The nMEDIAPC nDrive is a portable USB enclosure that offers both a 2.5 inch SATA hard drive bay for building your own external storage drive and a multiple-format card reader in one device.
Offering slots for Compact Flash, SD, xD-Picture Card, and Memory Stick, the nDrive handles almost all the external media needs of photographers users, and provides external photo or file storage as well. In this review we test how fast the drive is in multiple scenarios and see how well it holds up in the rigors of day to day use.
nMEDIAPC nDrive Specifications:
- Innovative passive cooling
- Supports any 2.5″ SATA hard drive up to 500GB
- Front panel holds replaceable image
- Card reader supports Memory Stick, SD, xD, Compact Flash, and Micro Drive
- USB bus powered through a split cable; no external power required
- Driverless support with Win ME/2000/XP/Vista, Mac OS X/9.2 or higher
Build and Design
The design of the nDrive is very basic, with a glossy black body and dark chrome trim. The soft rounded edges let you slip the drive easily into a pocket without snagging and gives it a really clean look. Another nice touch is the screw-hole caps, which act as feet. This elevates the drive slightly, giving a path for air to move so the hard drive inside gets a bit of cooling via convection.
One odd design feature that made me think the drive had an onboard LCD was the picture holder on the front. The stock image gives it an iPhone-ish look, but you can replace it with anything. I found it looked best empty, but some simple design would also work.
Build quality is average with the thin plastics used. The overall feel is solid, but there are a few localized weak spots on the bottom near the cooling vents. The plastic finish held up well during our testing, but the finish was less than impervious to scratches. The clear lid used for the picture holder will probably show a significant amount of wear over time, something that you wouldn’t notice as much if it was opaque.
The card reader was very handy since my notebook doesn’t have an SD slot and my external card reader is still half the size of the nDrive. Combining both the reader and hard drive enclosure into one device cuts down on the amount you have to carry and also makes it harder to forget one or the other.
The reader supports all major card formats, including SD, xD, Memory Stick, and Compact Flash.
As noted, the nDrive is an enclosure only, meaning you’ll have to supply your own 2.5 inch hard drive for image or other file storage. I chose a spare 120GB 5400RPM SATA Fujitsu hard drive to use in this enclosure for the review. While it is not the fastest drive on the market, it will still fully saturate a USB connection. The SATA drive performance inside this USB enclosure was decent, but limited by the bus speed. While eSATA could overcome this limit, it was not an option for this enclosure.
Depending on the notebook or desktop the enclosure was hooked up to, read transfer speeds ranged between 23 and 32 MB/s. One concern we had from the start was whether the internal USB hub that split the connection between the HD and card reader would slow the transfer speeds, but this didn’t happen.
Card reader performance seemed to be limited by the card used, with my 8 GB Kingston SDHC card showing a consistent 18 MB/s read speed. Transferring data off of the SDHC card to the hard drive inside the enclosure worked quite well, with Vista averaging the speeds out between 16 and 18 MB/s. This would come in handy for offloading large quantities of files from a camera’s memory card.
Heat and Noise
The passive cooling system made up of the spacer feet and the vents underneath the case kept the drive at a reasonable temperature during use. After being plugged in and operating for a few hours, the drive had only reached 92 degrees Fahrenheit with room temperature around 72 degrees. Noise from the drive was minimal through the plastic shell, with only the odd click coming from the drive under use. Some drives are louder than others, so depending on what type of drive you use, it may be more audible.
The nMEDIAPC nDrive USB SATA enclosure is a great product to look at if you are in need of a drive and card reader. Speeds from both the hard drive and card reader were very good, and still more than adequate when transferring from an SDHC card to the hard drive inside. The build quality is good enough to hold up well under frequent use and the design fine once you find something to replace the stock photo. With prices online as low as $35, the nDrive is a steal for getting both an USB drive and card reader in one package.
- Less clutter when combining both USB hard drive and card reader
- Passive cooling works well
- Good fit and finish
- The photo holder on the front looks out of place