by Kevin O’Brien
As many notebook and desktop users are looking to store ever increasing amounts of data, the connection of choice these days for external enclosures is clearly eSATA. Connection speeds of eSATA easily surpass USB 2.0 and Firewire 800, while also being completely pin compatible (through adapter) to standard internal SATA devices. With its high transfer speeds and compatibility it is easy to see why eSATA devices and connections are turning up on almost everything these days. This review will cover the new Belkin SATA II ExpressCard adapter ($89.99), and some of the uses I found for it.
Belkin SATA II ExpressCard Specifications:
- Model: F5U239
- Ports: two eSATA
- Compatibility: Windows 2000, XP, 2003 Server, Mac OS X 10 and above
- Humidity: 5% – 95% non condensing (You may wish to reconsider for marine use)
- Interface: ExpressCard/54
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The Belkin SATA II ExpressCard requires no outside software for either Windows XP or Windows Vista. From the moment I plugged it in, Windows recognized it as Silicon Image SATA controller, and installed the required components, and device utility. Very painless, not even needing to connect to the Internet to pull in new drivers. Once its installation was completed, I connected my new external drive. Within a matter of seconds, the drive was detected and showing up under My Computer. For such a new high-tech interface, it would be easy enough for your parents to install on their home machine.
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When installed and operating, the card drew very little attention from the CPU. Under heavy disk activity, CPU use was identical to that of the internal hard drive. Even when working with both eSATA ports doing disk benchmarks at the same time, CPU usage was only 4-6%. Transfer speeds were consistent regardless of whether a single eSATA port was in use or if both were working. Below are two HDTune screenshots of benchmarks running concurrently:
Right away the unique aspect of the eSATA connection is its very high transfer speeds. eSATA is rated at 3.0Gbs compared to USB 2.0 at 480Mbs or Firewire 800 at 800Mbs. eSATA is so fast in fact that the drive itself becomes the performance bottleneck instead of the connection slowing things down. To show a real world example of this speed difference, here is a comparison between two 2.5” 120GB drives, one going through USB 2.0, with the other through eSATA.
In this first image with the USB 2.0 external drive, you can see how it’s pegged at the ~27MB/s speed limit (usable limit of USB 2.0) up until the drive speeds taper off. Take note of how processor intensive this USB 2.0 benchmark is compared to the next one.
In the next image you can see how it’s the drive itself that becomes the bottleneck, allowing much higher transfer speeds through the bulk of the drive.
While the above 2.5” 120GB drive did perform well through the eSATA connection, a larger 3.5” desktop drive is capable of almost double those speeds. Below is a HDTune screenshot of a new 320GB Seagate 7200.10 drive connected directly to the eSATA card through a cable adapter. As you can see, the difference is even greater when compared to the USB 2.0 image.
Unlike FireWire or USB, eSATA is completely pin-compatible with a standard SATA I or SATA II internal drive. What that means is you can use a simple connector adapter, and connect your eSATA card to all modern desktop or laptop SATA devices. While you will still have to provide your own external power source for the drive, it is still quite easy to work with bare SATA drives. I found this handy for onsite computer repairs around the neighborhood, where I could bring my notebook with me and handle all the virus scanning and spyware removal in a controlled manner. It also allowed me to quickly migrate data when upgrading computers, transferring data from an old SATA drive to a newer larger one.
The kit I assembled included the Belkin SATA II ExpressCard, the power brick from a Vantec USB>SATA adapter kit with included Molex to SATA power adapter, and a Kinamax SATA to eSATA adapter to connect a standard internal SATA device to my card. Total parts cost on top of the ExpressCard was $25. You really can’t beat that flexibility for such a low price. For mobile technicians, other handy items might include 2.5” and 3.5” eSATA external enclosures. These usually include their own power source for the installed drive, but can take up quite a bit of room in addition to other items to might already haul around.
The Belkin SATA II ExpressCard raises the bar for external storage for your laptop. It ends up being a win/win solution for compatibility and transfer speeds. The card requires no outside driver installation and is a breeze to setup. Once installed in your system, you can connect the eSATA drive to your system and it just works. On top of being incredibly easy to setup it performs better than any other affordable external interface standard. Better yet, it uses less of your processor, meaning better battery life when disconnected from AC power. You really can’t lose when purchasing this eSATA card for your laptop.
- Works as soon as you plug it in with no outside drivers
- Fast transfers
- Easy on the CPU (and battery!)
- Doesn’t fit flush inside your laptop (no eSATA cards do)