Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 1
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 04/04/2006
Author: Matt Krei (FragTek)
Hardware Acquired: Thermaltake


Introduction

One of the hottest areas of expansion in the computer industry right now is hard drive space.  With this, it seems to be a growing fad to have a smaller and smaller case.  So the question is, "How do I achieve more disk space if I don't have room inside of my computer, and if I go to an external solution wont I take a serious performance hit?"  If this is the situation you're currently in, you may be happy to know that there are options!

In todays review of the new Thermaltake Muse eSATA external hard drive enclosure we will learn both the pro's and cons of going external via SATA interface.  We'll also have a clear unbiased head to head comparison with a few other common hard drive setups to see if an external enclosure can keep up with todays hard drive speed demands.  Read on to find out more about this enclosures capabilities...

Packaging
  
Thermaltake Muse Thermaltake Muse

Thermaltake's packaging is quite straightforward and not overly flashy.  On the front of the box you'll find a good picture of the enclosure along with a detailed list of specifications and included accessories inside the box.  Upon turning the box over you'll find small pictures of the enclosure from all angles which is quite nice if you're shopping around and trying to find an enclosure that's aesthetically pleasing.  This allows you to see what it looks like without cracking open the box and taking a peek.

Thermaltake Muse Thermaltake Muse

Inside of the neatly packed box you'll find all of the gear which includes the enclosure, a stand to mount it vertically, a pci backplate, eSATA cable, and users manual.  My enclosures vertical stand had a few scratches on one side from its bumpy trip straight from Taiwan via FedEx but I suspect that pallet stacked retail shipments endure much less stress during transit and that this won't  be a problem with retail units.  All of the cables were bundled together nicely with twist-ties and everything seemed to be in order inside of the box.


Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 2
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 04/04/2006
Author: Matt Krei (FragTek)
Hardware Acquired: Thermaltake


Features

Here are the boasted features of the Muse enclosure directly from Thermaltake:


Specifications

Specs pulled directly from Thermaltakes website:

P/N
A2319
Case Type
3.5" SATA HDD
Weight
745g
Dimension
219x125x40.5mm
Material
Aluminum
Interface
SATA to eSATA
SATA compatibility
SATA2, SATA1
Transfer rate
up to SATA2 300MB/s
Compatiable System
PC & MAC
Accessories
eSATA external cable
Metal foot stand
SATA to eSATA PCI bracket


Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 3
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 04/04/2006
Author: Matt Krei (FragTek)
Hardware Acquired: Thermaltake


Appearance

The new Thermaltake Muse enclosure is definately a great looking enclosure.  It breaks free from the more typical black enclosures found on the market which may fit better with your computers color scheme.  Thermaltake has also kept the design very "edgy" and boxy and has tried to stay away from curviture which I believe gives the drive a very distinct, professional look.  One thing you may notice on the drive right away is the blue analog style gauge on the side of the enclosure.  This gauge supposedly measures and displays the data transfer rate of the drive as it's being accessed but we'll talk more about this later in the review.

Thermaltake Muse Thermaltake Muse
Thermaltake Muse Thermaltake Muse

From what I've gathered recently it seems that silver is becoming a hugely popular choice for computers.  That makes this drive the perfect companion for your newly assembled silver-case computer.  However if you have a black computer this drive still looks great with it as black and silver go together very well.  All in all Thermaltake did a great design job here and has not tried to make the enclosure to flashy or "space-aged" which will make it appeal to a much larger audience.

Now let's see how she performs...

Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 4
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 04/04/2006
Author: Matt Krei (FragTek)
Hardware Acquired: Thermaltake


Cables & Accessories

Included in the package you will find everything needed to get setup and running in a matter of 10-15 minutes.  The first piece that you may notice is the PCI backplate with a pair of inputs on the front then leading to 3 cables on the back side.  The left most input on the backplate is the SATA connector, and right next door is the power connector which also has a very small cable with a spot to plug in to your motherboards HDD LED connector and then pass-thru for your case HDD LED connector.  This enclosures power is fed straight from your power supply with no support to be powered via external power adapter.  This can be good and bad.  On the plus side, there is no need for a clunky wall adapter which you can never find a spot for and streamlines the cabling a considerable amount.  On the other side of things if you are running an HTPC or other small computer you may have used all of your 4-pin molex connectors, thus needing to hunt down a Y-splitter.  Some super small mATX mini cases are coming with 200-250w psu's as well, depending on the hardware inside of that little box you may be a bit shy of the power required to operate this enclosure but this would be a very rare circumstance it seems.

Thermaltake Muse Thermaltake Muse

One of the first things you may or may not notice when looking at the PCI bracket is that the SATA cable used is only a standard SATA 150 style cable.  I thought this was supposed to be a SATAII compliant enclosure?  We'll have at look at the performance on the following pages but I just wanted to point this out while we have the picture in front of us for inspection.  The interconnect cable on the other hand - the cable that connects the enclosure to the PCI bracket - looks to be a much more beefy cable which would imply that it's more than likely a true SATAII compliant cable.  Both the SATA interconnect cable and the DC power cable are fairly lengthy which makes it easy to find a good place to put your enclosure.  I've run in to problems on other enclosures with the cables being far to short and greatly limiting the area in which I can comfortably place the unit.

Thermaltake Muse

On the back of the enclosure is where you'll find the neatly lined up and clearly marked connectors.  There's only two so it's not very hard to get hooked up and running with this enclosure.  Both cables lock nicely in place and don't look as if you'll have a problem with them trying to wiggle out over time (a common problem with one of my current USB enclosures).


Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 5
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 04/04/2006
Author: Matt Krei (FragTek)
Hardware Acquired: Thermaltake


Installation

Installing the PCI backplate was a cinch, I had a perfect spot for it between my bottom video card and my sound card.  Depending on how small your case is or how tightly you may have your case packed with expansion cards I can see potential for not everyone having room for this but the odds are pretty low of that happening.  The whole installation process took me about 15 minutes or so.  The longest part was trying to get my fat hands through my cables and tubing to where I could get a good angle to unplug my HDD LED cable and get it attached to the lead coming from the PCI backplate (this is to operate the analog data transfer gauge).  Other than that, simply plug the SATA cable in to a free SATA header on the motherboard and find a free 4-pin molex for the power and you're done inside of the case.

Thermaltake Muse

Installing your chosen hard drive in the enclosure couldn't be an easier process. The enclosure itself is a screwless design with an easy-open lever on the side that allows you to swing open the case.  Inside you'll find your two small cables for your data and power headers on the hard drive.  Simply plug these in and set your hard drive in the enclosure over the 4 pins in the base of the case which will slip in to the hard drives underside mounting holes.  There's a thick rubbery-type pad on the top of the enclosure that sandwiches the hard drive in place very well when you close up the case, after a big of gentle shaking I couldn't hear anything moving inside.  This makes the enclosure a great candidate for mobility as your HD won't be banging around inside while you're traveling.

Just as a quick note, you can also see in the above picture that Thermaltake has yet again used a SATA150 inside of the enclosure to connect the hard drive to the PCB.  This could prove to be detrimental to the boasted performance ratings from Thermaltake.

Once you've installed your hard drive the only thing left to do is connect the two external cables provided to you in the kit, flip the power switch, and boot up your computer.  Voila!  Instant SATA hard drive space.  It took me a total of two reboots before it was completely setup and ready for use in Windows Server 2003.

Now let's see how this enclosure stacks up to the competition!


Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 6
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 04/04/2006
Author: Matt Krei (FragTek)
Hardware Acquired: Thermaltake


Performance

Now we're going to take this enclosure head-to-head with another external enclosure to see if it can hold its own.  We'll also do a benchmark comparison between this enclosure and a pair of RAID 0 74gb Raptors just to see how it stacks up as a contendor for maximum speed portable external storage.

Test Rig Specs:
Our Thermaltake Muse eSATA enclosure being tested has been fitted with a 250gb Hitachi SATAII Deskstar with 8mb cache.

Thermaltake Muse

The first benchmark comparison conducted was against a PPA USB 2.0 enclosure with a 300gb Maxtor IDE with 16mb cache.  Let's have a look at the outcome of the speed tests...

 Thermaltake Muse

On this graph, the red line & bar indicate the USB enclosure and the blue line & bar represent the Thermaltake Muse eSATA enclosure.  As you can see there is absolutely no competition between the two, the SATA enclosure completely dominates in every catagory.  The eSATA enclosure shows an increase of speed over the USB enclosure in random access time, average read speed, sequential read speed, and burst speed.  You may however notice that the burst speed, average read, and sequential read speed aren't that of what a true SATAII drive should produce.  Going back to earlier in the review where I had noted the lack of true SATAII cabling both on the PCI bracket and inside of the enclosure itself, this is where the problem lies.  If Thermaltake were to revamp the entire system using SATAII cables throughout we would more than likely be able to see a massive hike in performance.

These results are nothing to scoff at however.  The performance of this enclosure is unrivaled by any USB enclosure and is very economical as the price of SATA/SATAII drives are falling rapidly and can be found cheaper than IDE drives in some cases.

Performance results continued on next page...


Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 7
Performance Continued

Now that we've seen how well the enclosure performs against a typical USB 2.0 enclosure let's see how it stacks up against an internal RAID setup. We'll be testing the enclosure against a pair of RAID 0 Western Digital 74gb SATA150 Raptors running on the nF4 chipset via nVRAID.

Thermaltake Muse

The RAID 0 setup shows a healthy increase in performance over the eSATA setup. This is a bit dissapointing considering the fact that this enclosure is supposed to be fully SATAII compatible when in reality is not. The RAID setup beats out the eSATA setup in every catagory just as the eSATA enclosure had done to the USB 2.0 enclosure. This is where it becomes apparent that Thermaltake should rewire and re-release the unit with true support for SATAII. Until that time it will never fully live up to its expectations as a SATAII compliant enclosure.

Now may also be a good time to comment on the enclosures analog data transfer gauge. The gauge on my enclosure barely works. The highest the meter will ever get is 2 out of 9 and just kind of bounces quickly between 0 and 2 most of the time. The gauge serves no real purpose but the idea behind it is kind of cool. The gauge also does not differentiate from what hard drive is being used when the needle is bouncing around due to the fact that it uses the motherboards HDD LED connector. Whenever any of your systems main drives are being accessed, the needle will move on the external enclosure. It's a pretty flawed design to be completely honest. If Thermaltake were to add a higher voltage line to the meter, along with program the internal board to emit the data transfer statistics of only the enclsosures hard drive they would be hitting a home-run. It still wouldn't serve any great purpose but at least it would work and look good doing it.


Thermaltake Muse eSATA External SATA II Enclosure Page: 8
Conclusion

Overall Thermaltake has designed a decent enclosure here. It looks great and it gets the job done, those are two very important points. Performance of the unit is definately not up to par as what Thermaltake boasts but it does outperform any USB 2.0 enclosure by a long shot. I'd never buy another USB enclosure after using this Thermaltake product. The phsyical build quality of the enclosure is second to none, it's very sturdy and solid. No corners have been cut in the manufacturing process of this unit (not including the circuitry or poor choice of SATA150 cables that the enclosure utilizes).

The Thermaltake Muse eSATA enclosure is definately a cost effective way of adding hard drive space without comprimising a lot of performance loss albeit it still can't hold a flame to most internal hard drive setups.

If I were on the market to purchase a new external enclosure this would definately be one of the contenders for my money.

Pro's
-Great design
-High build quality
-Much higher performance than USB 2.0 enclosures
-Cost effective storage solution
-Easy installation

Con's
-Does not perform to factory specification
-Analog data transfer gauge barely works

OC3D Recommended Product

We have contacted ThermalTake to ask them if they wish to give us any feedback on this review and perhaps answer any of the questions raised. We will update this review with anything that they come back to us with.

Feel free to discuss this review in the OC3D forums here...