Monday, 5 March 2012

Review: Zalman ZM-VE200-SE V1.1 Virtual CD/DVD/BR USB Drive

With the current trend being towards downloadable content and the ever decreasing price of storage there comes a point where formats such as Optical media like the CD and DVD just like floppy have had there day they are slow and fragile and easily misplaced .With the death of the floppy for any long term use back in the start of 2000 it was still a pain to have to use a floppy to load the dreaded RAID driver to be able to continue with the install.
Wouldn't it be nice to have all your essential games or operating system discs and tools on one device ,well this is where the Zalman ZM-VE200 comes into its own .


The Zalman ZM-VE200-SE V1.1  





Introduction
Supplied by: Zalman
Street Price: £22-28


I install allot of different operating systems  and I like to keep my images slipstreamed with all the latest hotfixes it can literally save you hours at the end of the install .This is one of the areas that could make the Zalman really shine by not having to burn a new disc every time there a bunch of updates or maybe you just want to try that new Live CD of Backtrack.................

Zalman have introduced a world first - the ZM-VE200, an external 2.5" HDD enclosure with a Virtual Drive function. Not only will it act like any other external HDD enclosure but you can also store/boot ISO images from your CD/DVD/BD collection.

Features

World's first HDD enclosure with Virtual Drive Connects to your PC via eSATA or Hi-Speed USB 2.0
Perfect for mass storage of CD/DVD/Blu-ray ISO images
(While its not really mentioned it does support floppy images)
LCD display allows listing and selection of ISO files
USB powered - no external DC adapter required No special software or drivers needed





What Zalman includes in the box ! 

The ZM-VE200 Drive enclosure
E-Sata Lead
Mini USB cable
Hard slip-on pouch
Mini Screwdriver
4 retaining screws (only 2 are required)
Guide


Specifications

Dimensions 135.3(L) x 78.6(W) x 13.1(H) mm
Weight 98.5g
Materials Aluminum, Acryl, Poly Carbonate
HDD Type 2.5” SATA HDD
Interface USB2.0 (USB1.1 compatible), eSATA Direct HDD Access
Data Transfer Rate USB 480Mbps, eSATA 3Gbps
Speed 5400rpm or 7200rpm
Power USB Power
Color Black/Silver







The hard pouch that comes with the ZM-VE200 is excellent and should offer a modicum of protection, it also allows you to use all the functions of the drive without taking it out.





Starting from the left we have an E-Sata connector,Hardrive activity LED indicator,Sliding write protect switch,Mini USB connector, on the right side of the enclosure is a jog switch to choose between the various functions.







 The main body of the drive enclosure is an aluminium extrusion which should dissipate heat rather well .






The 2.5" hardrive of your choice is simply slid into the aluminium extrusion  after the top section which includes the LCD display has been connected to the hardrives Sata/Power connector.





All that is needed now is to install the 2 screws to lock the whole thing together.The rubber sides are simply flexed backwards to reveal the screw holes.



Setting up the hardrive

There are two versions of the firmware for the ZM-VE200 one for FAT and one for NTFS.The latest units come shipped with the NTFS firmware but both versions are available on the Zalman website .They appear on the website in the ".iso" format and you change them just as you would load an ISO image this in turn flashes the firmware to the device.

Keep in mind that FAT32 has a single file size limit of less than 4GB but has greater compatibility between operating systems.While NTFS has a single file size limit of well over 4GB so again keep this in mind when formatting the hardrive.




The difference in the firmware is denoted by the last letter N=NTFS ,  F=FAT





The hardive I chose to install was a Hitachi HTS543216L9A300 SATA2 5900RPM  

In Windows you can right click on "Computer" icon and select "Manage" then "Storage > Disk Management".Here you should see the drive at which point you can select it and you have various options to partition and format the drive so windows can see it . 

I partitioned the hardrive beforehand but it can be done after the fact.I found no mention in the documentation regarding how the hardrive should be set up ,as it turns out it must be partitioned as "PRIMARY" and the partition set "ACTIVE" for good measure not LOGICAL! It would have been nice for Zalman to supply a disc or the ability to download a utility for this purpose to help the unsure.



After the drive has been set up and you can access the drive from within the operating system, to enable the virtual disc side of the ZM-VE200 you must create a folder on the root of the drive called  "_iso" up to 32  ISO image files may be placed in here. More ISO image files are allowed but must be in a separate folder within the _iso folder these folders can then be navigated using the jog button on the left hand side of the unit the hand symbol on the display shows the current  folder .This actually comes in hand as you can categorise the various iso's by the use of these folders which can be navigated from the display.




First Contact

On first use the operating system will detect the drive and install any relevant drivers just like any USB hardrive at which point you will be greeted with a similar screen to the one below .

The 2 line back lit LCD display is quite informative for its size, the temperature seems to be taken from the hardrives S.M.A.R.T monitoring function rather than a temperature sensor on the ZM-VE200 PCB.

The padlock symbol denotes if the switch for Write Protect is in its locked or an unlocked state

The tick symbol shows the current S.M.A.R.T Monitor physical health of the drive while this is an OK feature the space would have been better used as a percentage of capacity left on the drive . 







USE


There are 3 modes available to the ZM-VE200

Hardrive mode
As the name suggests the Drive will just show as a normal USB hardrive in the operating system

(This mode can be selected by holding the jog button downward while powering the unit up but can be set from the on-screen menu)

Dual mode
this is a combination of Hardrive mode and ODD mode both the hardrive and ODD virtual drive will be visible to the operating system

(This mode can be enabled by holding the jog button in from the centre position while powering the unit up but can be set from the on-screen menu)

ODD mode

This is the virtual disc side of the ZM-VE200 and only the currently mounted  ISO image will be visible to the operating system

(This mode can be enabled by holding the jog button upward while powering the unit up but can be set from the on-screen menu)


I was going to make a video to describe the various modes that can be achieved from the side jog switch but Zalman actually has an excellent flash demo to get to grip with the functions.

After a few goes it does all become second nature to select between the various functions


The unit can be manually set to a Sleep or enter suspend mode by holding the jog button down for a few seconds at which point a the backlight will extinguish and a "Zz" Symbol will appear on the display  .


It seems that there is no other automatic on board power management to send the device into sleep/suspend mode other than the operating system itself.



I found that when booting off the ZM-VE200 in ODD mode I had to bring up the boot device select menu which was achieved on my motherboard by pressing F8 while the PC first starts much like pressing DEL to enter the bios settings.You could always set the bios boot priority to Removable drive or USB .


When using the  E-SATA connection the  ZM-VE200 does not support Virtual  Rom ODD mode  which is a shame as it would boot natively just like a physically attached CD/DVD/BR drive.





Below you can see than I am booting from the Acronis Disk Director CD image


Once selected the PC boots just as it would from a DVD drive ETC.......



TESTING


USB BENCHMARK







E-SATA BENCHMARK  (SATA2 HARDRIVE)







PROS


Reasonably good USB Data Transfer Rate

Manual sleep function

Smart temperature display

Dual Mode

Full Speed E-SATA 

Remembers previous menu selections

Aluminium Construction.

Works with NTFS allowing for file images over 4GB

Carry an unlimited amount of  CD/DVD/BR images when folder are used

Hard pouch

USB/E-SATA Leads Included

Informative LCD screen

Lightweight

Write protect Switch

Works with MACs



CONS


No Power input for an external PSU to boost low USB port power levels (when in E-Sata mode the usb has to be connected for power)

Flimsy Jog switch  buttons would have been more robust

The Guide

No mention of how to set up the Hardrive

No instruction on Firmware Recovery function

No capacity percentage indicator  would have been more useful than smart drive state indicator (iodd who are the manufacturer earlier firmware had this)



CONCLUSIONS AND THOUGHTS


The inclusion of the E_SATA port  (only available as hardrive mode) is great as the benchmarks show it allows direct access to the full speed of the hardrive this makes up for in part the lack of USB3.

The Zalman ZM-VE200 has relatively good USB2 speeds but nothing to write home about although in its defence this is more of a tool than a performance product.

I do not see any point in using an Solid State Drive (SSD) in the ZM-VE200 as you will simply not see the benefits other than shock resistance and maybe power consumption but fear not Zalman also has a newly released USB3 Version Available called the  ZM-VE300 which would take full advantage of using an SSD!

On the whole the Zalman ZM-VE200 is a very smart well priced product that does "what it says on the tin" , I can see this as an indispensable tool for the I.T crowd and enthusiast.


Word of warning dont press the Firmware recovery button unless you have to !


Review: Zalman ZM-VE300 USB3 Virtual CD/DVD/BR USB Hard Drive Enclosure