External Storage Meets Internal Connectivity
In a word of expandable storage, sometimes you forget the simple pleasures of a hot swap bay within your system. They are typically only featured in servers, possibly even only the high-end ones, and don’t often make their way into the mainstream arena. ICY DOCK, however, specializes in all sorts of external and internal docking systems, and have sent us one to check out. It comes in the form of a model dubbed the ExpressCage, or a MB322SP-B to be more specific. We are also going to be looking at an M.2 SATA > SATA 2.5″ adapter which promises zero loss of performance. Let’s dig in…
To start off with, the Express Cage offers dual 2.5″ HDD/SSD bays as well as an internal 3.5″ bay. Whilst the packaging does not mention anything about hot swapping your drives, I suspect it is due to you needing to set this up in your BIOS more than anything else.
It is a rather boring looking box, though it is typically aimed at those specifically looking for such a product rather than it standing out on a shelf among a thousand other options. It’s functional, and that’s what matters. On the front, there’s information regarding its connectivity options and a few of the key specs to take note of; namely being the dual 2.5″ bays, SATA 6 Gbps connectivity and its maximum supported size of disk in terms of physical dimensions.
On the rear, we have a more detailed breakdown of the specifications and a host of different languages regarding the key specs. The sides of the boxes contain quick install guides for the various components, though I won’t bore you with the details on that. I feel like giving it a mention is enough for everyone.
Brushed Aluminum is Gorgeous!
It’s still just as classy as when it first came out. I don’t think this is one that’ll ever go out of style. The drive cage has ventilation holes in the top to aid with drive cooling. Some may not care what it looks like, but if it is on display, at least it’ll be a good show.
The drive bays come out as if they were hot swap bays in a server. It’s a very neat trick and something I’ve recently grown to love with the multiple servers that I have. Check this out. You push the button and then pull the tab. It couldn’t be any easier.
Once the drive cage is out, you have a couple of options with regards to mounting your 2.5″ drive. You can place it in there with zero additional screws required, as if it were for a quick data transfer. You can also choose to secure them with two screws toward the SATA connection itself.
This is where you’d secure your drives with screws. I haven’t screws my drive(s) down as they will be hot swapped multiple times for quicker data transfers.
Given that this drive bay is essentially just a pass-through, we are expecting to see zero performance degradation. This story is the same for the M.2 SATA to SATA 2.5″ converter. I’ll cover that in just a few moments. The bay takes one SATA power connector and two SATA data cables. I’m glad to see that it only uses one power cable as it is more than enough for any two drives in there.
The M.2 SATA to 2.5″ SATA Adapter
While we are on the topic of packaging, let’s take a moment to get familiar with the M.2 SATA to 2.5″ SATA converter. The specific model number relating to this product is MB703M2P-B. The front and back of the box convey a lot of information regarding the product, similar to the dock above; and have some curb appeal to go with it.
Within the package is a plastic cartridge that houses the adapter. It’s simple yet effective at providing adequate protection during transportation.
As the adapter provides a direct link between the drive and a SATA cable, it entirely eliminates any sort of performance loss. Here’s what the PCB looks like. As you can see, there’s nothing more than a few power regulating components on the board.
Installing any SATA M.2 SSD into the adapter is straightforward and takes minimal time thanks to the tool-less design. To mount your drive, you simply move the slider into the correct position. The adapter supports anything from 2230 (30mm) to 2280 (80mm) long drives. Those lengths encompass pretty much all of the mainstream drives, except for the 22110 (110mm) drives that have surfaced every once in a while.
Having read the claims from ICY DOCK that there’s zero speed reduction, I was eager to put it to the test. I had no reason to disbelieve the claims, the reviewer in me just wanted to know the real deal.
On test were a pair of Crucial MX500 250GB drives as well as a 1TB Samsung 860 EVO M.2 (SATA) to put the hardware through the wringer. The idea was to test both of the hot swap bays simultaneously to find out if we’d witness any bottleneck.
From prior testing, the MX500 drives are capable of approximately 550/520 MBps read/write speeds on our particular test system. The 860 EVO is in a very similar boat, only fluctuating by a couple of MBps here and there. Some people have different results, but that’s what our particular system and drives were capable of.
I know that we all like our pictures, so here are a couple of stats from the M.2>SATA adapter to show you the real world difference in performance. The first one is installed directly on the motherboard, and the second is through the dock.
With that in mind, I am very happy to report that there were indeed no speedlosses to be seen. The benchmarks fluctuate within a margin of error, which is normal, but nothing more than that. This was the case for both the M.2 > SATA adapter as well as the ExpressCage. Even when both drives were loaded simultaneously, there was zero speed reduction. That’s due to the drives being on their own data cables, and isn’t an unexpected result.
Time to Conclude…
Although this has been somewhat out of my regular review routine, I did enjoy testing something different. It’s good to change your habits around from time to time. Anyway, that’s my side of the story, so it is now time to conclude and see whether or not these components are something you should look at when looking for expandable/external storage.
Although not too many names spring to mind when considering such a docking device, I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised with multiple aspects of the ExpressCage and the M.2 > SATA converter. The foremost thought is the quality. They aren’t overly expensive components, with both of them being under $30, which can sometimes lead to inferior quality. That’s not the case with ICY DOCK, though. Both the ExpressCage and M.2 converter feel sturdy and well made. Considerable thought has gone into their production and layout as well, which only adds to the overall quality of the devices.
Another thought I have is the aesthetics of the device, specifically on the ExpressCage. I love brushed aluminum, and they definitely made the right choice. Although we reviewed a dual 2.5 inch bay with the option to add another 3.5 inch internally, ICY DOCK have a multitude of different options available. We just happened to choose this one (thanks to Chris!) as we felt it would be most appropriate for our audience.
Does ICY DOCK get your cash?
If you were looking for such a device, then I would absolutely recommend looking at their product lines. High quality, great looks, and superb performance makes it hard to pass up. The pricing is right as well, so that’s just one more reason to consider them.
With all of the above in mind, I do believe that ICY DOCK have earned an award from us today. Although they’re not the most commonly sought after parts, as I mentioned before, they are still desired by more than we probably know. I’ve thought long and hard about this one. The most appropriate for the ExpressCage are our Great Style and Great Value awards.
The M.2 to SATA adapter deserves an award for its simplicity and function as well, which makes it fitting that it receives our Great Function award.
If you’d like to see others reviewed, just drop us a line, and we shall see what we can do. I’d like to finish off by thanking ICY DOCK for taking the time to contact us and allowing us to look at these products for today’s review.