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June 17th, 2010:

Review: The Ineo Toaster Dock


I have a 320 GB SATA drive that got corrupted when power dropped during a thunderstorm. I lost nothing in terms of data (I do backups well here) but now I have this naked drive in the drawer. I want to go through it and make sure there’s nothing worth taking from it that wasn’t in my backups, and then low-level reformat it and see if it could again be of use.

This is something that most of us do from time to time. I have a small pile of hard drives downstairs on my shelves, pulled from defunct machines before they went to the recycler. A couple of the older ones (1.6 GB anyone?) I treated with one-clunk degunking (in which that single clunk is applied out on one of the flatter boulders behind the house, with a five-pound sledge) but there are some that are still large enough to be useful.

Ordinarily I stick them inside a system to examine and reformat them, but most of the systems in the house are now USFF Dells, and don’t have an “inside” as we define insides. My current Antec desktop tower, as nice as it is in some ways, is miserable to open up. I used to use my old Antec and just left the covers off, but then the mobo died, making it junk. It would be damned fine to have an easy way to connect the occasional drive to a system to work with it, without having to fuss with Metric screws and cables and covers.

IneoDockTopView.jpgOne solution is shown above and (top view) at left: The Ineo I-NA317U+ “toaster” dock. It’s a USB 3.0 device (which works at reduced speed at a USB 2.0 port) with a spring-loaded hatch on the top. You drop a SATA hard drive into the hatch and shove it down until the drive data and power connectors mate with those in the dock. That’s it. The drive then appears as a USB storage device to Windows and Linux without any additional fuss or installing of drivers. The hatch has a notch in the connector corner sized to fit a 2.5″ laptop SATA drive. When you drop in a 2.5″ drive, the hatch doesn’t push down and away, but acts as a positioning guide. The SATA connectors are physically identical irrespective of the size of the drive, and located on the drive end plates so that the dimensions from the corner of the drives are the same on both 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives.

The dock requires a separate wall-wart power supply; there’s not enough power available from a typical USB connector to run both the drive and the dock. (USB 3.0 is more power hungry than 2.0, evidently.) The cable is also different from the conventional USB 2.0 model, and relatively short, at 3′. SATA drives are hot-swappable, and you don’t have to power-down the dock or the system to change drives in the dock. Just do the usual USB unmount, and you can then pull the drive up and out of the dock without damage.

The Ineo device worked flawlessly the first time. It’s SATA only, and I have begun looking for something similar for ordinary parallel ATA drives. I know that ATA drives aren’t hot swappable, so I may be forced to use an ordinary external USB enclosure and just not screw the top back on, but I can live with that. SATA is the future, and as I migrate away from ATA-equipped SX270 USFF machines to SATA-equipped SX280s the Ineo dock will become more and more generally useful.

About $50. (Mine came from Amazon.) Highly recommended.