Thermaltake Vi-ON 3.5″ External HD Enclosure

Thermaltake makes some terrific products for PC enthusiasts and professionals inclined to pick up tools and computer components and indulge in a little do-it-yourself activity. In another recent review, I examined their nifty eSATA/USB hard drive dock, which led them to send me an actively ventilated and much more attractive eSATA/USB drive enclosure: This device is known as the Vi-ON ST0008U 3.5 External Hard Drive Enclosure with Active SMART Cooling System, and it retails for between $44 and $50 online (list price on the Thermaltake product page is $60). For the rest of this review, I’ll simply call it the Vi-ON for brevity.

The Vi-ON is a small (10.04″ x 2.76″ x 8.07″ / 225mm x 70mm x 205mm) and fairly lightweight external drive enclosure. It features glossy black side panels and a highly perforated edge that wraps around the front, sides and top, and extends onto the front of the unit’s snap-on pedestal base. It weighs 480g ( 16.9 oz) empty, and 1,245g (just under 44 oz) with a Toshiba Deskstar 7K500 installed.

Front view of Vi-ON with power/activity light on
The wedge at the bottom of the enclosure slides onto a couple of posts to lock into position, which tilts the Vi-ON at a rakish angle.

Rear view of the enclosure, sans pedestal

From the rear, top to bottom, you see the USB Type B connector, eSATA, power input, and the on/off switch.

The Vi-ON's sides are glossy black plastic

The sides of the Vi-ON are glossy black plastic, very prone to pick up smudges and fingerprints. Handle with care (or gloves)!

Installing a drive into the Vi-ON is pretty easy. You must slide the enclosure off its pedestal base, then back out four small machine screws to remove a steel plate at the bottom of the enclosure. This enables one of the side panels to slide out and exposes the interior of the enclosure to view and access. Interestingly the drive itself simply slides onto the SATA power and data connectors, and sits atop 4 silicon supports (these appear in bright white at the center of the four plastic standoffs inside the case, as shown in the next photo). When you slide the top panel back onto the case, it features a matte rubber or plastic pad on the inside that pushes the drive into the silicon supports and holds the drive firmly in place. The only tool you need to take this apart or put it together is a Philips head screwdriver, for the four small machine screws that hold the steel place to the base of the case (beneath the bottom edge of the photo).

Inside view of the Vi-ON enclosure
A SATA drive slides onto the power/data connector block at lower right, and rests atop the four silicon shock mounts (white elements at the center of the four plastic standoffs). Mounting is easy and reasonably secure.

As it turns out, the Vi-ON does a reasonable job of case ventilation, but I don’t recommend it for older, high capacity drives (like the Toshiba Deskstar 7K500 500 GB unit I first tried in this unit, which made its debut in mid-2005). These older drives typically include 4 platters in a standard 3.5″ package, and tend to run pretty hot. I measured temperatures inside this case from a low of 44° C to a high of 51° C (at idle for the first measurement; while backing up to the drive for the second measurement). By contrast, a newer Seagate 7200.10 750 GB drive (with only 3 platters) ran at temps from 34° C to 41° C at idle and during backup, respectively, while 320 GB 7200.10 Seagate (2 platters) ran at 29° C to 36° C.

Because conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t run hard disks at temperatures above 40-45° C on an extended basis, this argues that you will want to find cooler drives to emplace in the Vi-ON case. Except for that requirement, I found the Vi-ON to be easy to work with, relatively quiet, and nicely compact. If you do have hotter drives to put into external enclosures, the Antec MX-1 appears to offer more vigorous cooling, and might be a better choice for that reason. But this is a pretty small caveat, because newer high-capacity drives up to 1 TB simply don’t run this hot any more.


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