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Vantec NexStar NST-250U2 USB 2.0 Enclosure Review

This is a review of the Vantec NexStar NST-250U2 USB 2.0 2.5" hard drive enclosure. It includes performance of the Samsung MP0402H Notebook Hard Drive when attached as an external drive on the USB 2.0 interface.

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Nexstar NST-250U2 Drive Enclosure Accessories Nexstar NST-250U2 Drive Enclosure

Review

I purchased this drive enclosure from Newegg.com on Aug. 22, 2004. The parts were received and this review written on Aug. 25 (revised Sep. 1). Here are the important specifications.

Pricing

newegg.com pricing on 08/22/2004:
NST-250U2 - $17.99
40GB OEM SAMSUNG 5400 MP0402H - $84.00
Shipping - $4.99

Assembly

Assembly was simple. Just remove the endcap and plug the drive into the IDE pins. Make sure pin 1 on the daughtercard aligns with pin 1 on the drive. Insert drive into the case. The case is an empty box with a piece of foam padding on the far end. The drive stays in place by friction at the far end and by attachment to the pins at the other end. I needed to screw in two screws to fixate the endcap on which the drive is attached. This required a very small philips screwdriver, the kind available in eyeglass repair kits.

USB Power

There is one USB cable (included) that attaches to the drive enclosure. The other end of that cable splits into two USB connectors, one of which is a passthrough connector (allows another device to be connected to it). Surveying the other USB-powered enclosures out there, they seem to come in several flavors as listed below. You will have to decide what works best for you.

With USB-powered drives in general, I have experienced and heard numerous stories of power problems and data corruption. Issues may occur if the drive is plugged into an unpowered USB hub or with other high-load devices (especially other drives). A typical problem is that one or more of the devices will not be detected, or they will drop in and out. I also heard of a drive that suddenly became unreadable until plugged into a Windows 98 computer. Another drive was unstable formatted as NTFS, but okay as FAT32.

Nevertheless, two USB ports up to specification and not under load from other devices supply just enough power for a typical notebook IDE drive. Case in point is the notebook drive I installed for this review, the Spinpoint M series MP0402H, 2.5" notebook drive, also purchased from NewEgg. It has 40 GB capacity, 8 MB buffer, 5400 RPM rotation rate, 3 year warranty, and $84 price tag. The max spin-up current draw is 5.0W at 5V, and during typical operation, the current draw is 2.4 Watts. A standard USB port supplies 500 mA at 5 V, or 2.5 Watts.

Therefore, you can see that a notebook drive will require power from two ports during spin-up and one port during usage. I suppose the drive can still spin up on just one port, but more slowly. Many reviewers report being able to use the drives on a single port, in which case the apparent disadvantage of two separate cables actually becomes a convenience over a single, split cable. One can just use the single cable by itself.

The NexStar NST-250U2 enclosure does not have a power switch, and remains on all the time. This is convenient when used with a desktop PC and to prevent accidental power-offs. However, with a laptop, the cable would have to be unplugged to turn it off. For extended use in low USB power situations, the enclosure also has a plug where a 5V DC power adapter can be plugged in. Unlike other enclosures, it does not come with such an adapter.

Appearance and Operation

After plugging in the USB cable, the drive spins up and becomes available in Windows XP within seconds. The drive is not audible during operation over background noise. It becomes warm to the touch, slightly warmer if it has been in operation. It compares to the way most laptops feel after being turned on for awhile, for obvious reasons. The color is dark grey with minimal white lettering, providing a simple, unassuming design that is appealing to me. A nice touch is the use of a standard green/orange activity LED, as opposed to those obnoxiously bright, 'fashion', blue LEDs. The enclosure fits neatly in a shirt breast pocket, along with its cable.

Problems

The device was detected by Windows XP SP2 immediately, but formatting the drive was troublesome. First, I tried to create a partition via the Logical Volumes manager in the Computer Management console of Windows XP. This failed with the error "windows could not format the drive" or "the format did not complete successfully". Then, I plugged the two cables from the top of my computer into the back of my computer, into two different USB panels. (The Asus A7N8X motherboard has 6 USB 2.0 ports, arranged in pairs at three different locations.) Instead of using the console, I opened a command prompt (cmd) and ran diskpart. I used diskpart to create the partition and assign a drive letter. (Note you have to type rescan to get the drive to show up.) Then I ran "format f: /fs:ntfs" from the command line, and this completed successfully after about half an hour.

After using it for about a week, I have noticed several problems with this enclosure. First, the drive disappears every time I power cycle my computer. I have to unplug and replug the USB cable so the drive is recognized again. A separate USB flash drive I use does not have this problem.

Another problem occurred with hibernation. After copying my work files to the drive, I put my computer into hibernation. When I resumed my computer from hibernation, a warning dialog appeared in Windows that said that data was lost when copying the file f:\$Mft. This was scary, but when I ran check disk on the drive, there were no errors. I also checked the disk properties, and it was set for "Quick Removal" with write-caching disabled, so the cause of this error is mysterious.

Large-capacity portable drives

Prior to owning this 40GB portable drive, the 256 MB compact flash drive I had been using had too little capacity, requiring manually copying a selection of my files. Now, I can just use any simple utility that synchronizes the entire contents of the specified folders, without worrying about going over capacity. Those who need greater capacity or speed can opt for notebook drives of up to 7200rpm and 80GB. With the 40GB 5400 rpm drive I chose, the total price came to $110. I do not copy huge amount of files, but it is convenient that the drive has a write speed of 10-20MB/sec, and read speed of close to 30MB/sec. There is also a huge advantage to not having to carry around a bulky power adapter, since I routinely take my files between different computers,

Summary

I have found this type of large-capacity, portable drive highly useful and convenient, but I can not say that this NexStar enclosure is recommended. While it works, the drive formatting and recognition issues are a drag. I would look for a better enclosure.

Performance Benchmark

System Configuration: Athlon XP Barton 2500+, Win XP Pro SP2, 1GB DDR
C: is 2x WD Raptor 36GB in RAID-0 (Striped for performance).

SiSoftware Sandra (Win32 x86) 2004.10.9.89

...
Test File Size : 1023MB

Buffered Read : 28 MB/s
Sequential Read : 28 MB/s
Random Read : 5 MB/s
Buffered Write : 26 MB/s
Sequential Write : 26 MB/s
Random Write : 7 MB/s
Average Access Time : 11 ms (estimated)

Drive Type : Hard Disk
Total Size : 37GB
Free Space : 36GB, 100%

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Created 2004-12-16, Last Modified 2011-07-24, © Shailesh N. Humbad
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