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30 Hardware and Windows Tips in 30 Days Tip 19: The Time's Ripe to Take eSATA for a Spin

Looking for a faster way to back up your desktop and mobile PCs? Want to exploit those extra SATA host adapters on your motherboard? Follow these tips to make moving to eSATA a painless process.

What's faster than USB 2.0 and FireWire, supports hot-swapping, and plugs into your motherboard with a cheap (under $10) adapter? External SATA (eSATA), of course! eSATA has been around for awhile, but until recently it hasn't exactly been a household word. What's happened to give you a new reason to look at eSATA? Low-cost, high-capacity and versatile external hard disks, that's what.

Some Leading Dual and Triple-Interface Players

Seagate's pioneering Free Agent Pro series of USB 2.0/eSATA hard disks (some of which also feature FireWire 400 interfaces) now have plenty of competition. Western Digital's My Book Home Edition offers up to 1TB of storage and USB 2.0/eSATA/FireWire 400 interfaces, providing a bring-your-own backup software alternative to WD's My Book Premium ES. Other players include some of Freecom's Hard Drive PRO series and LaCie's d2 Quadra Hard Drive (which adds FireWire 800 to eSATA, USB 2.0, and FireWire 400) and 2TB behemoth Bigger Disk Extreme with Triple Interface. Although some vendors, such as Seagate, also offer hard disks with only eSATA interfaces, I think this option isn't versatile enough (at least for now). Someday, everyone will have eSATA interfaces onboard, but until then, a drive with both USB 2.0 and eSATA interfaces (at a minimum) makes much more sense.

Adding the Missing Link: an eSATA Interface

Although a few motherboards now include integrated eSATA host adapters, such as the MSI P6NSLI Platinum Quad Core for Intel CPU fans and ASUS M2N-SLI Deluxe for AMD Athlon 64 x2 fans, most existing systems don't have eSATA ports. What's the solution? You have two choices:

  • Option 1: Add an eSATA host adapter card. These are available for desktops in both traditional PCI and PCI Express x1 and x4 form factors (some include RAID support), and for laptops using the new ExpressCard form factor from a variety of companies.
  • Option 2: Have some unused SATA host adapters on your desktop computer's motherboard? Save yourself some bucks by using an SATA-eSATA converter bracket. Both two-port and single-port adapters are available.

By making your next external hard disk purchase an eSATA/USB 2.0 drive model and selecting the most suitable eSATA host adapter or converter solution, you can enjoy the faster speed of eSATA without sacrificing the ability to use your drive on any PC.

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