StarTech’s USB 3.0 docking station

Manufacturer StarTech
Model SATDOCKU3S
Price (street)
Availability Now
If you’re a TR regular, odds are you’re a fountain of technical knowledge tapped often by friends and family alike. In addition to being asked to make product recommendations or explain in plain English this or that bit of new technology, you likely spend a fair amount of time fielding requests for technical support. If you’re lucky, those requests can be handled in a few minutes over email, the phone, or a remote connection. Sooner or later, though, you’ll encounter a system so infested with viruses, malware, and other accumulated junk that proper rehabilitation would take days. That’s all well and good if you charge by the hour, but it’s hard to bill friends and family for anything more than a case of beer.

My solution is simple: I no longer play exterminator and attempt to bring systems back from the brink. I will, however, wipe an afflicted machine and set it up again from scratch. Data recovery is a part of the deal, and believe me, it’s a lot easier to yank and clean files from a diseased hard drive than it is to rid an established system of infection. Well, it is when you have the right tool, which in this case is a USB docking station.

Popularized by the Thermaltake BlacX, docking stations put an interesting spin on external USB storage. Rather than wrapping a single internal drive in a largely superfluous enclosure, they let users connect an internal drive as easily as loading a cartridge into an old-school gaming console. Multiple drives can be swapped into the same docking station with ease, making it the perfect accessory for PC enthusiasts who need to be able to pull data off a bare drive at a moment’s notice. Docking stations are also useful for backups and passing data between tech-savvy friends who aren’t intimidated by the sight of a naked hard drive.

I’ve been using a BlacX SE in the Benchmarking Sweatshop for a couple of years now, and it’s been fantastic. Unfortunately, this particular BlacX model is limited to USB 2.0 connectivity that’s painfully slow in an era of SuperSpeed devices. So, when StarTech asked if I might be interested in checking out its new USB 3.0 docking station, I couldn’t resist.

For those not in the know, USB 3.0 has been popping up on motherboards an in notebooks for a while now. The SuperSpeed spec offers a jump in peak data rates of nearly an order of magnitude—from USB 2.0’s 480Mbps to a whopping 5Gbps for the third-gen standard. This boost is desperately needed because real-world USB 2.0 transfer rates rarely exceed 37MB/s, which is much slower than the speed of today’s most anemic desktop hard drives. Even modern notebook drives, including those that spin their platters at only 5,400-RPM, are fast enough to be hindered by a USB 2.0 link.

Officially known as the SATDOCKU3S (the voice in your head should be yelling as you read that), StarTech’s USB 3.0 docking station has a Serial ATA interface compatible with both 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard drives. Notebook drives slide into the gap pictured above, while 3.5″ units push down on a hinged door that presumably only exists to ensure that 2.5″ models are lined up correctly.

Unlike the original BlacX, which had an awkward drive cover you’re better off removing, the StarTech docking station is a one-piece affair. Installing a drive takes seconds and requires only one hand, although you might have to jiggle the drive a little on the way in because the SATA connector doesn’t line up perfectly every time. To remove a drive, simply pull it out. You can also use the button over to the right to “eject” the drive from the docking station. Doing so lifts the drive up a fraction of an inch, which is enough to loosen its connection to the Serial ATA plugs but won’t induce lift-off.

The eject button is the one part of the docking station you’re most likely to touch. Why StarTech thought it’d be a good place to put glossy black plastic that easily becomes marred by fingerprints and smudges is beyond me. The unit’s entire top panel is covered in glossy plastic, while the rest has a simple matte finish that’s more resistant to fingerprints and thus looks much better after a few days of use.

I suppose I’d understand StarTech’s use of glossy plastic if it made the docking station look particularly snazzy, but even when polished to a mirror-line shine, it doesn’t add much to the overall aesthetic. This device would be much better off with a flat black finish throughout. A few fingerprints and smudges here and there aren’t going to kill you, though; they’re just an example of poor design.

StarTech does deserve props for shipping the unit with a 3.3′ USB cable and a selection of power adapters. I suspect the additional adapters are included only to avoid having to box region-specific versions of the docking station for different markets, but I’m not going to complain about the added flexibility. That said, I will gripe about the wall wart, which can block access to adjacent power sockets.

I was actually a little surprised to see the docking station shipping with a power adapter at all. USB 3.0 does, after all, nearly double the power delivered by its predecessor. The problem is that USB 2.0 only pushed 500 mA over a 5V line, so even with 900 mA at its disposal, USB 3.0 offers just 4.5W of total power. As the results of our latest hard drive review illustrate, most desktop hard drives draw in excess of 4.5W when idling and more than twice that under load.

At its core, the docking station has a LucidPort USB300 SATA-to-USB bridge chip. LucidPort’s documentation claims the chip supports drives larger than 2TB, but there should be an asterisk next to that line. Western Digital’s Caviar Green 3TB worked just fine in the docking station under Windows 7, and its entire capacity was available for use. However, the drive wasn’t detected at all under Windows XP, which had no problems using smaller drives connected to the docking station.

To probe Windows 7 performance, I dropped a Western Digital VelociRaptor VR200 into the docking station and tested transfer rates with it connected to the USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports of Asus’ Sabertooth X58 motherboard. With USB 2.0, HD Tach transfer rates topped out at 37MB/s for burst transfers, the same speed for sustained reads, and only 29MB/s for writes. When connected via a SuperSpeed link, burst rates jumped to 193MB/s, reads to 136MB/s, and writes to 115MB/s. Yeah, that’s quite a bit faster.

Next, I fired up some real-world copy tests with a 7GB collection of documents, digital pictures, MP3s, movies, and program files. I was able to copy these files to the VelociRaptor at 22MB/s over USB 2.0 and at 56MB/s with a SuperSpeed link. When reading back the very same files from that drive, USB 2.0 clocked in at 28MB/s, while USB 3.0 proved much faster at 66MB/s. Again, SuperSpeed USB offered a substantial performance advantage—one you’ll most certainly notice in the real world.

According to our price search engine, the StarTech USB 3.0 docking station can be had for as little as $50. That strikes me as pretty reasonable considering USB 3.0’s relative freshness, plus the fact that a comparable Thermaltake unit costs $55 at Newegg. After spending a few weeks using the StarTech unit in the Benchmarking Sweatshop, I have no qualms recommending the device. The only folks who should avoid it are ones hoping to hook up a 3TB hard drive to a machine running Windows XP. Just between you and me, if you’re trying to connect a 3TB hard drive via USB 3.0 to a system running a nearly decade-old operating system, your priorities may need realigning.

Comments closed
    • notfred
    • 9 years ago

    *[

      • FireGryphon
      • 9 years ago

      That’s right; English units ftw!

    • Voldenuit
    • 9 years ago

    I’ve been using a Vantec NexStar HDD dock with USB2 and eSATA for a year now, and I get 100 MB/s writes with a WD 2TB Green hooked up to eSATA. Sounds like there’s still some bottleneck going on with the Startech USB3 solution, though whether it’s the fault of the dock or somewhere else along the line might be worth investigating.

    • spigzone
    • 9 years ago

    Better choice = SATDOCK22RE

    A Startech ‘duplicator’ dual drive USB2/eSATA dock. Matte finish.

    $79 (newegg) vs $49, but that stand alone HDD/SSD duplicator function is KILLER. Only caveat is the originator drive MUST be same size or smaller than receiving drive.

    80GB HDDs are so stupid cheap, I load one up with o/s + basic program set, make three copies, add games to one copy, a full program set to another, copy those onto SSDs. Do the same with my backup computer, only sans the SSDs. Something goes sideways with your operating disk, put it and the master in the dupliator, push the button, go walk the cat and you’re back in business.

    Have a data HDD you want one or more copies of … pop it in the duplicator and push the button.

    Now THAT’s ‘the perfect accessory for PC enthusiasts’ … … … or a r[

    • jstern
    • 9 years ago

    Just thought that I should mention that when reinstalling Windows 7 or Vista, instead of transferring all of the files to another hard drive, it’s best to just install it without formatting it, and then dragging your files back to where they belong. Which for me it’s usually just the files on my desktop files and my documents files. Pretty simple. I was doing that with Windows 7 every 4 months, rearming it, until I got a new laptop. Oh yeah, after you dragged all your files delete the old windows folder.

    • bigfootape
    • 9 years ago

    Was the test system running Windows XP 32 bit? If so, the compatibility issue with 3tb drives is a known problem with the OS and not a design issue with the dock.

      • jstern
      • 9 years ago

      Oops, I didn’t mean to reply to this.

      • Frith
      • 9 years ago

      No, it’s a problem with the dock. 3TB drives can work fine in XP 32bit over USB, for example both the 3TB Western Digital My Book Essential USB3.0 and the 3TB Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex USB drives work under XP. The issue is whether the USB host controller has been designed work with 3TB drives in XP, and in this case it hasn’t. This seems rather short sighted to me, but at least I now know not to buy a StarTech.

        • bigfootape
        • 9 years ago

        Nope, not according to WD. In the FAQs for the WD My Book Essential (3TB) it says XP 32 bit has a 2TB maximum, as does MS.

        I can provide the link if you like. It’s quite long. Is tinyurl ok to redirect through or is not verboten on TR?

    • LoneWolf15
    • 9 years ago

    I really want a dock, but I need one that’s both IDE and SATA compatible for 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives. USB 3.0 would be nice, but it’s secondary to broad-spectrum compatibility.

    Does anyone make such an animal?

      • hapyman
      • 9 years ago

      l[http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16812119152&cm_re=sata_ide_usb-_-12-119-152-_-Product<]§ ==================================== While its not a docking station it does provide the functionality you're looking for. These have been around for quite some time and are really handy.

    • TechHead
    • 9 years ago

    I have a cheapo Chinese dock, paired with an NEC chipset USB3.0 card. It keeps defaulting to USB2.0 speeds. Could it be a cable issue?

    • anotherengineer
    • 9 years ago

    Hey Geoff, nice little article, however, you should test that docking station with a fast SSD to see what it caps out at. A WD VRaptor, pfff lol slap a 120GB sandforce in there 🙂 and see if the docking station chipset can saturate the usb 3.0 line.

    • Convert
    • 9 years ago

    Great docks, have been using the usb 2.0 variants a week after they showed up on Newegg. Very handy.

    Side comment on virus removal, a system can be cleaned up in about 30 minutes of touch time. If you keep up on it you can clean any infection quicker than starting over.

      • anotherengineer
      • 9 years ago

      true, I just did one like that, an old beeter 250GB sata1 from a single core prescott, OMG slow booting thing, took out the hdd and dropped it in my vantec usb 3.0 and let my quad core handle it.

      Without the dock, I probly would have just formatted the drive lol

      • indeego
      • 9 years ago

      Came across a coworker’s system that had 21 malware detected on first Kapersky Linux boot disk scan. Then 11 after an avira scan. Then 4 using f-prot. Each scan took ~4 hours. Windows still never worked quite right, so I wasted 8 hours just to wipe and reload anywayg{<.<}g I also was yelled at because her settings weren't the same after restore. Meh. I learned a lesson, never do anyone any favors without making them sign legal documentationg{<.<}g sad.

        • anotherengineer
        • 9 years ago

        indeed, or tell them to bring it to the shop and pay 50 bucks/hr and they may change their tune.

    • ghova0@gmail.com
    • 9 years ago

    The trapdoor is to keep grit out of the delicate SATA connector. For this to work you should keep a drive inserted at all times.

    A good reason for choosing StarTech is that they are used by VARs (Value Added Resellers, outfits that build special purpose systems, industrial controllers etc, for resale). VARs can’t afford to put junk in their systems. I’ve used a fair amount of StarTech stuff and it has always worked as claimed.

    • Hergom
    • 9 years ago

    You should add an Appendix and make this same review with an SSD.

    • astrotech66
    • 9 years ago

    I was going to get something like that, but I ended up going with one made by Icy Dock that installs in a 5.25″ drive bay. It connects via internal SATA and lets you swap drives, although you can’t hot swap. I have enough things cluttering up my desk, so that works better for me.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    These docks all really need usb and mem card readers built in. I had one for 50 dollars that had two usb ports, and a universal mem card reader and worked with esata

    50 dollars!

      • indeego
      • 9 years ago

      Why the exclamation, is that a lot or a little? Seems a tad high actually for what you getg{<.<}g

        • dmjifn
        • 9 years ago

        The price listed in the mini-review is ~$47, and it sounds like his dock has a lot more going for it (USB3 aside). At any rate, I’m reading it as the stardock unit’s price is a bit high right now.

    • HiggsBoson
    • 9 years ago

    Yeah… for this kind of device the whole speed issue is moot in my opinion. I’ve been using a Vantec branded version of one of these over eSATA for a couple of years now. No speed issues to speak of.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    i don’t charge by the hour, or by beverages. i charge in favors. sexual favors. sweet, sweet, sexual favors.

      • not@home
      • 9 years ago

      You charge your relatives by sexual favors?
      Where do you live, I want to avoid that area like the plague.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    Nice fingerprints on the glossy black plastic. I took an image of them and am running them through CODIS right now…

      • Mystic-G
      • 9 years ago

      You have left your digital fingerprint on the website. 😉

    • odizzido
    • 9 years ago

    This is exactly the type of device I like…..the only problem I have with it is startech and the fact that their products tend to break very quickly for me.

    • jstern
    • 9 years ago

    I have a hard drive from 1992 and another one from 1995, can I use those hard drive with this thing?

    I’m no expert on eSata, but if I get an external eSata drive, can I boot from it, considering that internal hard drives use Sata cables?

      • Convert
      • 9 years ago

      It’s a sata dock so… no.

      As for booting, yes.

        • jstern
        • 9 years ago

        Thanks for answering.

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