Zalman ZM-VE200 Review (Page 3 of 4)

Page 3 - Test system, Benchmark Results

Since the Zalman ZM-VE200 incorporates elements of both a HDD enclosure and a virtual optical drive, testing this unit will be quite different. First I'll analyze the ISO performance of the virtual drive, in the attempt to isolate this function of the product, before moving on to the benchmark tests. This is the portion focusing on the read speeds and so on.

Zalman's idea of integrating a virtual drive function to the enclosure is quite spectacular. In theory, this additional function alone would greatly enhance the capability of the ZM-VE200, and would possibly place this HDD enclosure on an entirely new level. However, this virtual optical drive is not without its flaws. Simply put, my experience dealing with this drive is not pretty.

While I was testing this enclosure, I had first encountered difficulties in dealing with the eSATA mode. This problem somehow resolved itself overnight automatically (I still have no idea as to what the initial problem was), but another problem kicked in. This difficulty came in the form of an error shown on the LCD display, reading "Err: 23." Now before we go any further, let me dig first into the background knowledge into using this drive. As previously stated, this enclosure utilizes three different modes -- HDD mode, ODD mode, and Dual mode. HDD mode is the hard drive mode, where the user would utilize this like a normal external storage drive. ODD mode is the virtual optical disc drive mode, where the user would load only ISO files into the drive, utilizing it like a normal optical drive. When in HDD mode, a user cannot load ISOs directly, and vice-versa. In fact, the ZM-VE200 creates two different drives for your system to recognize; one drive being purely storage (HDD mode), the other being an optical disc drive (ODD mode). Although the unit creates virtually two different drives, the data is stored in only one internal hard drive. Hence this is why the ZM-VE200 is still considered a 'normal' external HDD enclosure. Last but not least, the Dual mode; as you've guessed, it's the mode that utilizes both modes at the same time.

Technically, there still is one other mode -- eSATA mode. However, this mode is in a class of its own, and here's why. Controlling the first three modes is very easy. Using a "jog-switch" on the left side of the device, one can easily start the device by either pushing down on the jog-switch, and powering the device by plugging in the USB cable (HDD mode), pushing up on the jog-switch and powering the device (ODD mode), or pushing in the jog-switch and powering the device (Dual mode). All three modes creates "drives" on your system, whereas the eSATA mode is simply a different option to transfer data, and will only activate when the eSATA cable is plugged into the device.

Now that a basic knowledge of this product has been reached, let us glide back to the error message. In essence, this particular error message, "Err: 23" as it read on the display, prevented me from using the optical drive function of the device. The HDD mode worked brilliantly; but without the ODD mode working, this unit was really nothing much more then an expensive 2.5" enclosure. The quick guide, found with the unit, gave only basic instructions on installation and product usage, but had absolutely no information on error messages. On the manufacturer's website, there was no new information on the product then what was already found on the retail box and in the quick guide. There was, however, a firmware update. Ironically, the firmware update could only be updated using the device's virtual drive as it came in a ISO image file format. Not very useful.

My conclusion... utter disappointment, until one day, I plugged the device in once more and the error somehow resolved itself, just like the eSATA difficulty. I still have no idea how both problems resolved itself and how could I? Zalman gave absolutely no support information, and it seemed that the only solution to fixing the error (The firmware update), was by somehow fixing the problem without the firmware update, if that makes any sense to you. Either way, I got the firmware updated and the issues did not reappear until the completion of this review, but I am not sure if it was actually due to the firmware fixing the issues, or did the VE200 just "magically" fixed itself by luck as it did before.

Once the virtual drive was up and running again, this enclosure was back on its way to making a comeback -- now with the new firmware. Physically, an optical drive can only accommodate one disc at a time. Well, the same goes with the virtual optical drive function of the ZM-VE200; only one ISO file can be loaded at a time. I was able to load DVDs, game CDs, music CDs, and programs (All of which were ISO image files) with ease. No need to use your system to control the device when the device controls the system. The jog-switch and display window allowed quick and easy ISO browsing with surprisingly fast loading speeds at approximately 5 to 10 seconds, depending on the size of the ISO.

Last but not least, the enclosure not only emulates an optical drive, but also has the ability to create up to four floppy drives, all simultaneously. Zalman gave no information of this nifty feature. Of course, in this day an age, floppy disks are rarely used, but could allow this product to fit a more specific market targeted towards more tech-support related professions that still utilize floppy disks when running diagnostics tools. I have yet to test the floppy drives on the unit. However, I do find this situation a little peculiar in that a certain product could fit a certain market when at the moment it doesn't, because currently the floppy image compatibility on the enclosure is not being brought to the consumer's attention. .dsk and .rmd extensions are supported by the ZM-VE200.

Update: One of our readers pointed out that the reason behind the "Err: 23" message was because the device had trouble powering up when the previously loaded ISO did not exist anymore. For example, if you loaded the firmware update on the drive, then switched it to HDD mode where you deleted the firmware ISO file, and lastly switch it back to either Dual or ODD mode, then the enclosure would get the error message. If this is actually the case, then preventing a system from functioning due to a missing loaded ISO file is pretty poor software design in my opinion. I am unsure of this particular finding either, as my error message came up without a single ISO image file loaded onto the enclosure in the first place. It was not until after the error message showed that I decided that I would give the ODD mode a try, in which it did not work. A few solutions to solving this error message have also been addressed by the reader. This includes wiping/cleaning your entire drive, restarting the enclosure in Dual mode, or following a set of more complicated instructions that involves running DISKPART on Windows 7 in order to completely wipe away the hard disk's partitions. I tried restarting my enclosure several times on Dual mode, of which the first few times did not work. However, it seemed that the Dual mode reset method does work after a few tries.

Our benchmark results today will be tested by the following system. Here are the specifications:

CPU: Intel Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz
Motherboard: Proprietary - Dell Studio XPS 435MT mATX
RAM: 8GB Elpida DDR3
Case: Thermaltake Armor A60
Power: Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 750W
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
Optical Drive: Dual-Layer Blu-Ray Optical Drive
Hard Drive: Seagate 1TB Barracuda 7200.11
Operating System: Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise 64-bit

In testing the Zalman ZM-VE200, we will be using a brand new 2.5" Western Digital Scorpio Blue 640GB SATA disk with 8MB cache at 5400RPM. Don't just look at the 5400RPM rotational speed though -- this is a high platter density drive, and performs faster than Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 desktop drives from a few years back.

The performance analysis of the tests today will not get into multiple file writes and reads as previously done on storage reviews. Reason is because this specific analysis is limited to the hard drive performance itself and not the controller on the Zalman ZM-VE200 -- and we do not intend to review the hard drive itself (Unless the drive controller performance on the ZM-VE200 is deemed to have horrible performance).

The USB ports on our system are controlled by the Intel ICH10R Southbridge, with the external eSATA port on the front of the Thermaltake Armor A60 chassis controlled by the same chipset.

Using our HD Tach RW drive performance testing tool, we can see the benchmark results from the photo above. The USB 2.0 speed, represented by the red line, read at a constant sequential speed. The reason is because the USB interface bottlenecked the sustained performance of the drive. This is clearly reflected in our eSATA results; represented by the blue line. eSATA performance is no different than connecting the drive directly into your motherboard, so we can see the true performance of the Scorpio Blue itself.

Looking at the burst speeds, we see that eSATA almost reached to 200MB/s and the USB burst speed just 0.1MB/s faster then the average read speed. These burst speed results, however, really mean nothing when looking at the performance of the ZM-VE200. In fact, eSATA speeds in general are not influenced by the enclosure performance as aforementioned. But by observing the eSATA speeds for the sake of looking, we can make one conclusion when using the ZM-VE200. That is, eSATA is naturally faster, so why not use it where available?

The Zalman ZM-VE200 reached an averaged consistent read speed of 30.7MB/s. While we cannot expect the PLX USB 2.0 to SATA controller to crack the realistic limitations of the USB interface, we have certainly seen faster ones out there, and it would have been a little better if the controller could push the speeds a little more than the above results. For example, the Thermaltake BlacX Duet has a USB 2.0 controller that went over 35MB/s. With the availability of USB 3.0 on many modern motherboards, USB 3.0 support would also be nice for something of this caliber.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. A Closer Look, Installation
3. Test System, Benchmark Results
4. Conclusion