In July 2012, I had the opportunity to take a look at a truly unique piece of hardware in IcyDock’s MB994IPO-3SB. I was enamored with the flexibility it offered small form-factor PC owners by placing a slim optical drive and two 2.5” drive cages within a 5.25” bay.
Today I am taking a look at two more devices in the ToughArmor lineup from IcyDock: The MB994SP-4SB-1 and its single-bay sibling, the MB991SK-B.
MB994SP-4SB-1 -- Four for one, and one for all
The 4SB is a 5.25” form-factor drive bay that is able to accommodate up to 4 x 2.5” SATA drives. IcyDock offers an even denser array with the MB996SP-6SB (not surprisingly, storing 6 drives) but, unlike the MB996, the trays for this series support drives up to 15mm in height.
MB991SK-B -- You weren’t using that 3.5” bay anyway
The 991SK-B is a 3.5” bay device that can fit a single drive. It uses the same size tray as the 4SB. The tray is lockable for convenient way to make sure the drive doesn’t walk off or get ejected unintentionally.
With almost complete disappearance of 3.5” floppy drives from the modern PC, it only makes sense to put that empty location to good use for extra storage.
Just looking at any of the ToughArmor lineup from IcyDock, they’re all pretty imposing. The matte black finish and conservative design says “I’m all business”. But this aesthetic, a tell-tale sign of its OEM audience, also means that users are going to get a reliable product with the features they need and none of the tacky chrome that’s so prevalent in the “overclocker” marketplace.
Fits 5.25” drive bay
4 x 2.5” removable drive trays (SATA I /II / III, up to 15mm height)
1 x 4-pin Molex connector for power
Dual 40mm cooling fans, with switch to turn off fans
Anti-vibration technology in drive trays
Active Power Technology (APT) -- Device powers up only when drives are inserted
3 year warranty
Fits 3.5” drive bay
1 x 2.5” removable drive tray (SATA I / II / III, up to 15mm height)
Anti-dust flap when tray is removed
1 x SATA 15-pin power connector
Anti-vibration technology in drive trays
Active Power Technology (APT) -- Device powers up only when drive is inserted
3 year warranty
MB994SP-4SB-1 Drive Bay with Trays (4)
Screws for mounting drive
MB991SK-B Drive Bay with (1) Tray
Security Keys (2)
Screws for mounting drive
Construction and Aesthetics
If I had to choose a single word to describe the two ToughArmor devices, it would be “beefy”. Not bulky but, instead, incredibly solid. This is especially true for the 1SK.
Neither are particularly complicated devices. They’re essentially an all-metal housing that slides the drives into a small PCB backplane at the rear of the unit. The MB994SP has the addition of two 40mm fans and a toggle switch to control them (on/off).
The fit and finish quite good like my previously-reviewed MB994IPO-3SB. The black paint is evenly coated and does not feel like it would scratch off even with some minor abuse. IcyDock advertises the ToughArmor lineup as “ Perfect for rugged applications and complies to flammability requirements”. I don’t know if they comply with any formal regulatory or international standard, but their claims seem well founded.
Let’s be clear, matte black is probably the most conservative aesthetic a company could choose, but it fits with IcyDock’s target audience: enterprise and OEMs. If you’re looking for flashy LEDs and chrome, this isn’t going to fit that bill. But by every indication, if you pick one of these up, it’s going to be in service a long time. The 3 year warranty is also a nice reassurance of that fact.
Here were my core considerations for ‘performance’ of these devices.
How does another piece of hardware between the drive and the motherboard affect performance?
How does the device affect the heat dissipation of the drive
How quiet is the device?
How well does it serve its purpose as a removable drive accessory?
Are there any other quirks that detract from the device’s usefulness?
Unfortunately, my system only utilizes SATAII so this isn’t exactly a speed test. Instead, my test methodology was to benchmark a Samsung 830 SSD when plugged directly into the motherboard and compare that performance test to it being used within the drive cages.
Neither the MB994 nor the MB991 (I didnt include the MB991’s results as a chart) were adversely affected in comparison to being connected directly to my motherboard. For those that are unhappy that I didn’t include write results: you aren’t missing anything, they came to the same conclusion
With regards to heat. I ran a 2.5” 80GB Samsung HDD through CrystalMark’s battery of tests and noted it’s max temperature. I then performed these tests for both the MB994 with its fans off, with its fans on, and for the separate MB991 unit.
The control for this test was simply placing the bare drive on the test bench and running it through the test. The ambient temperature of my basement is a chilly 16C. My hypothesis is that the larger MB994 performed slightly better because not all four cages were populated. The MB991 probably traps some of the heat in, more so than the bare drive on the desk. Obviously, active cooling with the 40mm fans is pretty effective.
The MB994SP-4SB-1 is the only bay device equipped with 40mm fans. While the fans aren’t very loud, their tone is a little whiny for my taste (common to all small-diameter fans). If you’re using an SSD, don’t both with enabling the fans. If you happen to be running an array of HDDs, I still recommend you leave the fan off unless you’re noticing abnormally high temperatures (summer gaming sessions?) or some other component in your system is already fairly loud.
Overall, I think there is a great amount of utility in a removable drive bay system for any power user. I actually used these test units to upgrade my 128GB SSD to a new 256GB SSD and migrating my files over were a snap with the removable cages.
I can also see these sorts of solutions being a great asset to companies who are looking to set up an offsite backup system. It’d be pretty painless to store backups automatically to a drive location and swap out drive trays every few days as a part of a disaster recovery plan.
Quirks and Other Notes
While the drives have performed flawlessly over the course of testing, There are a few things I’d like to note.
While IcyDock reports the cages fit up to 15mm drives, I noticed my Crucial M4 256GB drive had some trouble sliding into the cage. It appears that the the rear of this drive does not taper down the same way my Samsung SSD and HDD do. It made for an uncomfortably snug install, though performance was unaffected and it didn’t impede the drive’s ability to mate with the base of the unit.
The M4 is located at the top, and you can see it clearly doesn’t have the same ‘lip’ as the other drives. Perhaps I have an older revision of the drive that is larger, but it made for a very tight fit.
Another thing I noticed was activity light bleed from the MB994.
All the drive trays for the MB994 and MB991 have the ability to display a green status light when the drive is powered up and, depending on drive compatibility, a red/orange activity light. This light is actually passed up via a small, clear plastic piece built into the tray from an LED mounted on the PCB of the backplane of the units. I have a picture of the plastic piece built into the tray below:
While the MB991 makes good contact with the plastic piece because it is a surface-mount LED, the MB994 uses a rounded LED and, therefore, cannot make as close of contact. This leads to some light ‘bleed’ inside the enclosure itself. It’s a pretty minor gripe, but it’s not something my MB994IPO-3SB nor the MB991SK-B has.
Conclusion, Pricing, and Availability
Overall, I am just as pleased with the MB994SP-4SB-1 and MB991SK-B as I was with the MB994IPO-3SB a little over a year ago. I feel that they are both high quality units that fit the requirements of their intended audience. I'd have no qualms recommending either to a friend or colleague.
The units have an excellent fit and finish and would be an excellent way to house a high-performance RAID SSD setup, or act as a convenient component for off-site backup.
Like I pointed out in my review of the MB994IPO, though, II think the most obvious caveat is the pricing. The MB994SP-4SB-1 retails from between $80.99 USD and the MB991SK-B retails between $33.99 on Newegg. Let’s be clear: there are similar solutions on the market at lower price points. However, just casually looking through reviews for those products, a lot are marred with poor scores because of cheap plastic design. IcyDock often has rebates and sales on their products so if you time things right you can get them for a more competitive price.
Both devices are available now through a host of resellers.
Thanks to IcyDock and the IcyDock USA Team for the use of their review units.