The day is getting closer where every consumer is going to be able to take advantage of SSD speeds for their desktops, laptops and more. Prices are falling as the new models reach the shelves, allowing you to pick up 500GB (or equivalent) drives for $150 or less. For example, SanDisk’s Ultra II 480GB SSD is only $139 at the time of writing this article. That is more than enough storage to cover a majority of PCs and laptops–at least for their main OS drive. The performance kick you get out of upgrading to an SSD is one of the most significant improvements you can give a computer within this price range. They run much cooler, use less energy and result in a crazy boot/response time compared to a normal HDD hard drive.
So what about having to take that step to a new SSD? How hard does it truly have to be to transfer your operating system and files to the new drive with minimal headache? You can download software, some of which is free (some not so free). You can tie up your computer for hours as it attempts to clone the drives. Of course you have to cross your fingers that it doesn’t crash, do anything odd to the drive and of course, you have to make sure it properly does a sector for sector clone, including boot records and all vs just a file transfer or else it won’t boot afterwards. Maybe you are familiar with these applications and comfortable with running with it, or maybe you scare at the risk and ask “isn’t there an easier way of doing this?”. There actually is…
StarTech is one company of a handful that develops products that are focused on making data management between drives easier to deal with. Their USB 3.0 SATA HDD & SSD Duplicator is a dock that offers to take away all the headache and replace it with a simple click. The dock can easily duplicate (clone) or even erase any SATA drive you insert into it. The drives come in two different sizes, 2.5″ (laptops or SSD) or 3.5″ (typical computer/PC HDD). You are able to clone between the sizes and types all you want, as long as the destination drive is equal to or larger than the size of the source drive.
It functions by itself or connected to a computer, allowing you the flexibility of simply plugging it into the wall, inserting the drives and running with the project. Once you have inserted both drives, all you have to do is hold the clone button down on the front to begin the cloning process. The LED lights on the front will tell you the progress as it goes and once they become solid at 100%, your cloning has been completed. You can now take the new drive, drop it into your computer and turn it on. It should boot up just fine to the new drive and your off. Much easier than having to research software and play around with settings you may have never seen before.
Of course, this does require removing the drive from your computer so that you can physically insert it into the dock, but you’re going to have to do this no matter what, regardless of the cloning process you choose. Can’t have two of the same OS drives booting up at the same drive.
When plugged into the computer, you are able to view the drives as if they were inside or individually attached as external USB drives. This allows you confirm a successful clone or directly modify the drives using partition managers/software. This is good for if you have drives laying around and don’t want to install them just to see what they contain. You can modify them however you wish without having to reboot or install them. That alone make this dock a good buy at its current price of only $60. Cloning and erasing kind of feels like icing on the cake when you look at it that way.
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Speaking of erasing, you can erase a drive from your partition manager while it is sitting in the dock and connected to the computer via USB–or you can do it from the dock directly, once again preventing you from having to have the dock connected to a computer. To do this, you simply insert the drive(s) and then take a paperclip (or something similar) to the small hole in the back containing the erase button (similar to a reset button you find on a lot of device). They hide the button inside a small hole so that you don’t accidentally trigger it, causing you to lose a drive you weren’t looking to erase. If you do it directly from the dock, it functions just like the cloning procedure.
It is important to note that when using the erase feature, BOTH bays in the dock will be affected. So if you are using this to erase the original drive you just cloned to a new one, make sure the new one isn’t still plugged in. Else you may experience a slight change in your mood, including unpleasant words shared in the open, flying objects, and so forth. It’s also good to test the new drive to make sure it works ok before erasing the old. Even better, it’s best not to erase the old and keep it stored somewhere as a backup in case anything were to happen to the new one.
Moving back to the topic of cloning, the process itself is equal to or slower than what it would be if you used a computer to do it all. A computer comes with a lot of processing power vs a simple dock like this, but the balance between user friendliness and wait time, falls heavily in favor or friendliness. There is little to no stress when using the dock. The only thing you have to worry about is inserting the drives into the wrong slots, so make sure you pay attention to your “source” and “destination” labels when inserting them. It really isn’t hard at all. You also have to make sure both drives are SATA–which includes any current drive today or within the past 5-10 years thankfully.
The time it takes mostly depends on the size and performance of the drives you are using. You can only move as fast as a drive can read or write. A 320GB drive cloned to a new drive that is 320GB or larger could take anywhere from 40-90 minutes on average (or so it seems in our tests using relatively newer drives). When you reach into the terabytes (TB), it will take hours. Older drives may also take a longer amount of time. Again, it will be slightly longer than doing it from within the computer using software, but this feels more accurate, a lot more friendlier and it is nice to set it and forget it as you walk away until it is done.
You may want to do a little partition clean up afterwards using your computer depending on the new drive and how you want it configured. That all falls on user-preference though and may not concern some. Also (if it’s a drive containing your operating system), with Windows 7 or later, you are most likely going to have to re-register Windows when you boot back into it. This happens when Windows detects a major change in hardware. They do that to make sure you aren’t making copies of the operating system on multiple machines using the same license key. This is why you should always hold onto your license key information for your operating system. You never know when you may need to enter it again.
It does get a little hot, so it would be nice if they would have included a fan or something in the unit to help cool the drives during the process. In our tests, we didn’t have any troubles with the drives melting down or causing any issues due to heat, but it’s just a matter of keeping in mind that it is always best to keep heat down as it places less wear on the drives.
The drive comes with international (power) adapters so that it can be used outside of the U.S. which is nice. I don’t exactly see this being much of a thing unless you are a world traveling computer technician, but it’s nice to have. Also inside the box, you find the instructions and a USB 3.0 cable. There are also larger versions of the dock that allow you to work with 4 or 6 drives at the same time, but again, you probably won’t have an interest in those unless you are a technician sitting in a shop somewhere.
The dock is completely user-friendly right out of the box making it a great tool to have. The docking ability alone makes it worth the price, and the clones and erase functions seal the deal. It doesn’t seem like much as the dock is so simple, but it relieves a lot of weight from your shoulders with that simplicity. The only flaw (if you can call it that) we would find was the lack of a fan or other cooling method, but again, that was just an observation as we didn’t run into any troubles caused by heat. It would just be nice to have this for peace of mind. That could give it a perfect 10 score if it was equipped with such.
- Supports 2.5in and 3.5in form factor SATA hard drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD)
- Standalone Sector-by-Sector hard drive duplication
- Stand alone single pass overwrite erase
- SuperSpeed USB 3.0 compliant host interface, with up to 5 Gbps of data bandwidth
- High Speed USB 2.0 compliant host interface, with transfer rates up to 480Mbps
- Supports SATA revision I/II/III (1.5/3.0/6.0 Gbps) drives
- Plug-and-Play and Hot-Swap compatible
- Universal Power Adapter (NA/UK/EU)
- Built-in LED progress bar
Are you a manufacturer or distributor that would like us to test something out for review? Contact us and we can let you know where to send the product and we will try it out.