We've tested Icy Dock's innovative line of storage products for years and used them for even longer. I use a few of the company's products religiously in my test SSD test systems. The reason why is because the products allow me to quickly swap one drive for another and don't degrade performance, a critical issue when measuring performance in a professional manner.
The Icy Dock ToughArmor product series uses all metal construction and allows users to install multiple devices in small spaces. The MB996SP-6SB is a great example of providing a quality enclose that packs six 2.5-inch drives in a single 5.25-inch drive bay. It's impossible to increase density further. That unit also allows the user to decrease clutter inside the computer case because it reduces the number of power cables to the drive location. Adding even more sugar to the mixture, the MB996SP-6SB adds a small--but silent--fan to cool the drives directly and pull air into the system.
We're taking a close look at the entire ToughArmor products series today. We have all five models in the product line up in the lab. All of the enclosures use Icy Dock's EZ-Slide drive carriers in a full metal enclosure for easy and reliable operation.
The ToughArmor series was overbuilt for a reason. The metal is dense and doesn't bend under normal use. If you run over the enclosures with a SUV, you might have an issue, but we'll test that later in this review.
We've tested drive enclosures in the past made of plastic and had issues with sliding the drives in but missing the SATA ports. This puts stress on SATA power and data connector, which can damage the drive and the enclosure. The Icy Dock ToughArmor products we've used never have this issue.
MB991IK-B and MB992SK-B
Icy Dock has two 3.5-inch models in the ToughArmor line up. The first is the MB991IK-B model that works with SATA, SAS, and dual SAS drives from 5mm to 15mm z-heights.
We found the MB991IK-B for as low as $27.99 online, so the per-drive cost is $27.99. This unit is special in that it can handle dual SAS drives through two 7-pin SATA ports. To use SAS, it does require a special cable, but when dealing with SAS, what doesn't require a special cable?
If you are using a SAS drive, especially a SAS SSD, then you want to protect the drive because they are expensive. The MB991IK-B allows you to lock the drive in the enclosure for safe keeping.
The enclosure is about the same size as a standard 3.5-inch HDD.
Here we see SATA / SAS connections on the back of the enclosure. For SATA, you just use the standard power and SATA ports on the left like normal. Dual-channel SAS drives require both 7-pin SATA ports to achieve dual-channel bandwidth.
The drive sled fits in the enclosure perfectly, so the drive connectors hit the market every time.
The MB992SK-B is a dual-bay SATA enclosure with the locking feature that fits inside a 3.5-inch drive bay. Most computer cases still have a 3.5-inch drive bay even though the standard was last popular with floppy drives.
3.5-inch drive bays still come standard on computer cases even though I haven't seen a floppy drive in use for ten years. It's about time we find something useful for this slot…something other than a cover. We found the MB992SK-B for as low as $32.99, giving this model a per-drive cost of $16.50.
The MB992SK-B also uses a locking mechanism for drive security. Users with a 2.5-inch SSD paired with a 2.5-inch HDD in a cache pair can benefit from this model because it adds your drives in an attractive enclose that simplifies the cable arrangement. This is also a good model to use with a RAID pair, for both SSDs and HDDs.
Two SATA data connectors that route data to and from the drives flank a single SATA power connector on the left. Air flow vents on the top, bottom, and back allow air to pass through the system.
The two metal drive carriers slide in the enclosure via rails on the side.
PRICING: You can find the Icy Dock MB991IK-B and MB992SK-B for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.
United States: TheIcy Dock MB991IK-B retails for $30.77 at Amazon.
United States: TheIcy Dock MB992SK-B retails for $32.14 at Amazon.
MB994SP-4S and MB996SP-6SB
The MB994SP-4S is another model that supports SATA and SAS drives.
This is the first 5.25-inch enclosure of the ToughArmor group. It holds four drives, either SATA or single-channel SAS and up to 15mm z-height. Two 4-pin Molex connectors provide power to all of the drives, keeping cable clutter to a minimum. We found the MB994SP-4S for as low as $75, making the cost per bay just $18.75.
The four-drive model allows you to use large height SAS drives, and that makes it fairly unique on the market.
This model and the other 5.25-inch models do have a special requirement when installed in a computer. You have to be careful not to use long screws. Icy Dock supplies special short screws that work in nearly all cases. The reason for the short screws is so the drives will fit in the enclosure. Two 2.5-inch drives together comes to 5 inches in a 5.25-inch space. It sounds easy enough, but the enclosure also has to have sides and a space between the two drives.
Even though this model supports both SATA and SAS, you can only use the SAS drives in single-channel mode. The dual fans will keep your high RPM hard drives cool.
I own several MB996SP-6SB units and use them every day in our NAS test servers. The units allow us to have a dense drive environment in very little space. When using rackmount servers, density is an important consideration.
The MB996SP-6SB fits six 2.5-inch HDDs or SSDs in a single 5.25-inch drive bay. Users can fit drives up to 9.5mm z-height in a space designed for optical drives. We found this model online for as low as $87.84, which is just $14.64 per drive bay.
It's difficult to recommend anything else when you need to build a high drive count array in a small space. The MB996SP-6SB simply delivers unrivaled build quality paired with high functionality.
Again, it's important to pay attention to the screws with this system, but Icy Dock supplies the short screws that work in most systems.
Two 4-pin Molex power ports supply the juice to all six drives. A single cooling fan keeps the drives cool (yes, SSDs can get hot without proper air flow). A fan speed selector switch sets the speed to high, low, and OFF. On the low setting, you can't hear the fan under normal use.
PRICING: You can find the Icy Dock MB994SP-4S and MB996SP-6SB for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.
United States: TheIcy Dock MB994SP-4S retails for $85.78 at Amazon.
United States: TheIcy Dock MB996SP-6SB retails for $84.99 at Amazon.
Our fifth and final model in the ToughArmor product line pairs two 2.5-inch SATA / SAS drives with a slim ODD (Optical Disk Drive) bay. The MB994IPO-3SB can use dual-channel SAS, so it's prefect for 1U servers that still need to have CD/DVDs and to have the operating system in a RAID 1 array.
We found the MB994IPO-3SB for as low as $71.99. On the optical side, the enclosure uses a slim optical drive like what's in notebooks. On the HDD side, you can use either SATA or dual-channel SAS and up to 15mm z-height drives.
The enclosure ships with a cover over the ODD bay, but it's easily removable. The ODD uses the SATA interface, so any off the shelf SATA ODD model will work.
Again, you need to use the supplied special screws since the drives fit right up against the side walls of the enclosure.
Two 4-pin Molex power connectors supply power to the three drives. A 40mm fan keeps the HDDs cool, but you can turn the fan off if needed. The dual-channel SAS configuration is through two SATA 7-pin connectors.
Here we installed an ODD taken from a Lenovo W530 notebook. The drive fits perfectly after removing the Lenovo clip used to hold it in place. Icy Dock supplies the tiny screws used to install the ODD, and every enclosure we looked at today ships with both the enclosure and the HDD mounting screws.
PRICING: You can find the Icy Dock MB994IPO-3SB for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.
United States: TheIcy Dock MB994IPO-3SB retails for $109.56 at Amazon.
Testing and Final Thoughts
Desktop Test System
Today, we're using the same system we test consumer SSDs on every day. To eliminate the need of running a secure erase command between tests, we're using an OCZ Storage Solutions Vector 150 120GB drive that has excellent write consistency. With the drive placed in each of the enclosures and ran five times, we average the results. After testing in the enclosures, we ran a comparison test with the drive attached directly to the motherboard.
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview
As you can see in the two charts, the enclosures do not interfere with drive performance. In this test, we used a very high-speed SSD to look for issues but didn't find any.
The ToughArmor product series' native environment is in servers where end customers need to configure disk space. 2U and 4U server chassis with full length backplanes for an abundance of drives cost thousands of dollars, but a well-made standard 2U starts at roughly $100, and we've shown a nice 4U can cost as low as $89.99.
Using the Rosewill RSV-L4000 with nine 5.25-inch bays as an example, we can fit 54 2.5-inch SSDs if outfitted with nine MB996SP-6SB 6-bay enclosures. You are not going to find that kind of density in a server case off the shelf and in that server size.
Extreme density is only part of it, though. Getting the right drive configuration is rarely possible with off-the-shelf cases. The ToughArmor series allows you to configure a new server for your specific use. That may include SAS, SATA, and optical drives all in the same server.
We can't let something with tough in the product name get by without an extreme test:
A few weeks ago, I picked up a new 4400-pound toy. To show just how tough the Icy Dock Tough Armor products were, we ran them over with a SUV. We don't expect your server to put this kind of demand on your Tough Armor drive enclosure, but we couldn't help ourselves.
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