock with a USB 2.0 connection both took over 27 seconds for the same file to the same drive. That is almost two thirds faster in transferring the 1GB file with the new USB 3.0 specifications.

The openness of the BlacX series has been perfect for those of us who need to swap disks quickly without having to unscrew an enclosure and replace the drive. This makes cloning, backing up, and more a snap with the insert and go style. I also commend Thermaltake for including the silicone sleeves. While this may seem simple, having the added layer of protection makes worrying about your precious hardware a little less. If you need a quick and fast external solution, then the Thermaltake BlacX 5G is the device to go to. If you are already an original BlacX user I highly recommend upgrading to the newer version. The faster USB 3.0 speeds will blow you away.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: