Review: The NewerTech Voyager Q Drive Dock
If you’ve read Hivelogic over the last few years, you already know that I’m a backup fiend. My setup has changed a bit since I wrote that article, but the emphasis is still the same: I really like redundancy when it comes to backing up my data.
I use a Drobo for Time Machine and media backup. I store my photo and video libraries on a LaCie 2TB 2big Quadra with RAID mirroring. And I backup the LaCie and my MacBook Pro’s drives using SuperDuper! to external drives. Yes, you read that right … I backup my RAID drive, mainly because it’s used as primary storage, and as a rule, all primary storage should have a backup.
Why so much redundancy? I’ve spent many years around computer hardware and I’ve seen just about every kind of failure you can imagine. Drives are almost always the first thing to go. And with the cost of hard drives dropping every day, it makes sense to have good backups with multiple copies.
But external drives are expensive — in many cases far more expensive than an internal version of the same size drive. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to use the cheaper, internal drives as external storage, with the added ability to rotate them out and create a better, more reliable backup solution?
Enter the Voyager Q
The NewerTech Voyager Drive Dock Quad Interface ($99 at Other World Computing) is one of the latest generation of SATA I/II hard drive docks, and in my opinion, the best looking and easiest to use. The Voyager Q sports every interface available (USB2, eSATA, FireWire 800, and FireWire 400), so you can use it easily with just about any machine, unlike most of the other available drive docks (like the Thermaltake BlacX and the Vantek, which support only USB). I’ve got a handful of machines and don’t know what machine I’ll have several years from now, so having multiple inputs means I’ll be able to connect the Voyager Q to pretty much any machine I’ll have in the future. Having both FireWire and USB ports has the added benefit of being bootable by both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs as well. Handy if you clone your boot drive in case of an internal-drive failure.
Unlike a lot of other drive docks on the market, the Voyager Q actually looks like it belongs on your desk instead of in a workshop or lab. It’s made from high quality black plastic, with a silver inset where you insert the drives. The four rubber feet are industrial strength and factory-attached so they won’t come off when you slide the Voyager Q across your desk. The included cables, one for each port, are also high quality. There’s a hinged flap that folds down when you insert a 3.5-inch drive, so things look nice and neat when you don’t have a drive inserted.
There are two FireWire 800 ports as well, which means you can daisy-chain the Voyager Q to your other FireWire devices easily. My drive-chain currently includes the LaCie, the Voyager Q, a Drobo, and terminates into an M-Audio Firewire Solo recording interface which I use for podcasting. Each device works perfectly this way, and I have only one cable to plug in to the MacBook Pro for access to all of those devices when I’m docking up.
It Just Works
How do you use the Voyager Q? Just plug it in using the interface of your choice, insert a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drive into the top (they can only go in one way), and the drive mounts automatically. You can now partition, format, and access the drive just like you would with any normal external drive. Of course you can access the drive using any port you’d like as well. This is really handy if you happen to have used up all of your FireWire ports — just plug the drive into an available USB slot, and you’re all set.
The Voyager Q also lets you hot-swap drives. Just pull the drive out or use the eject level on the front of the device (make sure you’ve ejected or unmounted the drive in your operating system of choice before you eject it).
Fast, Quiet, and Cool
I’m a big believer in ambient noise, so I’m not fanatical about devices being silent. While that’s true, I don’t care for noisy devices, either. Without any mechanical parts, the Voyager Q itself doesn’t make a sound. There are no fans to make noise, no bearings to wear out. The only noise you’ll hear is the sound of the hard drives you use spinning up when you dock them, or clicking quietly when you access them. There’s really not much of a need for a fan, either, because most of the hard drive is exposed to the air of the room itself, which does wonders to reduce and eliminate heat, assuming the room itself isn’t very warm.
Drives that have become too hot to touch in other enclosures, even ones with great fans like Weibetechs and Drobos don’t even get warm when you use them with the Voyager Q, and less heat means a longer lifetime for a hard drive.
The NewerTech Voyager Q is exactly what I was looking for. Easy to use, multiple interfaces, compact size, industrial strength construction, and quiet operation. At $99, it’s not the cheapest device out there, but it’s made well and sports every interface I’ll need for the forceable future.
And thanks to the Voyager Q, I even have a new offsite backup solution. I just make a clone of my data onto a spare drive, and drop it off to a friend over lunch once a week, and he does the same, with two drives in rotation. In a worst case scenario, I always have at most a one-week-old backup available at any time. Sure, you could do the same thing with a safety deposit box, but Tex-Mex is better when shared.
Update (7 March 2009)
I’ve written a follow-up to this article answering a handful of the questions I’ve received via email and in the comments below.