Product: Dual SATA HDD Multi-Function Dock
System Specifications: SATA 2.5-inch HDD, SATA 3.5-inch HDD, e-SATA, USB 2.0, SD, MicroSD, Memory Stick, Sim Card, Wifi
Price: $92 + shipping
BRANDO IS ONE of those online electronics retailers that discovers and produces some odd, but often very useful bits equipment for gadget enthusiasts. These range from a wristwatch to remotely control your TV, DVD and PVR to external open air hot-swap hard drive docking stations. The latter are for real techies and accept every memory card known to man, with all the possible combinations of connections.
We've seen its range of external hard drive docking stations evolve from one to house just one desktop HDD to ones geared for smaller laptop hard drives with capabilities to support a few memory cards.
This docking station can handle all the different storage devices one could ever want or need to access. There's not one but two hot-swap hard drive bays on the top of the device, one for a standard 3.5-inch desktop drive and another for a 2.5-inch notebook drive, up to the capacity of 2 Terabytes. The HDDs are slotted into the docking station vertically, with the drives' ports facing downwards. Once the SATA connections are made the drive fits comfortably into its new housing, with the larger drive completely filling the space and the smaller drive having a template to surround the 2.5-inch HDD's excess space. Thanks to them being largely exposed while connected, heat wasn't an issue with the 2TB drives we used for testing, from both Western Digital and Seagate, as they fell into the greener category of low powered, low noise desktop hard drives. Although cooling might be a worry for some users, just being sensible about the drives' usage and not taxing them too much will calm most concerns.
Also on top of the docking station and just in front of the drive bays are two standard USB 2.0 ports for flash drives or anything else with USB 2.0 connections. In front of them is an array of power lights and an OTB button. OTB stands for One Touch Backup, and it does what it says on the tin. It's a button for backing up the HDDs with just one touch. This can be used in a couple of different ways in conjunction with accompanying software, or even without the computer needing to be powered on at all. Two presses of that button with just the power cable attached can copy the entire contents from one hard disk drive to another, using the docking station alone. In our tests a 120GB drive full of data took one hour and five minutes to copy the entire contents onto a 2TB HDD.
Provided at the rear of the docking station are two ports for computer connectivity, eSATA and the almost square Type B USB socket. There are advantages and disadvantages in using both with respect to transfer speed and flexibility. ESATA offers the best transfer speeds of data to and from an external hard drive, but this limits the flexibility. It's the reverse for USB, which is highly flexible but the transfer speeds are limited in comparison to eSata. In terms of flexibility eSATA is limited as a reboot of the computer is needed each and every time you insert a new HDD into the docking station, which isn't the case when connecting with a USB cable. Using the USB port offers the ability to hot-swap the hard drives in the docking station which is a great selling point and one of the most useful aspects, but the trade off is speed for this feature.
Below are some bench mark results using both eSATA and the USB port for accessing the hard disk drives on the docking station. Clearly highlighted in the results is the benefit of the external SATA speeds over USB, with the latter being thwarted by its own speed limitations. We did discover another downside to using eSATA, in that only one hard drive can be used and accessed at any time, since the second hard drive is disabled and hidden.
Adding more to the argument that this docking station is truly the Swiss army knife of docking stations is the SIM card feature, as a SIM card can be slotted in the docking station in much the same way as memory card or a USB stick can. This provides access to a SIM card by using accompanying software for reading and writing data to and from a card. The USIM Editor software shows all the contact details on the SIM card, with names and numbers properly displayed and formatted for exporting to a file, which is one of its more useful features. This is ideal for migrating from one SIM to another SIM card or importing all the backed up contacts to a new phone's card. On many occasions the migration software for a phone is not all that friendly or the phone has just been lost, whereas this software is very easy to use for importing and exporting contacts.
There were some slight downsides to the SIM card functionality of the docking station. A reboot of the computer is required with a SIM card already in place before being able to use that aspect of the device. This is due to the drivers needed by the docking station having to be loaded at startup of the PC in order to provide access to the SIM card's operations. After these drivers are initially loaded a further reboot isn't necessary and multiple SIM cards can then be hot-swapped back and forth. This is also a useful feature to add a phone number or a series of numbers easily to a range of SIM cards, rather than having to manually enter all the details over and over again.
The manufacturer's website notes that the docking station is wireless, so we thought that data could also be transferred over the airwaves to the attached storage media. Sadly, we were mistaken as this wasn't the case after all. Built into the docking station is a Realtek RTL8191SU 802.11n chipset, which is initially presented as an additional network connection when connected via USB to a computer. In essence the docking station is also a wireless and USB adaptor but it isn't anything like a wireless NAS unit as we initially believed. We're sure countless others will be fooled by this too, as it's very vague on the website and a tad misleading.
If all this wasn't enough, the docking station provides access to a decent range of media cards. Supported formats come in the form of native microSD, SD and Sony's Memory Card stick. Running from the USB connections only, all of these worked well we discovered and even up to the capacity ceiling of those formats.
The docking station is a useful tool for real techies who like fast physical access to hard drives, or anyone adventurous enough to use their HDD outside of a temperature controlled case. With the multiple ports on offer, which aren't always available in a desktop computer but are in laptops, this could very well be a great little tool for any gadget enthusiast to have around. Some aspects seem a little redundant, such as the in-built WiFi adaptor. However, we're sure some might find a 802.11n wireless connection useful and we're guessing this could even pave the way for offering the next generation of this docking station as a wireless NAS. µ
Dual SATA HDD connections, both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives supported, multiple memory card access, SIM card support, eSATA and USB ports.
The WiFi feature is misleading.
Limited use with eSATA.
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ