Pros: SATA (III)/SAS, 40mm cooling fan + switch, durable all-metal design, hot-swappable drives, excellent aesthetics and build quality
Cons: Price, 40mm is superfluous for gaming applications (non-server), not-toolless, uses tiny screws and doesn't supply spares
It's not often that I'm excited enough about a product to e-mail the company about when they will release it. However, when I stumbled upon Icy Dock's website in the fall of 2011 I, as a micro-ATX gamer, was blown away by the simple, but incredibly unique product known as the MB994IPO-3SB.
Okay, so the name isn't much, but what it lacks in creativity for the name, it makes up for in utility and quality and I jumped at the chance to review a unit when Icy Dock offered.
The MB994IPO-3SB is a 5.25” internal bay that hosts two all-metal trays for 2.5” form-factor disk drives (up to 15mm, but 9mm and 7mm supported). In addition, it hosts a third bay for (wait for it) a slim optical disk drive. All the devices are powered by two Molex connectors and use SATA (one cable per drive).
The back of the drive with all the connections. Fan switch is an excellent addition to this model.
Why is this amazing? Because, in a single 5.25” bay, you can house all your media. This also cleans up your case by allowing you to channel all your cabling to a single bay. In the case of my mini P180B, a micro-ATX form-factor case, I was able to route everything to the lower bay and improve both aesthetics and airflow. No more routing my dvd-rom to the lower bay and snaking SATA power and data cables to the top of my case!
In addition to the basic 3-drive design, it also supports SATA III (I can see you solid-state zealots drooling over 6Gbps throughput), a 40mm cooling fan (with a toggle switch for those same SSD zealots), drive status LEDs (green power, amber activity), and a very sturdy all-metal design.
- Fits 2 x 2.5" SATA/SAS hard drive or SSD & 1 x slim optical disk drive (ODD).
- Accommodates hard drives or SSD with up to 15mm Height.
- Supports SATA III & SAS 2.0 interface.
- Full aluminum body construction.
- Full Metal EZ Slide Mini Tray & EZ-ODD Tray system with Full Cage Design.
- 2 x 4 pin power connector to properly power all components.
- Available 40mm cooling fan.
- On & off switch for cooling fan, reduce the power usage and fan noise when using SSD.
- Status LED on Front for each drive.
- Top cover for the tray adds extra drive/ODD protection.
- Perfect for SFF (small form factor) case, IPC, HTPC, NAS, Home Server and All-In-One computers.
- Active Power Technology – Device & fan only powers up if a drive is installed.
• MB994IPO-3SB Drive Bay
◦ Two MB991TRAY-B mounting trays
◦ Single slim optical disk mounting tray
◦ Plastic optical disk faceplate
• 4 mounting screws for ODD
• 8 mounting screws for HDDs
• Instruction booklet
The packaging for the MB994IPO-3SB hints at its industrial/OEM roots. It doesn't have any glossy photography, wild marketing, or fancy packaging. It's a plain, brown box with an illustration of the drive and a list of features.
Construction and Aethetics
Icy Dock makes a host of storage solutions for both the regular consumer and industrial/OEM markets. This product definitely fits into the latter category. The construction feels solid, dare I say bulletproof, even before any of the hardware has been installed in the bay. The all-metal case and trays have a real heft to them that serves both a psychological purpose of instilling a sense of security and a practical purpose of dissipating any heat that may come from the drive.
Paint and finish on both the casing and the trays themselves is excellent, though the modder in me would have liked to see all the hardware anodized or painted black, as the bottom, top, and front metallic clasps are unpainted. The LED in the front of the tray is probably the weakest link, as it is actually a long, clear plastic piece that extends to the backplane of the bay and 'pushes' the light forward much like a Light-Bright. That said, the trays are replaceable and widely compatible with Icy Dock's other MB994-series drive bays. If I had one other gripe, it would be that I prefer blue LEDs to the dark green that Icy Dock chose, but that's just me.
Overall, the design is quite modest, with with more care put into function than fashion. However, the sleek grill on the drive trays make for a very pleasing aesthetic that I find fits the conservative design of both my mini P180B and what I'd expect to find on most OEM servers and desktops.
The MB994IPO-3SB is essentially a very rugged backplane, and behaves no differently that if you had the drives plugged directly into your motherboard or RAID card. With my Samsung 830 and Seagate Momentus XT, performance was exactly the same as without the drive bay – something I totally expected and welcomed. The SATA slim optical drive fit snugly and securely into the bay and performed exactly as expected, no louder or softer than my full-size drive from before. You can find a list of drives Icy Dock tested, though any slim, SATA, optical drive should work.
Installation was straightforward, though it did require some pretty small tools to attach the drives to their caddies. Icy Dock is also a bit stingy on the amount of screws they supply. For how small they are, I expect more than a few users are going to drop a screw during installation and never find it again. This is especially true if you don't plan on using all the drive trays initially (storing screws is a good way to lose them). It would be nice if Icy Dock supplied a few extras just in case. (EDIT: Icy Dock has responded to this with the following: "This is definitely a good point and I will let our R&D know. However, we always provide replacement screws at no charge (shipping included) for customers who lose theirs")
A picture of the backplane PCB. This is what your drives attach to. Hot-swapping is pretty painless.
Hot-swapping worked largely as anticipated. I could pull out my storage drive (the Momentus XT) and plug it back in and Windows 7 would see it again. Unfortunately, my Supermicro 2U chassis did not have any free ports to install the MB994IPO-3SB but I can see how this bay would be especially helpful in server environments.
With the convenience of the slim optical disk drive comes the cold, hard truth that slim bays won't be as fast or cheap as their full-size brethren. Expect to pay twice the price for a slim optical blu-ray drive than you would for a regular 5.25” drive. That said, I only use my drive for the occasional dvd-r backup or for installing my OS and the occasional game. Why waste a whole 5.25” bay for just that?
Another thing to note is that this bay isn't any longer than your normal DVD-RW drive, which is good in the case of my mATX form-factor requirement. It wasn't hard at all to fit this drive into my P180B Mini.
The bay, installed at the bottom. Easily fits in any spot a normal 5.25" drive would go, it just holds 3 times more stuff!
The 40mm fan is what I expected, additional noise for little to no benefit. Most 2.5” HDDs are meant for notebook applications and don't need much airflow to remain within nominal operating temperatures. Solid-state drives are even less susceptible to heat. However, I understand that the industrial nature of this drive bay means that I am not the target demographic for this feature. At the very least, I am glad that Icy Dock included a switch to disable the fan altogether.
The drive, installed in my Mini P180B. Very non-intrusive design matches the rest of the case's (rather plain) aesthetic.
Conclusion, Pricing and Availability
For me, the MB994IPO-3SB is a home run. It meets my needs as a micro-ATX gamer and I feel it would be an excellent addition to users in the home-theater PC and SFF markets as well. With SSD prices plummeting in recent months and 1TB 2.5” HDDs readily available, this is one of the best choices for maximum utility in a minimum package.
Icy Dock expects availability in late July 2012, and expect to pay a premium for such high build quality. The expected MSRP is $89 with an expected street price of about $75.
It's certainly a substantial peripheral investment. However, with SATAIII-compatibility, and a 3-year warranty, it's a device that will definitely fit a need for some HTPC, Home server, micro-ATX users or anyone who wants as much bang for the (drive)bay as they can get.
You can find a list of Icy Dock retailers at their site, but expect the MB994IPO-3SB on tried-and-true sites like Newegg.com and Amazon.com
Icy Dock informed me that the following drives were what they used during testing of the optical bay:
• Lite-on Slot Load CD/DVD Burner DL-8ATS
• Dell/HP/Acer DS-6E2SH (generic OEM model)
• Toshiba TS-T633
I personally used the Sony AD-7690H-01 with excellent results.
As for HDD/SSD tested with the unit, the Icy Dock rep I worked with personally tested on the following drives:
• Hitachi 500GB (no model)
• C300 256GB SSD
• C300 64GB SSD
I would expect virtually any drive within the 2.5”/15mm form-factor to work fine. My motherboard is limited by the SATAII interface but the bay did not exhibit any issues while testing.