Review: Akitio Neutrino U3+

Akitio Neutrino enclosure brings USB 3.0, FireWire (September 26th, 2012)

As notebook computers continue to grow in popularity, 2.5-inch hard drives have become one of the most popular upgrades. Most of the drives that are pulled out of a computer end up collecting dust, but Akitio's Neutrino U3+ enclosure promises to give life back to unused drives, or serve as a basis for custom external storage. In our full review, we take a closer look at the USB 3.0-equipped enclosure.

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Akitio

Price: $79

The Good

  • Robust construction
  • Plenty of cooling
  • USB 3.0 and FireWire 800
  • Backwards compatible
  • Cables included
  • Easy to install

The Bad

  • Short cables
  • Not sealed
  • Relatively large

As notebook computers continue to grow in popularity, 2.5-inch hard drives have become one of the most popular upgrades. Most of the drives that are pulled out of a computer end up collecting dust, but Akitio's Neutrino U3+ enclosure promises to give life back to unused drives, or serve as a basis for custom external storage. In our full review, we take a closer look at the USB 3.0-equipped enclosure.



Design

The Neutrino U3+ reminds us of Other World Computing;s ElitePro mini enclosure. Both are built from aluminum, with with appears to be a bead-blast finish. The raw silver color and matte texture looks particularly natural alongside a unibody MacBoook or Mac Pro, though the U3+ is suitable for Mac or Windows machines.

Aluminum construction, ample venting and heat-sink ridges eliminate the need for active cooling. Passive heat dissipation is the industry standard for 2.5-inch drive enclosures, so the U3+ is not unique in this regard. We have seen many external housings that surround the drive by an insulating layer of plastic. Although we haven't experienced a failure from the plastic variety, we still like the idea of generous cooling for long-term reliability.

Installing a drive in the U3+ is simple and straightforward. Unscrewing four Phillips-head screws releases the inner tray, which slides out of the aluminum shell. A 2.5-inch hard drive easily slides into the SATA connector, while two additional Phillips-head screws secure the drive in the tray. We were able to install a drive in less than five minutes with a common household screwdriver--no need to hunt down the precision screwdriver set.





Connections

Users can choose from USB 3.0 or two FireWire 800 ports, each located on the end of the tray. The USB 3.0 port is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices, while the FireWire connection is backwards compatible with FireWire 400 equipment. The enclosure covers every common standard except Thunderbolt.

The company provides all of the necessary cords in the package, including a FireWire 800 cable and a USB 3.0 cable. We had no problem using the USB 3.0 cable to connect the drive to an older MacBook Pro with USB 2.0 ports.

The enclosure is bus powered, however Akitio includes a dedicated power supply to accommodate any system that lacks sufficient power. The adapter even includes several swappable power plugs for travelers or international customers.



Performance

We were able to reach read and write speeds nearing 75MBps with a 5400rpm Toshiba drive via USB 3.0 or FireWire 800. Stepping down to USB 2.0, our read speeds fell to approximately 35MBps and write speeds dropped to around 30MBps.

The test demonstrated that the drive itself served as a bottleneck that cannot take full advantage of USB 3.0 speed. This is not true of all drives, however, as many 7200rpm disks can be expected to push beyond 125MBps on USB 3.0, but with similar performance to a 5400rpm drive when routed through a FireWire 800 connection.



Final thoughts

The Neutrino U3+ is one of the better enclosures that we've had a chance to check out, offering a wide range of connection options to maximize potential throughput on Mac and Windows computers. As we noted earlier, the USB 3.0 connection is best suited to 7200rpm drives to stretch beyond FireWire performance, but the enclosure still works just fine with a slower disk.

Amazon currently sells the U3+ for $79, commanding a premium over a basic USB 3.0 enclosure, though its robust construction and FireWire 800 ports certainly add to the value. In contrast, OWC offers its On-The-Go Pro clear plastic enclosure with FireWire 800 and USB 3.0 for $72, but we prefer the aluminum build of the U3+.

by Justin King


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