I’m starting a new occasional series of blog posts called “MyFaves,” to highlight some of the hardware items that I find absolutely indispensable in working on — that is installing, managing, repairing, and backing up — Windows systems. I’m going to kick this series off with a hardware accessory I have come to rely for all kinds of interesting uses on my fleet of Windows PCs, and my occasional forays into Mac OS and Linux on x86 machines. This product is sometimes called a hard drive caddy or a hard disk drive (HDD) docking station. These units can usually accommodate one or two SATA external hard disks, and typically handle both 2.5″ and 3.5″ form factors with aplomb. Here’s a picture of the Thermaltake BlackX Duet 5G (retails for $72 at Newegg) and supports a USB 3.0 interface (which of course also works with USB 2.0 ports, albeit more slowly):
The Thermaltake BlackX Duet 5G supports up to 3 TB drives in each of its two SATA slots.
“What are these things good for?” you ask. Although I keep discovering new ways to put them to work, here are some handy applications I’ve found for my two single-port HDD docking stations over the past year or so:
1. Drive imaging for conventional 2.5″ hard disks for migration onto an SSD replacement.
2. Drive diagnostics and repair for problem Windows drives — especially when they’re boot/system drives.
3. Easy external backup for notebook PCs: the dock makes it easy to swap drives, and thus to maintain a separate 3.5″ drive for each individual notebook.
4. Maintenance of separate, discrete (and sometimes encrypted) project drives for security-sensitive customers who (a) don’t want a drive mounted when it’s not in active use, and (b) who don’t want their data on a drive that is used for any other purpose besides working for them.
5. Easy access to a poor man’s simple-minded “near-line storage” for archival purposes (a simple handwritten label keyed to an online index makes it easy to keep track of what’s where, too).
6. Easy switching between different OSes and file systems (the dock uses USB, which works equally well with Windows, Mac OS, and Linux), with different drives for each one.
I could go on and on, but hopefully this gives you a pretty good idea that such a device is extremely handy to have around when you need to work on (or with) lots of different hard drives and SSDs. I’m getting ready to buy a two-slot model (the BlackX Duet 5G depicted above, in fact) because it seems tailor made for moving the contents of one drive to another, and will take up fewer ports and wall sockets in my office than the two single-port models I’m using right now.