Most of the time when building a system, the physical size of the system isn’t a huge factor—it may be going under a desk or in some other area where space isn’t limited. But sometimes, as in the case of an HTPC, space may be at a premium and can severely limit the overall footprint. In those situations, compromises must often be made in order to get the system in a small area. Often, this compromise comes in the form of storage since hard drives take up a lot of physical space.
Icy Dock doesn’t want us to have to compromise. The ICY DOCK MB994IPO-3SB (shortened to ‘3SB for sanity’s sake) fits in a standard 5.25″ bay and holds two 2.5″ SATA 6.0Gb/s or SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) devices (generally hard drives or SSDs), plus one SATA slim optical drive (basically any kind of optical media driver is supported. They have Blu-ray burners in this form factor). This means the newest and fastest of devices can be used in this enclosure without having to worry about a performance loss.
The back of the ‘3SB holds all power and data connections. Two four-pin molex power plugs power the entire device, an on/off switch controls the small rear fan, one SATA port for the optical drive, and two SATA ports for each of the two hard drives. The second SATA port for each drive is for SAS devices, and is not necessary when standard SATA devices are used.
The build quality is excellent. The ‘3SB is heavy, and for good reason: almost every bit of this drive dock is metal—aluminum and SECC to be exact. It’s one of the sturdiest pieces of kit I’ve seen in quite some time. The only plastic on the enclosure is in the handles attached to the drive trays. It’s a refreshing change from the ‘built as cheaply as possible’ trend that has plagued peripherals for years.
The ‘3SB was installed in my HTPC which is housed in a Thermaltake Element Q—perhaps one of the best test cases for the ICY DOCK enclosure. The case has two bays: one 5.25″ bay for an optical drive and a 3.5″ bay for storage. There isn’t a whole lot of room in the case to begin with, and it becomes especially snug when both bays are filled with standard sized components. Because the ‘3SB relies on parts typically destined for laptops, there is a bit more room when the enclosure is used than when standard desktop components are installed. The benefit is a little more space for cabling and air circulation—both items that can be seriously restricted in this small of a case.
Device installation and removal is excellent. 2.5-inch devices install by way of four screws in the tray bottom. Once a drive is placed in its bay, just slide it in and lock it in place by pushing the face plate flush with the bay. Removing the drive involves pushing a button that releases the face plate and then sliding the bay back out. It’s a very simple and effective mechanic.
The optical drive sits in its tray and is secured in place by two screws on the left and right sides. Its ejection mechanism is a bit more complex—a plastic key is pushed into a slot to release the latch holding the drive tray in place. While this method is less desirable, very few people swap optical drives on a regular basis, and there probably wasn’t a better implementation given size constraints. While I was able to install my laptop’s slim optical drive in the tray, the face plate used by the laptop prevented its actual use in the enclosure—the enclosure’s frame could not close around the face plate. Had I still owned the original faceplate for that drive, things would have likely gone perfectly.
The small cooling fan in the back of the ‘3SB makes no appreciable noise, which is great considering its current home in an (also silent) HTPC. I had to double check to make sure the fan was turned on and running, and sure enough, the fan is extremely quiet.
Just because an enclosure says it supports a particular standard, it doesn’t necessarily support it well or fully. For example a device that says it supports SATA 6.0GB/s might cause a device that normally performs transfers up to 500MB/s to drop down in the 300MB/s range (or worse). ICY DOCK is particularly proud of the ‘3SB’s performance and asked me to demonstrate it, so I grabbed a part which is currently under review, the OCZ Vertex 4, to see just how well the ‘3SB handles a fast SSD.
As you can see from the ATTO benchmarks, ICY DOCK’s opinion of the ‘3SB’s performance is certainly warranted. The performance of the Vertex 4 in the ICY DOCK and directly connected to the motherboard is so close it’s virtually identical. Even the largest performance delta can be chalked up to margin-of-error.
Pricing and conclusion
The ‘3SB sells for $84.99 plus shipping on Newegg. While this might seem a bit of a steep price to command, bear in mind this is no cheap plastic piece of junk and ICY DOCK has compromised nothing in its construction. They stand behind their product too, backing it with three-year parts and labor warranties.
Naming choice aside, there is nothing to complain about when it comes to the ICY DOCK MB994IPO-3SB. It delivers on quality, ease of use, and quiet operation. If you want to stuff large amounts of storage into a small HTPC or even expand your desktop system, the MB994IPO-3SB should be at the top of your list for consideration. We’re happy to name it an Icrontic Outstanding Product for its excellent quality and the sheer amount of stuff it allows in a tiny space.