Everyone from multimedia enthusiasts to coding mavens can all appreciate extra disk space. However, not everyone has room for an extra internal hard drive in their tower or Mac. External drives are a quick and easy addition to any system. Unfortunately, pre-made external hard drives from companies like LaCie are overpriced and lackluster when it comes to features for the exorbitant price. The solution is to purchase an affordable internal hard drive somewhere like Newegg and stick it in an external enclosure such as the Vantec NexStar 3 I will be reviewing today.
Vantec has long been involved in the aftermarket computer parts manufacturing business. More commonly known for computer modding parts, their current product line-up is heavy on heatsinks, power supplies and external drive enclosures. The item up for review today is the NexStar 3 NST-360UF-BK external 3.5 inch hard drive enclosure featuring USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 hook-ups.
The principle behind external drive enclosures, whether they are 1.8 inch, 2.5 inch, 3.5 inch or 5.25 inch, is that you must bring your own drive - hard disk or optical (for the 5.25 inch enclosures). The NexStar 3 I have on hand supports hard drives with an IDE connection, however Vantec does offer other models that utilize Serial-ATA. The NexStar 3 comes equipped with everything you need to connect and start using your hard drive right out of the box.
The NexStar 3 case is made of a sleek mirror-finished black aluminum housing that acts as a heatsink for your hard drive, eradicating the need for a noisy fan. The case is composed of two parts, one which slides inside the other. To install your hard drive, just pry off the back-end with the ports.
It was at this point that I became aware of the fantastic build quality of the NexStar 3. The hard drive cage is made of sturdy steel and the power switch on the back plate is strong and feels durable. On the aluminum casing, there are indications of where each port is, which comes in handy if you are leaning over and trying to plugin something in. There's a small circuit board providing a 40-pin IDE ribbon cable and a 4-pin Molex power connector. At this point I just had to slide in my drive (I used a 250GB Western Digital Caviar SE drive), connect both cables and screw the hard drive in. Before closing the enclosure, I connected a small cable that powers the LED in the front of the enclosure.
There are two Firewire 400 ports, allowing you to daisy chain additional Firewire devices.
After fastening the final 2 screws which close up the enclosure, I plugged it in and connected it to my computer. The included power adapter is a good size, much smaller than the brick for my external Seagate drive. The NexStar's power adapter never got too hot during use, which is definitely a good thing when it will be living in the jungle of cables under my desk. There is one problem though. The supplied Firewire and USB cables are roughly 2 feet in length. Unless you have your computer on your desk, a 2 foot cable won't cut it. It's a good idea to purchase an aftermarket Firewire or USB 2.0 cable before setting up a NexStar 3. The supplied cables are also a bit thick and inflexible. However, once plugged into the NexStar 3, the cables were reluctant to tug loose which shows the quality of the ports.
One of the party pieces on Vantec's enclosure is the seductive blue power LED that doubles as a hard drive activity light. If you sleep in the same room as the enclosure, you might want to turn it off at night as the LED is rather bright.
Upon plugging it in to my Mac and PC, the NexStar was immediately discovered and installed in both without the need for additional drivers. I was able to format it just as easily. When comparing ATA hard drive speeds to that of the USB and Firewire interfaces, there is somewhat of a performance hit between 5 to 9MB/sec. However, this is typical of all circuitry converting IDE to USB/FW and is to be expected. External enclosures are generally for those that want mobility or don't have the luxury of an extra IDE port, so the slight performance drop is nothing to worry about.
The aluminum housing did its work quite well and after several hours of intensive use, the temperatures never crept up much higher than a hundred degrees Fahrenheit (~38 degrees Celsius). Compared to other external drive enclosures I have tested, the NexStar performs well. Other drives had easily heated up to 45 degrees Celsius. In addition, the NexStar comes with rubber feet to allay vibrations when placed horizontally, as well as a vertical stand for those that are real estate-limited.
Taking the temperature (in Fahrenheit) using a laser-sighted infrared thermometer.
The Vantec NexStar 3 is one of the best external hard drive enclosures I have dealt with. Top-notch materials and a slick design coupled with near silent operation (depending on your hard drive) allows the NexStar 3 to eclipse its competitors. At a retail price of 49.99 USD, it is more expensive than most but definitely worth it. In fact, this enclosure is the same one used by creative professionals such as Bryan Veloso and Matt Brett. With the NexStar 3 you won't be looking for a place to hide it from view, instead it will be the showcase of your workspace. If black is not your cup of tea, Vantec offers similar enclosures in red and blue.
- Great looks
- Innovative slide-apart housing
- Cables included
- Vertical stand
- Costs 50
- Short and stiff cables
- Vertical stand doesn't have rubber feet
and causes vibration