Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The first part we are going to take a look at will be the USB 3.0 host card since it is already available. Vantec is very vague in their marketing literature to the PCIe standard used. We have seen a few PCIe 2.0 cards already on the market and some even use four lanes to route the data. Still, PCIe 1.0 can handle 250MB/s before the cost of overhead, but testing will show us what the performance is like.
The Vantec USB 3.0 host card is tiny. I really couldn't believe just how small it actually was even when holding it in my hand. Several motherboards have PCIe 1x connectors that are setup so a longer card couldn't fit. If you have one of these motherboards and wondered what in the world you could actually use in that slot, this is it.
I have already touched on the availability of the host controller; you can get it now from a number of places. Newegg currently has the card listed at 43.99 with stock available. To me the price seems ridiculously high considering the ASUS S6U3, another add-in card with two USB 3.0 ports and two SATA 6G ports that is listed for only 29.99. ASUS does only support the use of the card in their own motherboards and more specifically their P55 boards, but we have used it in several other boards with success. Looking at both the ASUS and Vantec cards side by side, I just can't come to grips with how the pricing is working out considering the U3S6 has 5x the number of components, uses 4 PCIe Lanes and has a PCB that looks like it came off an entry level video card production line. Then again, USB 3.0 is new and you take what you can get, right?
Vantec's website shows two NexStar 3 models, the first is a 3.5 inch form factor unit and the second is a 2.5 inch form factor unit. When these do become available be sure to double check that you are purchasing the right version for the type of drive you are planning on using with the enclosure.
As mentioned previously, the NexStar 3 is not currently available on the market and we should point out that changes could be made between now and the time of retail availability. This also includes the benchmark performance numbers that we will see later in this article. Our sample unit arrived in a white box so we know that at the time it was shipped the retail package was not available. The fit, finish and accessory package with the enclosure appears to be ready to ship out of the door.
The NexStar 3 is quite an attractive piece of work as you will see in a couple of pages. The enclosure has a nice blue LED that you can manually choose to disable when installing the drive. The drive sled fits nicely in the outer cover and even though it is metal, the weight is low enough that it will not be noticed in your backpack or briefcase. Vantec included a nice USB 3.0 cable, but the unit does need an external power cable as with any 3.5 inch form factor enclosure since USB does not send 12 volts. The power brick isn't very bulky, but it does add to the nuisance factor when looking to transport the enclosure from one place to another. Because of this I can't wait to see the 2.5 inch form factor NexStar 3 since it may not actually require an external power source. Vantec's website does list a power brick as included in the accessory pack, but we will just have to wait and see.