In this age of digital data proliferation, digital storage is almost always in short supply. To accommodate this thirst for digital storage space, many of us resort to buying multiple external hard disk drives (HDDs) each with its own USB or similar connection hardware, and each with its own power adapter. In addition, as we upgrade computers over the years, many of us are left with a trail of old laptop and desktop computers that are too slow to deal with today's fast moving digital pace but still have usable hard drives inside if only they were more accessible. To address these problems, electronics manufacturers have come up with the hard drive docking station that effectively turns all your spare hard drives and solid state drives (SSDs) into hot-swappable storage units not unlike the old magnetic tape cassettes of yesteryear. Hard drive docking stations come in several flavours from those that handle a single HDD or SSD to other more professional HDD docks that can handle an array of drives. Since here at DeskTopVibes.com we are focused on consumer computing hardware, we favour the 2-bay or dual hard drive docking station for its balance between technical flexibility and yet still reasonable price. To find the best dual HDD docking station, one needs to first know what technical specifications to look for before then choosing a reputable manufacturer.
What to look for in a Dual Hard Drive Dock
2.5" and 3.5" drives
First and foremost, the HDD dock should be able to handle the two most common sizes of hard drive / SSD, namely the 2.5" laptop-format drives and the desktop-sized 3.5" drives. Fortunately, the majority of dual hard drive docking stations on the market today are able to accommodate both standard formats, so ensuring this feature is included in your future HDD dock should not be too difficult.
The SATA standard
Most consumer hard disk drives and SSDs connect via a SATA connection, although other variants of SATA, such as mSATA and M.2, are also becoming more popular especially in ultra-thin laptops. The SATA protocol has evolved over the years with each iteration doubling the theoretical maximum speed at which data can be transferred. The oldest of these, SATA I, has a theoretical maximum data transfer speed of 1.5 Gbps. This was followed by SATA II with a maximum data speed of 3 Gbps, and then more recently by SATA III, which has a maximum speed of 6 Gbps. Fortunately, the SATA standard has been developed to be backwards-compatible and forwards-compatible, meaning older SATA drives will work when they are plugged into newer SATA interfaces, and conversely, newer SATA drives will work in older SATA hardware, albeit always at the maximum data transfer rate of the lower SATA standard. What this means for SATA HDD docking stations is that they will accept and run older SATA drives from obsolete computers, while at the same time being compatible with current SATA HDDs and SSDs, and should remain capable of running future versions of SATA-based storage drives as well.
Hard drive docks are essentially adapters that facilitate the transfer of data from one hard drive to another, so the basic question users need to ask is how fast can these HDD docks transfer data. Data transfer is usually measured in gigabits per second (Gbps), which can be translated into the more commonly used data parameters of gigabytes (GB) and megabytes (MB) by dividing the Gbps by 8 to get the number of GB/s, and then multiplying by 1000 to get the more familiar metric of MB/s of data.
8 Gbps = 1 GB / sec = 1000 MB / sec
USB vs eSATA
The HDD dock connects to a computer via its external interface. Today's current defacto standard for the external interface is a USB 3.0 connection, which has a theoretical maximum data transfer speed of 5 Gbps. USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with the USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) and should also be compatible with USB 1.1 (12 Mbps) standards (although this may not be the case for some less reputable electronics manufacturers) which means that USB 3.0 HDD docking stations will also work via legacy USB ports, although at the much lower data transfer speeds of the older USB standards. A more recent USB standard, USB 3.1, with its maximum speed of 10 Gbps, has also started to make an appearance on some HDD docking stations on the market. However, currently, it seems pointless opting for an HDD dock sporting a USB 3.1 port as the maximum speed data can be transferred in an HDD dock will anyway be limited by the maximum speed of the internal hard drive SATA connections, i.e. 6 Gbps in the case of SATA III.
Another common external interface found on HDD docks is the eSATA port, which can be assumed to be equivalent to the internal SATA connections, but designed as an external interface. However, eSATA ports are not all that common on computing hardware so, in general, the slightly slower USB 3.0 port is currently the preferred external interface when it comes to hard drive docking stations. In reality, data transfer speeds rarely, if ever, reach their theoretical maximums due to mechanical limitations of the hard drives themselves, therefore using eSATA at a maximum speed of 6 Gbps versus USB 3.0 at maximum speed of 5 Gbps will not really make any difference to the actual data transfer speeds one observes in real life.
The USB Attached SCSI Protocol or UASP is a protocol that enhances the effective data transfer speed over the USB interface. However, this is not to say that the USB 3.0 interface can go even faster than its theoretical maximum of 5 Gbps, but rather that with UASP support, the actual real-life data transfer speeds that one sees over the USB interface comes closer to its theoretical maximum. UASP also has the advantage of using less CPU resources when transferring data over the USB interface. For UASP to do its job, one not only needs a dock that supports UASP but also a computer and operating system that has inherent support for UASP. This means modern computers running Microsoft Windows 8 and upwards, Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) and above, or more recent versions of Linux starting from version 3.15 can all take advantage of the improved performance attained with UASP when connected to a HDD dock which also supports UASP.
Hard drive duplicator dock
Offline hard drive cloning is a feature found on some dual HDD docking stations, which permits the cloning or identical copying of one drive on to another blank drive without the need for a computer. It is by no means a required feature and one needs to think carefully whether it is really useful in their own specific circumstances, as how often does the typical consumer need to make an exact copy of a hard drive? In addition, on the odd occasion when one does need to make a copy, this can usually be achieved via the computer instead. Some might argue this feature can be used as part of your back-up strategy, making copies of drives that will be taken off-site. However, software-based backup solutions, like Time Machine on Mac OSX, do a much better job by only copying files that have changed since the last backup as opposed to rewriting over the whole drive each time. So in our humble opinion, unless your job or similar requires lots of hard drive and SSD cloning, this feature remains merely a bonus feature.
Popular Dual Hard Drive Docking Stations
^ max speed limited by the internal SATA III standard of 6 Gbps
Best external hard drive docking stations
Inateck usb 3.0 hard drives docking stations review
Inateck dual HDD docks come in a few different formats, the most popular of which are the Inateck FD2002 and the Inateck FD2005 which are actually the same hardware under the hood but in two different case designs. Both models use the same ASM1156 chip set, and use a USB 3.0 interface with UASP support to connect to a computer, giving them a theoretical maximum data transfer speed of 5 Gbps (or 625 MB / sec). The FD2002 has a more traditional case, while the FD2005 has been designed with more radical features and lines which one more often finds on gaming computer hardware. Inateck has also more recently come out with an updated model, the FD2002C, which is essentially the FD2002 but with the latest reversible USB-C type socket, instead of the more common USB-B type socket, that will future-proof it for connecting to the latest computing hardware. However, the presence of the USB-C standard adds little to the data transfer speed of the HDD dock.
Inateck is a international company with headquarters in both the United States and Germany, with a reputation for selling high quality electronics accessories but at very reasonable prices.
StarTech hard drives docking stations review
StarTech has tried to cater to the whole market in dual HDD docks by fielding an assortment of models each with slightly differing characteristics. For example, the StarTech SDOCK2U33, SDOCK2U33EB, and SDOCK2U313 HDD docks are essentially all the same hardware but with different external interfaces. The SDOCK2U33 model has a USB 3.0 port, giving it a maximum theoretical data transfer speed of 5 Gbps. The SDOCK2U33EB has a USB 3.0 port and an additional eSATA port, enhancing its maximum theoretical data transfer speed to 6 Gbps, the maximum of the eSATA standard. The SDOCK2U313 dock, on the other hand, has a USB 3.1 port, however, although the theoretical maximum data transfer speed of the USB 3.1 standard is 10 Gbps, the internal SATA connections to the hard drives limit the maximum data speed to the theoretical maximum of the SATA III standard, namely 6 Gbps.
StarTech is a Canadian company that sells electronics hardware internationally. It has an excellent reputation for making and selling high quality electronics accessories, however, with the higher quality comes higher prices, which is indeed the case with StarTech-branded dual HDD docking stations.
TeckNet dual hard drive docking station review
The dual hard disk drive (HDD) docking station from TeckNet is yet another option available to consumers who want to repurpose leftover internal or external hard drives or even duplicate them. However, given the somewhat generic nature of the device, it is perhaps not surprising that the TeckNet dual HDD dock has similar specifications to other competitor devices on the market. The TeckNet hard disk drive dock uses a 5 Gbps SATA III connection to connect to the hard drives, and a USB3.0 port (that is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 1.1) to interface with a computer. Like other competitor dual HDD docks, the TeckNet hard drive dock can handle both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives and SSD drives any of which can be up to 8 TB in size, and it also works with both Windows and Mac computers.
As one can see, from a specifications point of view, it can be very difficult to differentiate the TeckNet HDD dock from other competitor products. However, what makes the Technet hard disk docking station stand out from other competitor HDD docks is the physical build of the machine which has a chassis that is made primarily of aluminium as opposed to plastic (although the top and the bottom of the unit are made of plastic). The use of aluminium in its construction gives the TeckNet HDD dock a much nicer feel than its competitors and also gives it the impression of a higher quality product. This coupled with a user manual for the device that is intelligible and well written makes for a product that feels like a good buy.
On the more negative side, TechNet itself is a comparatively small online retailer that sells a range of electronic devices and computing accessories that are sourced from the Far East and are sold primarily through Amazon. Consequently, don't expect too high a level of technical support from the retailer when buying TeckNet hardware, and sometimes it can also mean that there can occasionally be some small annoying order issues. For example, recently, some TeckNet dual HDD docks have been shipping with non-UK style plugs that require an adaptor to fit into UK mains. Not an end-of-world scenario but something that really should not happen in this day and age of international selling!
WAVLINK dual hard drive docking station review
The WAVLINK WL-ST334U is yet another option one is likely to consider when looking for a dual hard drive docking station. This is partly due to the fact that the WAVLINK brand is becoming increasingly recognisable as a result of its increasing presence in the consumer electronics space of the Amazon marketplace. Like other HDD docks for the consumer, the WAVLINK dock can handle both 2.5” and 3.5” SATA hard drives, as well as SSDs up to 8TB each in size. It conforms to the SATA standard in that it can accept SATA I, II and SATA III-based hard drives, and also incorporates UASP support to get the most speed out of the hard drives when used with UASP-compatible operating systems. The WAVLINK hard drive docking station uses a USB 3.0 port to interface with a computer, limiting its maximum theoretical data transfer speeds to 5 Gbps (although in practice, like with any of consumer hard disk docking station, this maximum transfer speed is never achieved due to other hardware limitations). The WAVLINK device is compatible with both Windows and Mac, although the use of later versions of the operating systems are recommended (Windows Vista and later, and Mac OS 10.4.8 and later). Like with other dual hard drive docks, the WAVLINK dual hard drive dock can also operate without a computer altogether when it is in its hard drive-duplicating mode.
Although the WAVLINK WL-ST334U is a perfectly acceptable device, it is not without its caveats. First and foremost, according to a survey of several owners, reliability of the device in the long term can be a bit hit or miss, with some users experiencing various functional problems with their device over the medium term. Fortunately, the manufacturer of WAVLINK devices is very responsive and usually replaces any faulty devices in short order without any quibbling.
Another common pet peeve of owners of the WAVLINK dual hard drive dock is the length of the cables that come with it, and the HDD docking station could have benefited from its accompanying cables (USB and power cord) being just that little bit longer. Finally, the WAVLINK device could have been better designed with respect to its hard drive-duplicating function. The first discrepancy with its copying function is that the target drive needs to be larger than the source drive for the duplicating function to work without any problems. This means that source and target drives cannot be the same size as one might expect from a cloning function! A second minor dislike raised by some owners of the WAVLINK HDD docking station has to do with the sequence of button presses required to get the hard drive cloning hardware started. This could have been better designed to be less cumbersome although it was probably partly designed that way to make it difficult to initiate the duplicating process accidentally.
Overall the WAVLINK WL-ST334U docking station is a reasonable option to consider when searching for a dual HD dock, especially considering it is usually one of the lower-cost options available. However, new buyers should be aware that some owners feel that the unit is not as robust as it should be, although to be fair, the company has always gone out of its way to rectify any reliability issues customers may have had with their devices.
FIDECO dual hard drive docking station review
Another dual HDD docking station popular with consumers is one from the FIDECO brand, model number YPZ04-S2HC. The FIDECO YPZ04-S2HC has many of the same technical characteristics as dual HD docks from other vendors. It can handle both 2.5” and 3.5” drives through a SATA interface, including hard drives, SSD drives, and hybrid HD / SSD or SSHD drives. The FIDECO YPZ04-S2HC is rated for any size storage drive up to 16TB in capacity, with data transferred to and from an attached computer at speeds of up to 5 Gbps over its USB 3.0 port located on the back of the machine. The FIDECO YPZ04-S2HC also supports the UASP protocol meaning enhanced read and write speeds that more closely approach this theoretical maximum data transfer rate. Practically speaking, like other dual HD docking stations, the FIDECO dock can simultaneously read from two installed storage drives without the accessing of one drive causing any noticeable latency in the second.
Like other modern HD docks, the FIDECO YPZ04-S2HC machine conforms to the SATA III standard which also supports older hard drives of the SATA II and SATA I variety. The dock is similarly compatible with all the main computer operating systems of modern-day consumer machines, namely Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac and Linux distributions, without the need to install any extra drivers or software for the dock to work. However, older machines still running Windows XP or Vista may not be as compatible with this dock. As with other HD docks of this type, the FIDECO device cannot be used in any RAID configurations.
The FIDECO HD dock, like most of its competitors, can also duplicate storage drives without the need for a computer, although the target drive always needs to be formatted correctly beforehand before being usable in the offline cloning process. With the FIDECO dock, the target hard drive or SSD drive needs to have at least the same storage capacity as, or larger than, the source drive that needs to be copied. However, like offline cloning on other docks, the process takes a long time to complete (several hours for multiple terabytes) as the process involves copying absolutely everything off the source drive including the disk partition data and even the ‘zero bits’ of the empty storage space.
As one can see from its technical characteristics, the FIDECO YPZ04-S2HC dual HD dock is very similar to HD docks from other companies. However, what makes it stand out from other similar dual HD docks are the extra ports on the front of the device, including two additional USB 3.0 sockets, an SD card port, and a TF (microSD) card port. These extra interfaces allow the FIDECO HDD dock to function as a hub where multiple forms of media can be accessed. The front USB ports are ideally suited for accessing USB sticks and similar ultra-portable USB storage devices, while the SD and TF/microSD card ports can be used to plug in storage media from cameras and other similar consumer electronic devices. Capacity-wise, SDHC / microSDHC, and SDXC / microSDXC memory cards are all compatible with the FIDECO dock’s SD / TF card slots.
As for negative aspects of the FIDECO YPZ04-S2HC dual HDD dock, most are minor and are not dissimilar to other competitor HDD docking stations at this level. Firstly, the material used to construct the FIDECO dock is mainly lightweight plastic giving the device a bit of a flimsy feel to it. The plastic construction also makes the whole unit very lightweight, which although makes the dock very portable, forces the user to use two hands to hold the device down while removing a drive from it. Another dislike has to do with the length of the supplied power cord and USB cable that accompany the dock, both of which are on the short side. The power cable runs the length of 150 cm while the USB tether is only 80 cm long, making them too short for some set-ups. The final downside to the FIDECO dock involves the instruction manual that comes with it. This important document is written in small lettering in sub-standard English and is not always clear in its descriptions, something that is essential when offline cloning where inserting the target and source drives into the incorrect slots can lead to data loss.
Despite these minor issues, the FIDECO YPZ04-S2HC HDD dock is still good candidate to consider when shopping around for an inexpensive dual HDD docking station. It has many of the same features and functionality that one finds in other competitor docks so the FIDECO device does not necessarily stand out in this respect. However, it does differentiate itself from its competitors by having the added functionality of acting as a media access hub through its ability to interface with USB, SD and TF-type data storage devices, as well as the hard drives and SSD drives that it is primarily designed for. So if port interface diversity is lacking in your current computing setup, the FIDECO device is going to be the HDD dock to rectify that.