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WiebeTech UltraDock v5: A marriage of Macs and bare drives

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There are some Mac users who just keep piles of bare hard disk and solid state disk drives around. By bare drives, I mean that they're not in any sort of external drive enclosure. This can be handy, since bare drives are inexpensive -- you don't need to pay for the enclosure or power supply. WiebeTech's UltraDock v5 (US$249.00) is the latest in a series of docks that provide a way for you to easily use those bare drives with your Mac. As you'll see later on in this review, this device is primarily aimed at IT professionals.

The UltraDock v5 improves upon its predecessor, the UltraDock v4, by adding an upgraded chip set and faster connections. WiebeTech says that the UltraDock v5 was clocked at a throughput of 211.9 MB/second when used with an eSATA SSD. This small (4.3" x 2.95" x 0.87" -- 110mm x 75mm x 22mm) blue box now comes equipped with two FireWire 800 ports, a USB 3.0 port, and an eSATA port in addition to a single FireWire 400 port. That's just on the host side. The drive side has a SATA drive port, a power out port, and an IDE/PATA drive port. You can also buy WiebeTech's Combo Adapters to connect to a variety of other oddball drives, like 1.8" drives or PCCard drives.

To give the UltraDock v5 a try, I gathered up a few drives that had been collecting dust around my house. There was an old LaCie 160 GB hard drive that I kept around, even though the power supply had failed years ago. Hmmm ... I wonder what's on that drive? I plugged in the rugged (and pretty darned large) power brick and ran the power cable to the UltraDock, then pulled out the necessary cables from the box. For this old 3.5" drive, I used the IDE cable (about 4" long) to connect the UltraDock. The drive also needed power, so I used the included standard 4-wire power connector.

Powered up, the UltraDock's two-line LCD displayed "View Drive Info." Using the four-way pad on the front of the UltraDock, I was able to pull up a ton of data about the drive -- the disk temperature, capacity in MB, manufacturer, model number, serial number, firmware revision, starts/stops, power cycles, and more. That information can be critical for IT types who might be wondering if they can reuse an "old" drive or not.

Other top level commands from the two-line display include viewing info about the dock itself, HPA/DCO auto and create HPA/DCO. Those last two settings are for Host Protected Area and Device Configuration Overlay, both methods of creating hidden areas not normally visible to an operating system.

After exhausting those commands, I decided to connect the UltraDock and iMac through USB just to see if I could mount it and view the data on the drive. The drive mounted quickly, and I was able to find that I had last used the drive back in 2007 to back up a client's computer. That information was deleted and I now have a nice naked 160 GB drive to play with at some point.

The next drive I tested was a 2.5" laptop drive. Fortunately, the proper cable was included with the UltraDock to connect to both drive power and the dock's SATA port. Once again, I used the USB cable to connect the bare drive to the iMac, and I was able to see that I had 160 GB of capacity on this drive, and had erased it at some point.

Who's the target market for the UltraDock? I'd think that IT repair departments would love to have something like this on hand to connect a hodgepodge of old bare drives to a Mac or PC for troubleshooting or to remove data contained on them. At $249, it's a bit more expensive than most Mac owners will want to spend unless they have a real need to work with a variety of drives. I personally use a $29.95 Universal Drive Adapter from Newer Technology to connect most oddball drives to my Mac -- it only has a USB connection, but can connect to most 2.5", 3.5", and 5.25" hard drives.

Likewise, Newer Technology's Voyager dock ($79.99) is a great way to swap out bare drives. I know a number of podcasters who use bare drives and the Voyager to archive old episodes of their shows.

The UltraDock v5 definitely takes bare drive docks to a higher level than either of the Newer Tech solutions and fits a niche market that definitely needs a dock with the ability to connect to almost any drive ever made. If you also need to install HPAs or DCOs, there's no other product I know of that will do this. Finally, the UltraDock v5 can be used with WiebeTech's Encryptor to encrypt or decrypt bare hard drives with 256-bit AES encryption; perfect for government IT shops that may need to install encrypted images.

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