Quick drive access

When I first tested Newer Technology’s USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter (   ; $25) last fall, I really, really wanted to like it. For only $25 it promised a way to quickly and easily access data on bare—no-drive-enclosure—hard drives. Unfortunately, the two evaluation units the company provided at the time were disappointing. I and another Macworld editor tested both samples with several computers and number of hard drives; one adapter didn’t work at all, while the other would successfully connect a drive to a Mac but the drive would hang during large file transfers.

I reported our troubles to the company to see if these experiences were representative. I was eventually told that there were apparently some “slight bugs” with early units, but that currently-shipping Drive Adapters, which employ minor design changes, do not suffer from the same issues. So I took the company up on the offer to try the product again. And the news is good: The two newer (no pun intended) units I tested—one received directly from NewerTech, the other received unsolicited as a speaker at January’s Macworld Conference & Expo —both work well.

The USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter package is composed of five pieces: the Drive Adapter, an SATA cable, an SATA power cable, an auto-switching 110-240V AC adapter, and an AC-adapter cable. If you’ve never worked with bare drives before, the kit may look like little more than a mess of cables, but NewerTech includes a flyer with clear instructions on how to use everything.

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The Drive Adapter itself is a cable with a USB plug at one end and a multi-interface—SATA, 2.5-inch ATA, and 3.5-/5.5-inch ATA—connector at the other. You use this piece regardless of the type of drive you’re using; which other pieces you use depends on the drive you’re connecting.

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  • 2.5-inch ATA/IDE drive: The wide, gray side of the Drive Adapter plugs directly into the IDE connector on the drive itself; you then plug the Drive Adapter into a USB port on your computer.
  • 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch ATA/IDE drive: The wide, black side of the Drive Adapter plugs into the IDE connector on the drive; the included AC adapter plugs directly into the power connector on the drive. You then plug the Drive Adapter into a USB port on your computer.
  • SATA drive (any size): You plug one end of the included SATA cable into your drive and the other into the small SATA connector on the back of the Drive Adapter; you plug one end of the SATA power cable into your drive’s SATA power connector and the other into the AC adapter. You then plug the Drive Adapter into a USB port on your computer.

Once you make the appropriate connections, the drive should appear in the Finder just like any other external USB hard drive—except, of course, that there’s no external hard-drive enclosure. (I also noticed that a Drive-Adapter-connected drive, for whatever reason, takes a bit longer to mount than a drive in most external enclosures I’ve used.)

Because the connected drive is left unprotected, the Drive Adapter is designed for temporary use; you don’t want to be using the Adapter in lieu of a dedicated drive enclosure. But the Drive Adapter is great for those who work in IT and have to do a lot of drive swapping and maintenance. It’s also a practical tool for the end-user who’s purchased a hard drive upgrade for a desktop or laptop Mac; you can plug the new drive into your Mac using the Drive Adapter, copy your files from your current hard drive to the new one (using a utility such as SuperDuper ), and then swap the drives to be up and running.

How’s the performance? I tested the Drive Adapter with a number of hard drives, including a 300GB, 7200RPM, 3.5-inch ATA/IDE desktop drive; a 60GB, 5400RPM, 2.5-inch SATA laptop drive (actually the stock hard drive from a MacBook); and an older 40GB, 5400RPM, 2.5-inch ATA/IDE laptop drive taken from a 12-inch PowerBook G4. I copied a 15GB folder from the internal hard drive on my MacBook Pro to each. (I didn’t have any 5.25-inch devices, such as an external CD or DVD drive, to test.) For comparison, I also placed the same 40GB drive in a generic USB 2.0 external enclosure and, after that, in an external FireWire enclosure from WiebeTech, copying the same folder to the drive in each enclosure.

Copy times

Drive Connection Type Time
300GB desktop drive Drive Adapter 15:02
60GB newer laptop drive Drive Adapter 15:04
40GB older laptop drive Drive Adapter 15:49
40GB older laptop drive USB 2.0 enclosure 17:04
40GB older laptop drive FireWire 400 enclosure 13:32

Time in minutes:seconds.

Table shows the time taken to copy a 15GB folder of files from the internal hard drive of a MacBook Pro to an external drive connected via either Newer Tech's Drive Adapter, a USB 2.0 enclosure, or a FireWire 400 enclosure.

So while the Drive Adapter isn’t as fast as FireWire—I didn’t expect it to be—it appears to be competitive with an inexpensive USB 2.0 enclosure (at least when used with 2.5-inch ATA drives).

That said, performance isn’t the reason to buy this product; convenience is—the ability to quickly and easily get data from or onto a bare drive.

I did experience one issue: a particular 2.5-inch ATA drive didn’t appear to get enough power from the USB port on a MacBook (2.5-inch drives are powered entirely by your computer’s USB port when used with the Drive Adapter).

Still, for only $25, this is a handy tool. As someone who does quite a bit of testing and troubleshooting, I plan on keeping one close at hand.

The USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter requires Mac OS 9.2 or higher or any version of Mac OS X

Editor’s note 2/28/2007: Performance data was converted to a table for easier reading.

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