Mobile Rack MR-27 and RH-17
Purchasing info UPDATE:12-18
This review is an update to my ongoing quest of finding the best low cost removable drive bay. In this review I compare the Mobile Rack RH-17 and MR-27. You will see what problems I ran into and why you will want to avoid the Mobile Rack RH-17 and why the MR-27 wins my vote. I am recycling the paragraphs below from my initial article, yes you could call me lazy but, the truth is writing doesn't come easy for me. ;-)
Over the last 19 years I have bought a lot of computer products and few have made me say wow! Well, the removable drive bay is one that is close to the top of my list of products that can really make life with computers less frustrating. Plus, they are CHEAP! The Mobile Rack Model MR-27 can be purchased for under twenty five dollars.
What are they
Some of you are probably saying, "What are they and why would I want one, two, or three? OK, lets tackle the what are they first.
A removable drive bay allows you to take your existing 3.5-inch Hard Drive(s), internal ZIP Drive, or Tape Drive and mount it into a cartridge that inserts into a cartridge frame which you mount in your computers 5.25-inch drive bay. The manufacture Kingwin does have some new models that include support for ZIP, LS-120 and Tape drives. The Mobile Rack MR-27 is a hard drive only removable bay. However, if you are creative it wouldn't be hard with the MR-27 to mount an internal IDE tape drive or Iomega IDE ZIP drive. All that would be necessary, is to cut a hole into the plastic face of the cartridge.
Who can benefit?
If you are constantly messing with your system, reinstalling the operating system often, and you have two hard drives you are a prime candidate for this upgrade. Also, anyone that has two or more computers will find the flexibility of the removable drive bays outstanding.
I'll use my system setup as an example. I have three computers each computer has two removable drive bays and one 6.4GB hard drive. I have a forth 6.4GB hard drive that I call the test drive or floater. Whenever I install new software that I am uncertain about or do a clean reinstall of the operating system I copy the boot drive to the test drive. Then replace the boot drive with the test drive. Now if I run into a problem with whatever upgrade I am doing I just pull the test drive pop in the good drive and I am back in business in the time it takes to boot up. All of this can be accomplished without opening the cabinet.
I also have two other 6.4GB hard drives that I use for backups. One is used for image backups and the other is a mirror copy. I use QuarterDecks DiskClone software to do the copy backups and image backups. I have totally given up on Zip, Jazz, and Tape backups. I have found nothing more reliable than a straight hard disk to hard disk backup. I am praying that DVD backups get cheap fast. ;)
Here is what I have found to be the best setup. The computer case should have four exposed 5.25-inch drive bays. This allows for future expansion like DVD or CD-R and still leaves room for the two removable drive bays and a CD-ROM. The first drive bay goes on primary IDE channel and the second drive bay goes on the secondary IDE channel. This lets you setup each hard drive as a master drive eliminating the need to mess with drive jumpers when swapping drives between bays. The CD-ROM drive should be on the secondary IDE channel set to slave. Thanks to FAT32 you can format each drive with a single partition which works out best when swapping drives back and forth. Always FDisk and Format the drives on the primary IDE channel and make sure you make it a bootable drive with the Format c: /s option. When using FDisk make sure the partition is set to active.
In the BIOS set the IDE channels to Auto that way when you remove a drive the BIOS won't hang trying to talk to a drive that isn't there. Windows is great at detecting if a drive is present or not and will adjust automatically.
Click any photo for larger view.
A removable drive bay is composed of two main parts a frame and a cartridge. This photo shows the frame that gets mounted into an exposed five and a quarter inch drive bay. The frame of the MR-27 has a very nice spring loaded dust door.
Next we have the cartridge. I am sure that you have figured out that this is where the drive goes. The cartridge has a removable top, you just slide the top off connect your drive to the power and data cables inside the cartridge and your ready. Very simple.
The next two photos show the MR-27 cartridge ventilation.
You may be wondering what type of data connector a removable drive bay uses to get the drive data to the motherboard. Well it surprised me too, it's been around for a long time, the old Centronics parallel printer connector. The engineers must have thought, no need to reinvent the wheel.
Now we come to another highlight... cooling, yes these bays have built in cooling fans. From what I have found in using removable drive bays, cooling is an absolute must. The first bays that I used did not have cooling fans and I was forced to leave the top cover off each drive and keep the drives separated by staggering them in the case. Not an ideal solution but it worked for over a year. Cooling is one of reasons I got so excited about the MR-27. I have not had a chance to due actual temp monitoring other than the good old hand test, all I can say at this point is the drives run cooler to the touch in the cartridge than when mounted in a typical case location.
The MR-27 cooling fan sucks air in from the front of the cartridge but does not include any type of filter. Not a big deal, you can make a home made filter very easily. The dark filter is cut from a window air conditioner filter, the white filter is cut from a home register vent air filter. I highly recommend the filters, after just one week running 24hrs a day I couldn't see through the filter.
That pretty much covers the basics of the MR-27. Now I will go into detail on the differences between the RH-17 and the MR-27 including the problems I had with the RH-17.
Differences between MR-27 and RH-17
From outside appearances it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two models. Look a little closer and the differences start popping out. Both models use a frame that is almost identical, the cartridges are interchangeable that is how close in design they are. The RH-17 cartridge was designed without vent holes in the top or bottom cartridge covers. Also the RH-17 frame air path for the fan is totally enclosed see photos below.
Testing the two models I found that the enclosed air path of the RH-17 worked much better drawing fresh air from the front vent of the drive cartridge. I am puzzled why the manufacturer chose to open the air chamber on the MR-27 and include vents on the top and bottom of the cartridge. The top and bottom cartridge vents do nothing but cut down the volume of fresh air to almost nothing. On the MR-27 the fan ends up drawing hot inside case air from the top and bottom cartridge vents. With the closed air path of the RH-17 (no vents on top or bottom of cartridge) the fan draws only fresh cool air from the cartridge front vent. My best guess is the manufacture is trying to satisfy customers fears of the fan burning out, with a closed system the drive would defiantly have a heat problem if the fan were to fail. On the other hand with the open system the rear frame fan is basically useless and the drives run much hotter. Don't let this paragraph dash all your hopes there is a fix. On the MR-27 all that has to be done is tape over the vents on the top and bottom of the cartridge and close the air path of the frame.
I know a lot of you are going to say this is BS, why should I have to modify anything. I agree, the only problem is you get what you pay for and if you want a removable bay that you don't have to modify then you are going to pay, anywhere from 3 to 5 times the price. At less than $25ea (US) there is room to allow a little creative tinkering. I just find it sad that when a manufacturer goes to this length they can't go just a little further and make it right to begin with. Oh well.
Problems with the RH-17
Simply put the RH-17 should not be on the market. The first problem I ran into was mounting a Western Digital Caviar 6.4BG drive into a cartridge I couldn't get the holes to line up. It turned out that there was no way to line up the holes without cutting plastic away from the front of the cartridge. See photo below.
This modification didn't bother me to much and I could have lived with it. The next problem is the one I couldn't believe.
The RH-17 cartridge uses a metal bottom plate. This plate is not aluminum, it is steal, let me tell you, steal and hard drives do not get along. When I fired up the system the drive went nuts with random seeks and chattering. In shock, I shut down immediately, double checked everything and rebooted. Same thing, to make a long story short, I finally figured out that without the bottom plate everything worked fine.
The third problem was the electrical ground. The RH-17 used a spring mechanism on the cartridge and frame that would make contact when the cartridge was inserted into the frame. Well, design flaw #3. To keep this short I'll just say that of the six bays three of the cartridges had broken springs within a week. Here are photos showing the ground springs.
I fired off an email to the manufacturer including the above photos and all details regarding the metal plate and the seriousness of the issue. I also told the manufacture that I was intending on doing a review of the unit and needed as much information as I could get regarding these issues. Let me sum it up this way, you are on your own. It took over a week to get a reply that didn't address anything other than we have forwarded your email to the tech dept and here is a non-800 phone number you can call to get answers to your questions. Needless to say I never did get a reply from the tech dept and I surely wasn't going to call on my dime to discuss problems like these. I still haven't received a reply and this is over two months ago.
Here comes the good part, at the next local computer show I ran into the vendor that sold me the removable drive bays and told him about the fiasco. He told me that he was told by his distributor that the RH-17 was replaced by the MR-27 HAH! The MR-27 doesn't have a metal bottom and also doesn't have the electrical ground springs. The two main problems gone! Well isn't that special! I had to laugh, this is just to damned coincidental. I certainly wasn't the first to figure out these problems. The part that irks me the most, is the manufacturer didn't have the sack to reply to my emails. Like I said, your on your own, don't expect any support from the manufacturer.
Don't get your hopes up, the keyed power switch will not allow hot swapping the drive under windows or DOS for that matter. It is more of a gimmick, although it will allow you to shut off power to a drive without turning the computer off. I don't recommend doing it. The problem is the BIOS won't recognize the drive when it is powered back up without rebooting. Bummer! If anyone out there knows something that I missed let me know. I didn't mess with setting the hard drives up as removable storage in device manager. So there is a possibility that I am missing something.
Even after all the grief, I am totally happy with the MR-27. All the issues that I had with the RH-17 were addressed in the MR-27 although a few modifications still need to be made they are small and the end result is a very affordable solution.
You can use the RH-17 as long as you don't use the metal bottom plate. You should make some type of plastic or cardboard cover to replace the metal bottom so the air flows properly. Don't worry if the metal ground springs break because they aren't necessary anyway.
Every computer show that I attend I see many people buying removable drive bays I have heard horror stories of people burning up their drives. I hope that this review helps to make you aware of the possible problems you can encounter. A good removable drive bay can be wonderful and a bad removable drive bay can make life miserable and expensive.
Now I get to admit what a bone head I am. The vendor that I purchased the removable bays from was kind enough to give me six replacements for the RH-17's at no charge, all I had to do was return the old ones. Well guess what happened I cannot find the invoice or the business card that I know I have somewhere. I have been looking for two months. I was hoping to see him at the last computer show but unfortunately he didn't show up. I did however get a name from another vendor. I am doing some detective work trying to track him down.
If you are interested in purchasing the MR-27 I would appreciate it if you would give me a few days to locate this vendor. He went way above the call of duty to trust me and give me replacements without charge. It would be nice if I could repay the vendors good will with your business.
Surprise I found the vendors info. My wife was cleaning the bathroom this afternoon and asked me to go through my pile of accumulated magazines. For some reason they seem to end up in the bathroom (Hmmm). Well, I am sure you have guessed by now what I found between a Computer Shopper and a PC Magazine, yes I found both the invoice and business card. Boy do I feel dumb! I will call Lee Morris tomorrow and try to explain how sorry I am. Here is the info you need to purchase the Mobile Rack MR-27:
Prestige Computer Systems
Here are my feelings about Prestige Computer Systems. Using my experience as an example, I think you would be hard pressed to find a more professional company. Typically computer show vendors are viewed as fly by night rip-off artists, this is, in my opinion mostly true. However, once in a while you do find a company that truly stands behind the products they sell. I explained to Lee, the problems I had with the RH-17, and he said "No problem take six MR-27's and send me the RH-17's". That is what I call great customer support.
Drive bay mania!