Review: Elite-AL Pro mini and eSATA card

A rugged BUS-powered mini drive perfect for travel. (May 30th, 2010)

When you combine the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro mini and eSATA card eSATA Express Card, you have a fast, durable storage solution.

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Other World Computing

Price: $114.00-$270 US

The Good

  • Mercury Elite-AL Pro mini: Small.
    Travels well in a suitcase.
    AC adapter is not necessary.

    eSATA card: Fast transfer rates.
    Reasonable price.

The Bad

  • Mercury Elite-AL Pro mini: No AC adapter included.
    More expensive than competing hard disks.

    eSATA card: Requires using power from FireWire and then a several step procedure to enable.
    Must purchase AC adapter for the drive to use.

Other World Computing now includes a terabyte version of their Elite-Al mini external hard disk line. The disks come in a variety of capacities, from 250GB up to 1TB, with both 5400 and 7200RPM versions available. I recommend that you use a 7200RPM drive if you edit sound or video. The drive comes in a sturdy aluminum case, with four connectors on the back: Two FireWire 800 ports, USB 2.0 port, and an eSATA connector.

Back View

Back of Drive with Connection Ports

The Elite-Al mini is quite small. It houses a 2.5" hard disk, which is the size used in Mac laptops. It is approximately 5 1/2 x 4 x 1 inches, and weighs less than two pounds.

Drive size

Size Compared to an Apple Mouse

Unlike many other drive manufacturers, OWC ships a full collection of 18" cables in the box. They include a FireWire 800 cable, FireWire 800 to 400 cable, USB cable, an eSATA cable and a manual.

Back View

Drive Package Contents

I took the drive on a recent trip to a conference where I recorded a lot of video. I hooked it up to my MacBook Pro and downloaded video from the camera in the evenings. The drive performed flawlessly, and when I returned home, I had a couple hundred gigabytes of raw video with which to work. I flew to the conference, and didn't want to hamper myself with extra carry on luggage, so I wrapped the disk in a shirt and packed it in my checked luggage. The drive handled the trip without any hiccups.

APIOTEK EXTREME Dual eSATA Express Card 34

OWC also sent me an APIOTEK EXTREME Dual eSATA SATA I/II Express Card 34 Adapter for use in my late 2006 MacBook Pro. The card adds two eSATA ports to any ExpressCard/34 slot equipped system. This enabled me to connect the drive using eSATA, which OWC claimed would give me the best performance. The file transfer ratings of the different ports are as follows: The eSATA port is rated at a maximum of 300 MB/sec, OWC rates the FireWire 800 ports at 100 MB/sec, and the USB port at 60 MB/sec. Obviously, the eSATA port should transfer data blazingly fast.

eSATA Express Card

eSATA Express Card

If you connect via FireWire or USB, the drive draws its power from your computer. However, if you connect via eSATA, you have to power the drive in another manner. The case comes with a plug for an AC adaptor, but OWC does not include that with the drive. You can purchase an AC adaptor separately from OWC. The Elite-AL web site states that you can power the drive from the FireWire port while it is connected over eSATA, but I could not find any directions on how to do that, either in the Users guide or on OWC's web site. If you just plug the eSATA and FireWire cables into your Mac and the drive, the drive mounts using the FireWire connection.

eSATA Express Card

eSATA Express Card Connected

A visit to OWC's web site and a real-time text chat with their tech support gave me the correct technique, which is a little involved. You shut down the machine, connect both the FireWire and eSATA cables, and restart. Next, you eject the disk, and turn it on and off. The disk will then mount using the eSATA connection, but this particular card cannot be used to boot the computer from the eSATA-connected drive.

Speed Tests

I ran speed tests when I hooked the drive to my MacBook Pro via USB, FireWire 800, and eSATA. OWC claims that eSATA should be up to twice as fast as FW800, but I didn't find that to be the case. Copying and duplicating a large file was only about 15% faster using eSATA.

(Faster is better) eSATA FW800 USB2
Copy 13GB File: 3:24 4:05 7:50
Duplicate 13GB File: 5:58 7:00 13:45

The eSATA interface performed noticeably better than the FireWire, which is much faster than USB. If you are only doing Time Machine backups, a USB connection is probably fast enough, since it copies in the background or when your machine is idle. However, for more disk-intensive work, the faster interfaces, FW800 and eSATA, make a substantial difference.

A Good Buy

You can only purchase the Elite-Al Mini external hard disks from the OWC, web site. The terabyte drive reviewed here costs $269.99, and the eSATA card costs $39.99. If you need an AC adapter, you can purchase that for $7.99.

OWC has SSD options in these cases as well. If performance is paramount and money is no object, you might want to look at the SSD options. When you need a large amount of small, hardy storage, the Elite-Al hard disks may be the right choice for you. If portability and resistance to rough handling are important, these drives will not disappoint you.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Marshall Clow


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