Don't ditch that drive
As we replace and/or upgrade older computers, many of us tend to save the hard drives. I don't want to throw the hard drives away or sell them—why waste good hard drive space? But I don't want to install them internally into today's computers because they're slower than current technology.
What do you do with those used but still useable hard drives? You can get a drive dock. Drive docks are like carports for a hard drive. They offer a no-fuss, no-muss, screwdriver-free solution to adding storage to your desktop or laptop computer. To install a drive in a dock, you just drop it in. That's it. And if you want to change drives, you just eject the current drive and pop in the new one.
What follows are 11 drive docks for your consideration. While they vary in terms of cost, capacity (one of them will hold as many as four drives) and form factor, they do have a lot in common. For example, they all handle either 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drives. They all require AC power connections if you're going to use them with 3.5-inch drives. They all come with USB cables, and they're all covered by one-year warranties.
All of these docks support USB 3.0, but Macs come equipped with USB 2.0 ports. You can still use these docks on a USB 2.0 port, but you won't get the speed benefits of USB 3.0.
Whether you purchase a unit that accommodates one, two, or more drives depends on your needs. If you only want to be able to read a single drive at a time, or copy it to your computer's drive, a single-bay dock will be enough. However, a two-bay (or four-bay) dock gives you the ability to copy data from one drive to another, something that a single-bay dock does not.
[Bill O'Brien has written a half-dozen books on computers and technology. He has also written articles on topics ranging from Apple computers, PCs, and Linux and has authored commentary on subjects such as IT hardware decisions. Macworld Senior Editor Roman Loyola contributed to this article.]
Aluratek's Aluratek AHDDU200F ($50) is the archetypal external hard drive dock. Nearly a cube at 7.9 by 6.5 by 3.8 inches and weighing 2 pounds, the dock will accept either a 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch hard drives. It keeps the drive from wiggling free or dancing on your desk by the force of its girth and weight alone. It's not a bad setup for those of us with wandering elbows.
This chunky monkey of drive docks is absolutely free of frills but, given its low price, your expectations will be kept to a minimum as well. Sometimes a drive dock is just a drive dock and that's all it needs to be.—Bill O'Brien
It's possible that Cavalry's new EN-CAHDD-U3 ($70) could rescue you from your storage woes. This dual-bay dock could find a welcome place on your desk to extend your present storage capabilities. With two bays, it will accommodate both a 3.5-inch and a 2.5-inch drive simultaneously.
As with all 3.5-inch compatible docks, the unit comes with a power brick, but it won't crowd your wall outlet: A separate cord runs from the brick itself to the AC outlet. The dock's 6.2 by 5.0 by 3.2 inch size gives it a reasonable chance to fit on even the most populated desktops.—Bill O'Brien
Cirago Hard Drive Docking Station (CDD2000)
Cirago was another of the early responders to USB 3.0. Its CDD2000 ($50) drive dock was first offered in mid-2010; it's a petite 5.1-by-3.6-by-3 inches with a single bay that will accommodate either a 3.5-inch or a 2.5-inch drive. The sleek white device will look good on most desks; obviously, its appearance, low price and simplicity (it has only a single USB 3.0 port) are designed to appeal to consumers.
Surprisingly, the CDD2000 doesn't offer as many features as its USB 2.0 predecessor, the CDD1000 (still available for $40). Designed in bright red and black, the CDD1000 features a built-in memory card reader and can also serve as a two-port USB hub.—Bill O'Brien
Ineo's contribution to the USB 3.0 hard drive dock crowd is called the I-NA317U+ ($30). It supports either a 3.5-inch or a 2.5-inch drive inserted through a spring-loaded cap on the top of the bay.
Like the Cirago docking station, Ineo's 7.8-by-6.9-by-2.4-inch, 2-pound device is both simple and stylish. The back of the unit offers the USB 3.0 port, a power input and an on/off button. Inexperienced consumers will be grateful for the user manual, which is actually a short but well-illustrated how-to pamphlet.—Bill O'Brien
NewerTech Voyager Q
The Voyager Q ($90) offers USB 3.0 connectivity, but it also has FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and eSATA ports. It works with 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch drives, and is compatible with 3TB mechanisms.
The Voyager Q measures 5.28 by 3.70 by 2.68 inches, and weighs 1.35 pounds. NewerTech also includes all the cables you need to connect to your computer.
If you only want USB and don't care for the other connectors, NewerTech offers the Voyager S3 ($40), which has only USB 3.0. It lacks support for SATA-3 drives, however.—Roman Loyola
Rosewill is Newegg's house brand, and given the tech hardware retailer's penchant for low prices, it's probably no accident that while the Rosewill RX-DU300 had no price posted on the Rosewill website as of this writing, I could find it elsewhere for a relatively modest $35.
The 5.5-by-3.5-by-2.2 inch dock doesn't make any concessions to style. It is straightforwardly black and has a single slot that will hold either a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drive.
My only complaint about the RX-DU300 is that it uses an outlet-mounted power brick that can get in the way of a neighboring outlet. If your AC outlet is otherwise unused, you'll have no problem.—Bill O'Brien
Sharkoon SATA QuickPort Duo USB3.0 v.2
Germany-based Sharkoon seems to be a prolific USB hard drive dock manufacturer. In addition to offering several USB 2.0 models, the company has already reached Version 2 of its latest USB 3.0 model, the SATA QuickPort Duo USB 3.0 v.2 ($80).
This latest design accommodates two 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives. According to Sharkoon, the dock will work with SATA 3.0 drives such as Seagate's Barracuda XT or Western Digital's Caviar Green 3TB hard disks. Two LEDs on the front allow you to monitor the dock's power and drive access.—Bill O'Brien
StarTech.com four-bay eSATA USB 3.0 to SATA Hard Drive Docking Station (SATDOCK4U3E)
StarTech.com was one of the first companies to come out with a USB 3.0-compatible dock. Its four-bay eSATA USB 3.0 to SATA Hard Drive Docking Station (SATDOCK4U3E) ($190) can handle 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drives, mixed or matched. Dual 60mm fans can be manually switched on to keep the drives cool as needed.
The StarTech.com dock is somewhat larger than average at 3.7 by 6.8 by 11.4 inches and weighs in at just a bit above 2 pounds. The dock also has an eSATA port.—Bill O'Brien
Syba USB 3.0 Hard Disk Drive Docking Station (SD-ENC50036)
According to Syba, its new SD-ENC50036 ($30) will work with the new generation of over-2TB hard drives, so you can maximize your capacity with current 3TB drives and the larger ones that are to follow.
Unlike most single-bay docks, the SD-ENC50036 isn't a single block of metal into which you insert a drive; instead, it offers a more open configuration. Despite that, it's a bit bigger than most of its peers; it measures 7.5 by 5.2 by 5.2 inches and weighs 1.6 pounds.
When you insert a 3.5-inch drive, the dock clamps onto the drive and holds it in place. If you're using a 2.5-inch drive, Syba provides an insert that's placed against the rear of the drive so the clamping action still holds it firmly.—Bill O'Brien
Thermaltake BlacX 5G (ST0019U)
Thermaltake is probably better known for its lineup of computer cases, CPU heat sinks and power supplies. But that hasn't kept it out of the hard drive dock market.
The BlacX 5G ST0019U ($50) docking station (described on the website as having a "Trendy Docking Station Design") is a single-bay dock that accommodates either 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives. The dock comes with two rubberized fitted caps, one for each of the two drive sizes it handles. They provide a modicum of protection for the drive when it's not in the dock. The BlacX 5G measures 5.0 by 3.0 by 7.0 inches, and weighs 1.5 pounds.—Bill O'Brien
Vantec NexStar Hard Drive Dock SuperSpeed (NST-D300S3)
Measuring 5.4 by 3.2 by 3.4 inches, Vantec's NexStar Hard Drive Dock SuperSpeed (NST-D300S3) ($40) shares a similar design with many of the drive docks you'll find on the market. Basically, it's a cradle with a spring-loaded top into which you insert either a 3.5- or 2.5-inch hard drive.
A newer version of the dock, model NST-D300S3-BK, which comes in black instead of white, will soon be available. Carrying the same footprint as the original version, it will have support for SATA-3 hard drives, such as Seagate's or Western Digital's 3TB hard disks.—Bill O'Brien