Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging

Lexar is Micron’s brand covering SD Cards, microSD Cards, USB flash drives, and card readers. Their card readers are known for being able to push high in the various speed grades, typically allowing transfers (for capable SD cards) much faster than what a typical built-in laptop or PC SD card reader is capable of. Today we will take a look at the Lexar ‘Professional Workflow’ line of flash memory connectivity options from Lexar.

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This is essentially a four-bay hub device that can accept various card readers or other types of devices (a USB flash storage device as opposed to just a reader, for example). The available readers range from SD to CF to Professional Grade CFast cards capable of over 500 MB/sec.

We will be looking at the following items today:

  • Professional Workflow HR2
    • Four-bay Thunderbolt™ 2/USB 3.0 reader and storage drive hub
  • Professional Workflow UR1
    • Three-slot microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-I USB 3.0 reader
  • Professional Workflow SR1
    • SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-I USB 3.0 reader
  • Professional Workflow CFR1
    • CompactFlash® USB 3.0 reader
  • Professional Workflow DD256
    • 256GB USB 3.0 Storage Drive

Note that since we were sampled these items, Lexar has begun shipping a newer version of the SR1. The SR2 is a SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II USB 3.0 reader. Since we had no UHS-II SD cards available to test, this difference would not impact any of our testing speed results. There is also an HR1 model which has only USB 3.0 support and no Thunderbolt, coming in at a significantly lower cost when compared with the HR2 (more on that later).

Continue reading for our review of all of the above!

Manufacturer: Inateck

One hub to rule them all!

Inateck sent along a small group of connectivity devices for us to evaluate. One such item was their HB7003 7 port USB 3.0 hub:

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This is a fairly standard powered USB hub with one exception - high speed charging. Thanks to an included 36W power adapter and support for Battery Charging Specification 1.2, the HB7003 can charge devices at up to 1.5 Amps at 5 Volts. This is not to be confused with 'Quick Charging', which uses a newer specification and more unique hardware.

Specifications:

  • L/W/H: 6.06" x 1.97" x 0.83"
  • Ports: 7
  • Speed: USB 3.0 5Gbps (backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and 1.1)
  • Windows Vista / OSX 10.8.4 and newer supported without drivers

Packaging:

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Densely packed brown box. Exactly how such a product should be packaged.

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Power adapter (~6 foot cord), ~4.5 foot USB 3.0 cord, instruction manual, and the hub itself.

Charging:

Some quick charging tests revealed that the HB7003 had no issue exceeding 1.0 Amp charging rates, but fell slightly short of a full 1.5A charge rate due to the output voltage falling a little below the full 5V. Some voltage droop is common with this sort of device, but it did have some effect. In one example, an iPad Air drew 1.3A (13% short of a full 1.5A). Not a bad charging rate considering, but if you are expecting a fast charge of something like an iPad, its dedicated 2.1A charger is obviously the better way to go.

Performance and Usability:

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As you can see above, even though the port layout is on a horizontal plane, Inateck has spaced the ports enough that most devices should be able to sit side by side. Some wider devices may take up an extra port, but with seven to work with, the majority of users should have enough available ports even if one or two devices overlap an adjacent port. In the above configuration, we had no issue saturating the throughput to each connected device. I also stepped up to a Samsung USB T1 which also negotiated at the expected USB 3.0 speeds.

Pricing and Availability

Inateck is selling it these direct from their Amazon store (link above).

Conclusion:

Pros:

  • Clean design 7-port USB 3.0 hub.
  • Port spacing sufficient for most devices without interference.
  • 1.5A per port charging.
  • Low cost.

Cons:

  • 'Wall wart' power adapter may block additional power strip outlets.

At just $35, the Inateck HB7003 is a good quality 7-port USB 3.0 hub. All ports can charge devices at up to 1.5A while connecting them to the host at data rates up to 5 Gbps. The only gripe I had was that the hub was a bit on the light weight side and as a result it easily slid around on the desk when the attached cords were disturbed, but some travelers might see light weight as a bonus. Overall this is a simple, no frills USB 3.0 hub that gets the job done nicely.

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: ICY DOCK

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction

The other day we took a look at the ICY DOCK ToughArmor MB996SP-6SB and ICYBento MB559U3S-1S. Today we'll move onto a couple of larger products in their lineup:

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To the left is the ICYCube MB561U3S-4S, which is a 4-bay eSATA / USB 3.0 JOBD enlcosure. To the right is the ICYRaid MB662U3-2S, which is a 2-bay USB 3.0 JBOD/Big/RAID-0/RAID-1 enclosure.

Read on for our review!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: ICY DOCK

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction

Today we're taking a quick look at a pair of drive enclosures sent to us by ICY DOCK.

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To the left is the ToughArmor MB996SP-6SB, which is a 5.25" bay hot swap chassis capable of mounting 6 2.5" SATA devices. To the right is the ICYBento MB559U3S-1S, which is a UASP external 3.5" HDD enclosure connectable by either USB 3.0 or eSATA.

Specifications

ToughArmor MB996SP-6SB

ToughArmor MB996SP-6SB specs.png

ICYBento MB559U3S-1S (also available in black)

ICYBento MB559U3S-1S specs.png

Packaging

ToughArmor MB996SP-6SB

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We did note that the spec sheet and manual included SATA power to molex adapters, but we found no such adapters in the box. We may have received old stock, as the web site appears more up to date than the paper manual we received.

**update** ICYDock reached out and let me know that all shipping boxes of this part should come with a pair of molex to SATA power cables. Our sample came from their techs and they must have forgot to put those cables back into our box.

ICYBento MB559U3S-1S (also available in black)

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Both items were well packaged with no shipping damage noted.

Read on for our review!

MSI Unveils First AMD AM3+ Motherboard With USB 3.1

Subject: Motherboards | March 25, 2015 - 08:00 AM |
Tagged: usb 3.1, usb, msi, amd, am3+, 10Gbps

Last week, MSI launched a slew of new USB 3.1 equipped motherboards. Today, the company is releasing more details on one of the AMD-based products: the MSI 970A SLI Krait Edition. This upcoming motherboard is geared towards gamers using AMD FX (AM3+) processors and supports multi-GPU setups (both SLI and CrossFire). The 970A SLI Krait Edition has a black and white color scheme with rich expansion options and large aluminum heatsinks over the VRMs and northbridge.

MSI 970A SLI Krait Edition Motherboard.png

The AM3+ processor socket sits to the left of four DDR3 memory slots. Six expansion slots take up the majority of the lower half of the board and include two PCI-E x16, two PCI-E x1, and two PCI slots. Six SATA ports occupy the bottom-right corner with four at 90-degree angles. MSI is using its latest “Military Class 4” capacitors and other hardware along with gold audio traces connecting the rear IO audio jacks to the onboard sound chip.

Speaking of rear IO, you will find the following ports on the 970A SLI Krait Edition.

  • 2 x PS/2
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 2 x USB 3.1
  • 1 x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 6 x Analog Audio

The main feature that MSI is pushing with this new board is the addition of two USB 3.1 (Type A) ports to the AMD platform. This is the first AM3+ motherboard to support the faster standard – up to 10 Gbps using an Asmedia ASM1352R controller – while also being backwards compatible with older USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 devices.

MSI has not yet released pricing or availability, but expect it to launch soon for less than $100.

Josh's Thoughts

Few specifications have been released about this board so far, as well as no timetable for the launch.  It is a finished product and should be out "soon" as Tim mentioned.

There are a few things we can gather from the photo of the board.  The audio solution is not nearly as robust as we saw with the 970 Gaming motherboard.  I doubt it will have the headphone amplification, and the filtering is going to be less due to fewer caps used.  The audio is still physically isolated on the PCB, but it has not received the same focus as what we saw on 970 Gaming.

It looks like it is a full 8+2 power phase implementation, as it is taking up more space on the board than the 6+2 unit on the 970 Gaming did.  This should allow for a greater selection of CPUs to be used, as well as potentially greater overclocking ability.  It does not feature a separate SATA controller, so all 6 SATA ports on the board are handled by the SB950.  There are no external e-SATA ports, which really is not a big deal as those are rarely used.

This looks to be a nice addition to the fading AM3+ market.  For those holding onto their AMD builds and wish to upgrade, this looks to be an inexpensive option with next generation connectivity.  MSI looks to have paid the licensing fee necessary to support SLI, plus they utilize the same AMD 970 chipset on the 970 Gaming that is not supposed to be able to split the 1 x 16X PEG connection to 2 x 8X slots.  Some interesting design and chippery are required to that.

Source: MSI

Beware strange USB drives, they can be killers

Subject: General Tech | March 12, 2015 - 01:52 PM |
Tagged: usb, flash drive

It is not easy to kill something via USB as the plugs deal with all sorts of devices that are off spec but it can be done.  If you short ground and power the plug disables itself, TVS diodes prevent static electricity from damaging anything and excessive RF is bled off by the inline filtering beads.  That didn't stop this Hack a Day reader from figuring out a way to make a killer USB drive with a inverting DC-DC converter and capacitor bank.  The drive uses the power provided by the USB port to charge the capacitors to -110VDC which then discharges that to the data pins, enough to overcome the protection on the port and it repeats until the USB port is no longer capable of delivering power.  Considering many USB ports are integrated onto your CPU at this point, this is not a very nice thing to do; we present this as a warning and do not recommend this or similar projects be undertaken by our readers.

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"[Dark Purple] recently heard a story about how someone stole a flash drive from a passenger on the subway. The thief plugged the flash drive into his computer and discovered that instead of containing any valuable data, it completely fried his computer. The fake flash drive apparently contained circuitry designed to break whatever computer it was plugged into."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Hack a Day

List of Upcoming USB 3.1 Devices Expected by Mid-2015

Subject: Storage | February 24, 2015 - 11:11 AM |
Tagged: usb 3.1, usb, msi, asus

Followers of PC Perspective have likely seen a pair of stories previewing the upcoming performance and features of USB 3.1. First we got our hands on the MSI X99A Gaming 9 ACK motherboard and were able to run through our very first hands-on testing with USB 3.1 hardware. The motherboard had built-in USB 3.1 support and a device that was configured with a RAID-0 of Intel SSD 730 Series drives.

We followed that up with a look at the ASUS USB 3.1 implementation that included a PCIe add-on card and a dual-drive mSATA device also in RAID-0. This configuration was interesting because we can theoretically install this $40 product into any system with a free PCI Express slot.

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Performance was astounding for incredibly early implementations, reaching as high as 835 MB/s!

In that last article I theorized that it would be some time before we got our hands on retail USB 3.1 hardware but it appears I wasn't giving the industry enough credit. ASUS passed us a list of incoming devices along with release schedules. There are 27 devices scheduled to be released before the end of April and ~35 by the middle of the year.

It's a daunting table to look at, so be prepared!

Manufacturer name

Product category

Product name

Availability

AKiTiO

USB 3.1 device

Neutrino Bridge USB3.1

March 2015

USB 3.1 device

NT2 U3.1

March 2015

AVLAB Technology SIIG

USB 3.1 to 2.5-inch

USB 3.1 to SATA 2.5-inch Enclosure

April 2015

USB 3.1 to 2.5-inch

USB 3.1 to SATA 2.5-inch Enclosure Pro

Q2-Q3 2015

USB 3.1 to 3.5-inch

USB 3.1 to SATA 3.5-inch Enclosure

April 2015

GODO

2.5-inch USB 3.1 enclosure

GD25602 2.5-inch USB3.1 HDD Enclosure

March 2015

2.5-inch USB 3.1 enclosure

GD25702 2.5-inch USB3.1 HDD Enclosure

March 2015

2.5-inch USB 3.1 enclosure

GD25611 2.5-inch  USB3.1 HDD Enclosure

March 2015

HighPoint Technologies, Inc

USB 3.1 device

RS3111A

March 2015

USB 3.1 device

RS3112A

April 2015

Iomaster

2-port host card

IOT-U31A3

March 2015

SATA 2.5 enclosure 

IOT-3125A3

March 2015

USB 3.1 to SATA 2.5 & 3.5 adapter

IOT-3123A3

April 2015

USB 3.1 to MSATA & M2 SSD enclosure

IOT-U31NF

March 2015

Minerva Innovation Company

3.5-inch SATA to USB 3.1 enclosure

3.5-inch SATA mSATA x 2 and M.2 x 2 to USB 3.1 Adapter (Type B)

March 2015

2.5-inch SATA to USB 3.1 enclosure

2.5-inch SATA mSATA SSD x 2 to USB 3.1 External Enclosure (Type-C x 2)

March 2015

2.5-inch SATA to USB 3.1 enclosure

2.5-inch SATA M.2 SSD x 2 to USB 3.1 External Enclosure  (Type-C x 2)

April 2015

Speed Dragon

USB 3.1 device

USB 3.1 to SATA 6G cable adapter

March 2015

USB 3.1 device

USB 3.1 PCI-Express add-on card

March 2015

USB 3.1 device

USB 3.1 PCI-Express add-on card

March 2015

USB 3.1 device

USB 3.1 to dual SATA 6G hard drive enclosure

April 2015

Super Talent Technology Corporation

USB 3.1 device

USB3.1 Portable SSD

May 2015

Sunrich Technology

Adapter

U-1040 USB 3.1 to SATA 6G Adapter

March 2015

Adapter

U-1050 USB 3.1 to SATA 6G Adapter

April 2015

Hub

U-1060 USB 3.1 4-Port Hub

TBA

Hub

U-1070 USB 3.1 7-Port Hub

TBA

Docking station

U-1080 USB 3.1 Docking Station

TBA

Docking station

U-1090 USB 3.1 Docking Station

TBA

UNITEK

PCI Express to 2 Ports USB 3.1 (Type-A x 2)

Y-7305

March 2015

PCI Express to 2 Ports USB 3.1 (Type-A x 1, Type-C x 1)

Y-7306

March 2015

USB 3.1 to SATA6G enclosure

Y-3363

April 2015

USB 3.1 to SATA6G Docking station

Y-3605

April 2015

USB 3.1 to 2.5-inch Dual SATA6G enclosure (Type-C)

Y-3364

April 2015

USB 3.1 active extension cable

Y-3001

June 2015

The product categories are mostly dominated by the likes of the a USB 3.1 to 2.5-in adapter; that would be useful but you aren't going to top out the performance of the USB 3.1 with a single 2.5-in SATA device. Iomaster has one listed as a "USB 3.1 to MSATA & M2 SSD enclosure" which could be more interesting - does it accept PCI Express M.2 SSDs?

Minerva Innovation has a couple of interesting options, all listed with pairs of mSATA or M.2 ports, two with Type-C connections. What we don't know based on this data is if it supports PCIe M.2 SSDs or SATA only and if it supports RAID-0.

A couple more list dual SATA ports which might indicate that we are going to see multiple hard drives / SSDs over a single USB 3.1 connection but without RAID support. That could be another way to utilize the bandwidth of USB 3.1 in a similar way to how we planned to use Thunderbolt daisy chaining.

We don't have pricing yet, but I don't think USB 3.1 accessories will be significantly more expensive than what USB 3.0 devices sell for. So, does this list of accessories make you more excited to upgrade your system for USB 3.1?

Source: Various

Tom's Hardware Tests USB 3.1 on MSI's X99A Gaming 9 ACK

Subject: General Tech, Motherboards, Storage | February 11, 2015 - 09:59 PM |
Tagged: usb 3.1, usb, msi, asmedia

UPDATE: Not to be self-serving, but we have our own story online now looking at the performance of early USB 3.1 hardware on PC Perspective as well! Be sure to check that out!

USB 3.0, for storage, is fast. If you are using an external, spindle-based hard drive, it will perform basically as fast as an internal sibling would. Apart from my two SSDs, I do not even have an internal drive anymore. You can safely install games to external hard drives now.

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But with USB 3.1, the spec doubled to 10 Gbps, which matches the first generation Thunderbolt connector. A couple of weeks ago, Tom's Hardware put it to the test with an ASMedia USB3.1 to SATA 6 Gbps developer board. Sure enough, when you are raiding a pair of Intel 730 SSDs, you can achieve over 700 MB/s read/write in CrystalDiskMark.

About the most interesting part of Tom's Hardware testing is their CPU usage benchmark. While USB 3.0 on Intel's controller choked a CPU thread, USB 3.1 on ASMedia's controller did not even reach half of a thread's maximum (the CPU in question is a Core i7-5930K Haswell-E at 3.5 GHz).

So until we get flash drives that are constrained by USB 3.0's fairly high ceiling, we might be able to have reduced CPU usage.

Don't worry if it is too big to fit; Team Group's M131 USB drive can do Micro too

Subject: Storage | February 5, 2015 - 02:57 PM |
Tagged: usb, team group, M131, Micro USB

Team Group M131 Smart Dual Drive is so named because it can plug into both full sized USB and with the additional connector it can connect to Micro USB ports as well.  It's tiny size at 44 x 16.6 mm and 6.6g makes it easy to carry around, the largest size of 32GB may feel cramped for a PC but seems appropriate for use with a smartphone.  It is not the fastest USB drive out there but eTeknix saw it for sale at £7.19 so you are not paying extra for the convenience of the drive.  Check out their review here.

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"The limited storage in mobile devices can be a real problem just as the fact that a touchscreen rarely is the optimal input device. Both these things might be a thing of the past if you invest in a Team Group M131 Smart Dual Drive with OTG support that. I’m taking a closer look at 16GB model of just this drive today."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

Source: eTeknix

Creative Introduces Sound Blaster E5 Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Subject: General Tech | August 30, 2014 - 11:44 AM |
Tagged: usb, Portable Audio, headphones, Headphone Amp, DAC, D/A Converter, Cirrus Logic

Creative has added a new member to their portable Sound Blaster "E" series lineup with the E5. 

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This new multi-function DAC and headphone amp features a reference-grade D/A converter chip from Cirrus Logic, the CS4398, which supports up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM audio (and technically DSD 2.8MHz/5.6MHz, though this does not seem to be implemented here). In addition to the realistic analog reproduction possible from a high quality chip like the CS4398, the Sound Blaster E5 provides amplification via a Texas Instruments TI6120A2, which Creative says gives the E5 a "best-in-class 600 ohm headphone amplifier".

Another aspect of the E5 that sets it apart from the previous E1 and E3 models is the inclusion of optical digital input/output, to go along with USB and dual 3.5mm headphone jacks. The two 3.5mm jacks can simultaniously drive two pairs of headphones, and on the back of the unit there are additional 3.5mm jacks for microphone input, line input/output, and these double as optical input/output via mini TOSLINK. (This might be geared for portable use, but would serve as a fine external sound solution for desktops as well!)

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The input stage of the E5 uses another Cirrus Logic chip, the CS5361, enabling high quality recording options from various sources at up to same 24-bit/192kHz. While supporting external microphones (as well as line/optical input) the E5 also has "built-in beamforming CrystalVoice microphones for audio recording and calls". And while the E5 is employing Creative's SBX sound processing chip, this DSP can be switched off with a button on the side of the device - a welcome option for serious music listening from high-resolution source material.

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The Sound Blaster E5 also supports digital input from iPhone and "select" Android phones (listed compatible devices include the Samsung Galaxy S4/S5, Galaxy Note 2/3, and Nexus 5/7). For portable use the E5 has a built-in rechargeable 3200mAh lithium polymer battery, which Creative says will provide up to 8 hours of playback per charge.

The Sound Blaster E5 will be available in October for $199 at Creative's online store (and likely various other retail outlets).

Source: Creative