ULTRA Stacker Products

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stackable external devices – Kyle Lunau

Thanks to the growing popularity of portable external devices like external hard drives and card readers ULTRA has released their STACKER line of external products. These products include card readers, USB hubs, and hard drive enclosures. As the name suggests all the products can be easily stacked to save precious desk space. So lets get right into the review.

CARD READER/USB HUB

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So today I’m going to be looking at four STACKER products. A media card reader/USB hub, an IDE/USB enclosure, a SATA/eSATA&USB enclosure, and a 180 watt PSU to power the whole mess. All the products but the Power Center are constructed of a robust and grippy plastic.

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I’ll start off with the card reader/USB hub. The card reader supports the following formats:

  • Secure Digital
  • Smart Media
  • Memory Stick Duo MagicGate
  • Secure Digital HC
  • Smart Media C
  • Memory Stick Duo Pro
  • Compact Flash I
  • Memory Stick
  • Memory Stick Duo Pro MagicGate
  • Compact Flash II
  • Memory Stick MagicGate
  • Memory Stick ROM
  • Micro Drive
  • Memory Stick Select Function
  • Magic Store
  • Multi Media Card
  • Memory Stick Pro
  • TransFlash
  • RS Multi Media Card
  • Memory Stick Pro Ultra II
  • XD
  • Multi Media 4.0
  • Memory Stick Pro MagicGate
  • XD – Type H
  • RS Multi Media Card 4.0
  • Memory Stick Duo
  • XD – Type M

So yeah pretty much every format you can think of. Other than reading cards the device serves as a 6-port, powered USB hub.

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Cracking open the box we are presented with the Windows 98 driver disk, registration sheet, and manual.

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Under these items are the card reader/USB hub, AC adapter, USB cable, a bag of stick on rubber feet and two plastic stands.

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The two plastic stands allow you to place the unit vertically.

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The front of the unit has four slots for cards. Each slot has a blue LED next to it that lights up when a card is inserted.

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On the back of the unit are six USB ports, single USB input, and DC power jack.

SATA/eSATA&USB ENCLOSURE

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Next up we have the SATA hard drive enclosure.

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Upon opening the box it looks similar to the media card reader.

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Then we get a better look at the unit itself.

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These are all the goodies that are included other than the enclosure itself. You get (from right to left) an eSATA cable, USB cable, eSATA PCI bracket, AC adapter, a bag of rubber feet and screws, and a set of vertical stands.

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As with the card reader this enclosure can be used vertically, like so.

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At the front of the unit there are the power and activity LED’s (there are three of each), plus some ventilation holes.

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At the back there is the exhaust port for the 30mm fan, power switch, eSATA port, USB port, and power hookup.

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The IDE/USB enclosure is very similar to the eSATA enclosures.

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Except that it comes with fewer goodies.

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And only has USB on it’s rear panel.

180 Watt Power Center

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Next up is the 180 watt Power Center, which allows you to hook up multiple STACKER products using one wall plug, plus it provides Short Circuit Protection, Over Voltage Protection and Over Power Protection.

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Included with the Power Center are the unit itself, instruction sheet and 6 power cables of various lengths (allowing for very tall “stacks”).

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The Power Center has a brushed aluminum finish on every surface but the front (ULTRA must of heard how much I like brushed aluminum).

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On the front of the Power Center are vents for cooling and six blue LEDs that indicate when a cable is plugged in.

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On the back of the Power Center are the six power hookups, on/off switch, 115 volt/230 volt switch, and AC power jack.

INSTALLING DRIVES

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I will be installing a drive in each enclosure for testing.

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This one is a super slow, super old Seagate 4 Gb IDE hard drive. Probably 4200-5400 RPM.

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This one is a fairly quick, fairly new Western Digital 160 Gb SATA II drive. Its a little more fancy then most drives in its class being an enterprise level drive designed for use in RAID arrays, one of its most odd features is that it packs 16 MB of cache.

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To install a drive in the IDE enclosure first slide the enclosure open.

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Then admire the electronics.

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The top cover.

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And information sticker.

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Then slide in the drive and plug in the cables

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Screw in the mounting screws.

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And slide the cover back on.

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Now we have a relatively attractive 4 Gb external drive.

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Follow the same first steps for the SATA enclosure. Admire the electronics.

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Slide in the drive.

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Look at the fan and think about how much cooling it could really provide. Then screw in the mounting screws.

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Slide the cover back on.

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Now we have TWO external drives.

DISASTER STRIKES

Okay so I got all the stacker products set up as per the instructions and proceeded to provide power to the units. Suddenly the eSATA enclosure belched smoke from its rear mounted fan and a burning smell filled the air. “Are you “f***ing kidding me!?!” I thought to myself.

Apparently not – the SATA drive got nuked. After emailing my press contact and explaining the situation, ULTRA agreed to send me a new drive (which was VERY nice of them). Three days later a brand spanking new Seagate 160 Gb drive in retail packaging was sitting on my doorstep. While it is not an enterprise drive, I have always loved Seagate drives and wished I got some instead of Western Digitals. So long story short – you can look forward to a hard drive review courtesy of ULTRA.

MOVING ON

Okay – so due to the drive frying, the eSATA enclosure is being cut from the review.

So anyway lets look at the remaining STACKER products when the power is hooked up.

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As you can see all the items light up quite nicely with blue and red LEDs.

USB ENCLOSURE PERFORMANCE

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Yes I know the drive is bloody slow, but hey it’s pretty ancient after all. Keep in mind that the maximum speed that USB 2.0 can go is 480 megabits per second, or 60 megabytes per second (so don’t ever set a USB hard drive the boot drive, unless you have no choice), so the results aren’t THAT bad. I’m sure the drive is to blame and not the enclosure, so no worries.

OVERALL

ULTRA has some interesting products here with the STACKER series. The whole idea of stacking to save space is quite sound, but keep in mind that these products are by no means cheap. The Power Center is $69.99 USD, the enclosures are $59.99 and $49.99 respectively and the card reader is $49.99

Pros

  • Card reader accepts a huge range of cards and doubles as a USB hub (and a powered one at that)
  • All products exhibit good build quality
  • Cool blue LEDs throughout
  • Black color works with office or home environment
  • Drive enclosures include quiet cooling fan
  • Power Center allows six STACKER products to run off one wall plug, plus it allows all attached items to be powered down with the flick of a switch
  • All products can be stacked to save space

Cons

  • Possible drive nuking with eSATA enclosure
  • Not the cheapest products in the world
  • Power Center is wired in series so you must always use the furthest right power jack

CONCLUSION

All in all the STACKER products are an interesting, space efficient series of items. Other than the eSATA enclosure I can whole-heartedly recommend the other STACKER products if you are looking to save space and not sacrifice functionality.

Kyle Lunau

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