OWC’s Mercury Elite-AL Pro series of external hard drives and cases provides more bang for the buck, not only in having a quad interface made up of USB 2.0, FireWire 400, FireWire 800, and eSATA ports, but also in ruggedness and ease of assembly and use.
OWC sells the Mercury Elite-Al Pro in a variety of configurations, from an empty case, which I review here, to a model with a 2 TB hard drive already installed. Since all of these products are built around the same case, this review will give you an idea of what to expect from any of the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro series of products.
OWC Mercury Elite-Al Pro: First Impressions
The Mercury Elite-Al Pro case is an all-aluminum affair, with a Mac Pro/G5-like cheese grater appearance on the front that helps provide airflow, and a rear apron that houses all of the connections. The front also includes an LED that indicates power as well as hard drive activity. The rear contains the four connection types: USB 2.0, a single FireWire 400 port, a pair of FireWire 800 ports to allow for daisy chaining, and an eSATA port. Also on the back are the power connector, power switch, and a security slot compatible with the Kensington anti-theft system.
The Mercury Elite-AL Pro uses a separate power brick that connects to the case via a DIN-style connector. Normally, I prefer cases with integrated power supplies, however in this case, an external power supply eliminates the need for a noisy fan to keep everything cool. The DIN-style connection is more reliable than the simple plug used with many other cases, and the power brick is inline with the cord, not a wall wart that hogs space on a power strip.
The all-aluminum case is silver anodized in appearance and contains the Mercury Elite Pro logo on both the top and bottom of the case.
The case includes:
- Shielded eSATA cable
- Shielded FireWire 800 (9-9 pin) cable
- Shielded FireWire 400 (6-6 pin) cable
- USB 2.0 cable
- Vertical stand
- Auto-switching power supply
- Torx T-10 screwdriver
- Assembly instructions
OWC Mercury Elite-Al Pro: Assembly
OWC supplies a Torx T-10 screwdriver for disassembly/assembly of the case, which is a plus, because a good percentage of users don’t have Torx-style screwdrivers in their tool kits.
The rear of the case contains four Torx screws; once you remove the screws, you can remove the rear panel and slide the top aluminum cover off the case, revealing the Mercury Elite-Al Pro circuit board, power connections, and the hard drive mounting area.
You can place the hard drive of your choice in the case and mount it through the case’s side panels, using screws provided by the drive manufacturer. Both power and data use SATA-style connections. If you have one of the older SATA drives that uses the older Molex power connector, you will need to get an adapter, from OWC or a third party. Newer SATA hard drives use SATA-style connectors, so connectivity shouldn’t be a problem. I chose to install a 500 GB Samsung Spinpoint F series drive into the case and had no problems with installation.
Once you mount the hard drive and plug in the SATA cables, simply slide the case’s top cover back into place and reattach the rear panel.
All in all, the assembly process is painless and quick. My only objection is the use of Torx screws, which aren’t a common item for most households, but this is a minor point, since OWC provides a Torx screwdriver.
OWC Mercury Elite-Al Pro: Interface
OWC actually makes four versions of this case, all sharing the same Mercury Elite-AL Pro name. The difference is in the internal and external interfaces. Two models have the older IDE internal hard drive interface, and two models have the newer SATA internal hard drive connections.
Here is a breakdown of the four case types:
- IDE Internal, USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 external ports
- IDE Internal, USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 ports
- SATA Internal, USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 external ports
- SATA Internal. USB 2.0, FireWire 400, FireWire 800 and eSATA external ports
We will focus on the last one on the list. Unless you really need to scrimp on cost, it’s the one I recommend for use with a SATA hard drive.
The Mercury Elite-Al Pro Quad case uses the Oxford 924 chipset to provide the internal SATA interface and all the external interfaces. The Oxford 924 chipset is a versatile choice, providing both excellent performance and a host of configuration possibilities. This same chipset is also used in many hardware RAID controllers, although in this application, OWC chose to use the quad interface option.
You can use any of the Mercury Elite-Al Pro ports to connect to your Mac. The eSATA port will provide the maximum performance a drive is capable of, although your Mac must also have an eSATA controller. The second fastest connection is the FireWire 800, which most recent Macs can use. The last two connection types, FireWire 400 and USB 2.0, are very close in performance, with FireWire 400 edging out USB 2.0 for file transfers involving large amounts of data.
OWC Mercury Elite-Al Pro: Performance
Using QuickBench 4 and a Samsung F series 500 GB hard drive, I performed a series of tests to gauge how well each interface performed. The drive was wiped clean before each test. Each interface was tested using a series of large data transfers, from 2 to 10 MB in size. Remember, we are testing the Mercury Elite-Al Pro interfaces, and not the hard drive itself.
- USB 2.0: Average read 29.418 MB/sec; average write 24.476 MB/sec
- FireWire 400: Average read 35.044 MB/sec; average write 35.013 MB/sec
- FireWire 800: Average read 72.386 MB/sec; average write 53.950 MB/sec
- eSATA: Average read 120.495 MB/sec; average write 129.926 MB/sec
The results show that the drive itself is able to saturate the USB and both FireWire interfaces. The eSATA interface, which is just passing through the internal SATA interface, shows the raw performance of the drive itself, although technically there may be some slight overhead in the Oxford 924’s signal routing. But since no data manipulation is being performed, the results should be close to the raw capabilities of the installed hard drive.
The USB and both FireWire interfaces performed as expected. You should choose a connection to use based on what ports are available on your Mac, and how you will be using the external hard drive. If you will be working with multimedia, you should consider at least the FireWire 800 connection. If you’re looking for the fastest possible performance, eSATA wins the prize, although you will need a Mac with an add-on eSata controller.