Best HDD and SSD External Enclosures (Docking Stations) - Buyer's Guide

Gareth Otwell By Gareth Otwell · Last Updated Feb. 02, 2022

We often store precious data on hard disk drives (HDD for further reference.) Before you realize it, you fill your HDD with pictures, videos, and other documents that you hold dear. But HDDs get old and soon become a memory of their own, a forgotten device that nobody wants to touch. Well, that's no longer the case!

In this article, we are going to take a look at hard drive docking stations (enclosures), devices that allow you to have extra storage space externally or to incorporate your outdated HDDs into a world of modern technology. We've also constructed a Buyer's Guide, which should help you learn more about HDD or SSD docking stations and help you obtain the one that suits your needs the most.

Sabrent EC-DFLT - Best Budget All-Around HDD/SSD/SSHD Docking Station

The Sabrent enclosure is compatible with all SATA drives, both those of 2.5 and 3.5 inches. It features 3.0 USB connectivity, which is much faster than its predecessor, the 2.0.

This docking station is also UASP compatible. UASP stands for USB Attached SCSI Protocol and transfers data between PC and HDDs, SSDs at a much higher speed. Note that this protocol is only useful if you have devices that support such technology.

The Sabrent EC-DFLT is simple to use, featuring a single On/Off button. It has led lights that inform you of its activity and power status. The product arrives with a power supply and a USB 3.0 cable. Keep in mind that this station is compatible with older USB versions, like the USB 2.0 and 1.1 (this is often referred to as backward compatibility.)

When it comes to system compatibility, the Sabrent EC-DFLT works with Windows (from 2000 to 10) and OS X. You won't need to download or install any drivers, which is rather convenient. Should you use USB 3.0, your transfer speed should be at about 5 Gbps. If you work with a 2.0 USB, it should run at 480 Mbps.

As you can see, the discrepancy between transfer speed is quite significant, but this has nothing to do with the Sabrent EC-DFLT because the speed limitations are related to the USB technology.

It is hard not to recommend this hard drive enclosure; in fact, we believe it is the best item on our list. Why? For starters, it is the least expensive one. Usually, you would expect that the least costly device is also the worst, but that's not the case here.

The Sabrent EC-DFLT is sturdy, multi-compatible and highly functional. It works with Windows and Macs and allows you to switch between HDDs without hassle. In some cases, the Sabrent will read and your data faster than your integrated motherboard (between 10-20%), but this isn't guaranteed.

Alas, make sure you backup all your files, especially if you have AMD processor and its compatible motherboard. A lot of people argued that they had to format or reformat (create new partitions) their old HDDs because the AMD had issues with reading the Sabrent.
  • Exceptionally valuable
  • Highly functional and straightforward to use
  • Features helpful LED lights
  • Requires no drivers to operate
  • Potential issues with AMD processors

Cable Matters FBA_202220 - Best External Hard Drive Enclosure With Reduced CPU Usage

The Cable Matters station is the most expensive item on our unit. It features a sleek and sturdy design and rapid swap access. It works with all types of SATA drives (HDD, SSD and Hybrids SSHD) that are 2.5 or 3.5 inches in size.

The package includes everything you need; CM FBA_202220, user manual, USB 3.0 cable, USB-C/B cable (for Thunderbolt 3 devices), and a power supply unit. As such, the CM station works with older devices, like your Macs and Windows laptops from 2016/17.

It also features 3.0 compatibility and a speed of 5 Gbps. This station can also be used as additional storage for your Xbox and is also compatible with Chrome devices. Linux kernels are a hit and miss when it comes to this device; it works with some, but not with all kernels. It also supports UASP technology.

Aside from increased speed, CM FBA_202220 also promises to reduce your CPU usage. Does it deliver? In our tests, yes. Not by a lot, but it did reduce CPU usage by 4-5%, which is a lot of you use old CPUs. And the data transferring was quite rapid with the 3.0. This unit was also very consistent when we used it; no hiccups or significant speed drops during writing and reading.
If you intend to use this advice, there is a minor catch; it doesn't work with drives that are greater than 2 TB and were formatted via other docking station. So what does that mean? For instance, if you own a 5 TB drive and you formatted it with let's say Sabrent EC-DFLT, the Cable Matters station won't read it. Why? No clues. Cable matters did promise to resolve this issue via a new firmware update, but we can't guarantee that this fixed the problem.

But other than this minor technical bug, we had no complaints about the way this hard drive case works. It is neatly designed and exceptionally simple to use, requiring no drivers or additional tools. And if you need a docking station that will reduce your CPU usage, consider opting for this one.

  • Reliable and consistent
  • Compatible with almost all platforms and devices
  • Reduces CPU usage
  • Sturdy and simple
  • Somewhat expensive
  • Issues with drives that were pre-formatted with other docking stations

Inateck FD2002 - Best SSD Enclosure With Improved Security

The Inatec station is a fascinating and convenient device. It is the first item on our list to feature two slots and a Cloning function, allowing you to insert to drives and rapidly transfer data from one to another. Cool, is it not?

Like other items on our list, it is compatible with 2.5 and 3.5-inch HDDs, SSDs with enabled UASP technology. It is also extremely safe, probably the most secure item on our list. The Inateck has a built-in anti-overcharging system as well as the anti-leak technology. It protects both your files and yourself from potential short circuits and other electrical issues.

The Inateck supports drives that have no more than 8 TB of memory. We already mentioned the cloning technology, but we didn't say that it works independently of your desktop PC, Mac or laptop.

For example, you can insert two HDDs and initialize cloning. In the bottom left corner, you have a giant button that says "CLONE." Press it and hold for more than 3 seconds. Above the CLONE button is the LED indicator which will light up once the cloning process is ready. When the indicator lights up, press the CLONE button once again; that's it, the cloning has started.

This device also features Cloning Progress LED indicators (25, 50, 75 and 100%), allowing you to tell the current state of the cloning process, which is very lovely. Aside from the ssd docking station, you'll also receive USB 3.0 cable, power adapter (12V) and the user manual.

The original Inatec isn't compatible with the USB-C technology. However, you can buy the Inateck USB C 3.1 docking station; it boasts the same functions as this one, but it is intended for Mac users. It is also a bit more expensive than the original Inatec USB 3.0.

And speaking of 3.0, we have to say that the Inateck's 3.0 is extremely fast and reliable, especially when you pair it with UASP technology. Try not to use two drives simultaneously (like running Disk Checks or Defragmantinaton) for you might lock up the device. You also might experience some issues when you insert two drives simultaneously because the docking station needs some time to arrange the drives and figure out which is which! But other than that you should experience no problems with it.

  • Features two slots for two drives
  • Features cloning technology
  • Reliable and safe
  • Convenient and helpful led indicators
  • It might glitch out when you use two drives simultaneously
  • You need to buy separate stations for Windows and OS

Sabrent EC-HD2B - Best Docking Station For Cloning HDDs And SSDs

The Sabrent docking station is in many ways similar to the Inateck; it can run two drives simultaneously, it can clone, and it features LED lights that display the cloning process. But despite these similarities, Sabrent is still a unique item, one of the best on our list.

The Sabrent station is compatible with USB 1.1. 2.0 and 3.0. Its max speed is 5 Gbps, assuming you are using the 3.0 USB. It too has a cloning feature, which you can use offline and independently of your pc. It also requires no drivers; just plug it in and operate!

The Sabrent works with 2.5 and 3.5-inch HDDs and SSDs and hybrids. Note that this enclosure supports drives that have a capacity no more than 10 TB. If you compare it with others, you'll soon realize that this docking station is the best solution for large capacity drives.

You should also look at it as an investment because the industry is continually manufacturing storage drives with more and more capacity. This station works with Winwos and Mac OS, but there's no information whether it works with Linux systems (we assume that it doesn't.)

The station itself is very well built and stylish. It features blue LED patterns which should match with your PC rig. Looks aside, the Sabrent works smoothly and rapidly. It is reliable and fast, functioning without lockups and lags. And the cloning is efficient too and works the same way as the Inateck.

This item functions without additional tools. You receive a manual, docking station, USB 3.0 cable, and power supply. As soon as you unbox it, you'll notice that it is very compact and you'll probably find a place on your desk for it.

Now, while this station reads and writes hybrid drives SSHD, we know for a fact that it won't clone SSHDs. Note that we only tried to clone SSHD onto an SSD, but not SSHD onto another SSHD, but it is probably that this station won't clone SSHDs at all. Also, keep in mind that your drives will heat up during the cloning process, especially if you are cloning older drives that write/read slowly; make sure you have a cooling system prepared.
  • Convenient and rapid cloning
  • Compatible with Windows and Mac OS
  • Stylish and sturdy design
  • Reliable and secure
  • Helpful LED lights
  • Doesn't clone SSHDs
  • Drives will heat up during the cloning

WEme FBA_WEMEMST-006 - Best HDD docking station

The WEme enclosure functions in the same way as our previous two items; it has slots for two drives and the ability to clone. It supports 2.5 and 3.5-inch drives and USB connectivity of 1.1, 2.0 and 3.0 versions.

WEme cares much about the safety of you and your drives. For that reason, they incorporated extra safeguards against short circuits, current leaks, overheating and overcharging. This station also uses a highly efficient power supply system to ensure safe and reliable data transferring.

WEme cloning functions in A->B way. So, when you are cloning, you need to make sure that you place the item you want to clone in the slot A. Also, you need to make sure that the item in slot B is larger than the drive you want to clone. You can clone HDDs and SSDs but not hybrids. Cloning is done offline; this station doesn't support online cloning.

Each package includes a docking station, user manual, USB cable and power supply. It is compatible with Windows and Mac OS, as well as backward compatible with old USBs (like 1.1 and 2.0.)

The WEme docking station also features a sleeping mode that puts it to sleep if you don't use it for more than 30 minutes. As far as we know, only WEme and Inateck feature sleep mode. While this mode isn't vital, it will save you some money and ensure that device runs only when you genuinely need it.

It too features UASP compatibility which can increase your transferring speed by roughly 70%, should you pair it with SATA III. And even if you don't have or use the most advanced technology, a simple USB 3.0 cable will do the job, properly and securely.

Setup is also effortless; you'll probably spend more time unboxing it then getting everything ready! Keep in mind that you'll probably need a fan to cool your drives and station if you decide to clone it (the plastic heats up quite rapidly.) There is some extra space once you install the drives in dedicated slots, so make sure that the bay is in a secure and still place when you use it.
  • Works with Windows and Mac OS
  • Features a sleep mode (efficient)
  • Fast data transferring
  • Well-built and secure
  • Requires extra stability due to space gaps in the bays
  • Might heat up during cloning

Buyer's Guide

In this section, we'll talk a bit more about the product category, which is the docking station (enclosures) for HDDs, SDDs, and SSHDs. We'll explain what these items are for, why do you need them, and which factors you need to consider should you decide to obtain one for yourself.

On Disk Docking Stations

First and foremost, it needs to be said that when we say "docking station" we refer to a enclosure for hard drives. There are, of course, docking stations of other kinds, but we aren't referring to them in this article.

Hard drive cases serve a unique purpose; they allow you to connect your HDD or SSD externally, to your desktop, laptop or Mac. This is done via a USB cable, which you receive in every package. Every package also comes with a power supply unit and a manual.

Essentially, docking stations allow you to extract and transfer data from your hard drive and transfer it to your device (and vice versa). Most HDD cases are compatible with 2.5 and 3.5-inch drives, which means that you'll be able to transfer data from virtually ancient hard drives.

Types Of Enclosures

While there are various brands and types of enclosures, our list includes those with one and two slots (or bays.) Those with one slot are reasonably limited; they allow you to connect one hard drive and transfer data to and from it.

However, those with two slots offer a lot more functions. One of the most significant advantages of dual-bay is the ability to clone your hard drives. This function is beneficial when you want to transfer data from drive to drive directly. Instead of transferring your data to from drive A to your PC, and then from your PC to your drive B, you can exclude the PC out of the equation.

More importantly, cloning is done offline. All you need to do is ensure that you have a stable source of power when you are performing the cloning. If you interrupt the process in any way, you might damage not just the drives but your dock too.

Mind The Compatibility

Regardless of the brand or the type of docking station you obtain, make sure that it is compatible with your device. Thankfully, all stations on our list work with 1.1. 2.0 and 3.0 USB, which means that you won't have to worry about that during your selection process.

However, you'll need to make sure that your enclosure is compatible with your operating system. If you refer to our Comparison Table above, you'll see that not all devices are cross-platform. Aside from operating systems, you should also pay close attention to the storage capacity.

Some devices can read drives of max 10 TB, others of max 6 TB (and so forth.) You should also make sure that the docking station can read the type of your hard drive, for there are HDDs, SSDs, and hybrids. Most stations can read all kinds of hard drives, but only some can clone all types of drives.

Paying Attention To Technicalities

Make sure that you are satisfied with the station's capabilities. This doesn't only include one or two-slot option, but other factors too. One of the most important features of these stations is their reading and writing speed. Lucky for you, we did all the research and found the top five items that work as they are described.

All items on our list write and read fast, and some will do better than your onboard data readers. Furthermore, stations such as Cable Matters FBA_202220 may also reduce your CPU usage, which might come in handy if your CPU lacks power. Some stations might also be faster than others, but this also depends on your USB type, hard drive type, and laptop/desktop capabilities (if you aren't cloning.)

General Advice

There are a couple of things you need to know before you use a docking station. For starters, there's no guarantee that the station will read and write your data correctly. Now, you reduce the margin for error when you buy the quality station, but that's not the point we are trying to make. What we are saying is that you should always do a backup of all your files, if such a thing is possible.

Also, try not to overuse the enclosure. While there are stations that are extra safe, you still need to make sure that they don't overheat or overcharge, particularly when you are cloning hard drives. Cloning can sometimes take up to 6 or 7 hours, and you'll need to make sure that you have some form of cooling arranged. Of course, cooling isn't necessary, but we strongly advise that you use it.

And never, NEVER eject the disk in the process of writing or reading. Now, we aren't talking about a power outage or something similar, but the fact that you can physically eject the drive whenever you please. Before you take out the drive (mid-process or when the process is done), first turn off the station. That way you'll ensure that both the station and your hard drives have a bright future!

Final Words

If you decided to obtain a docking station for hard drives, make sure that it meets your requirements. If you plan to use it for personal reasons, go for cheaper items, especially if you don't need cloning. But, if you need it for professional reasons, go for high-end products that can withstand excessive use.

Make sure that you buy the item that is compatible with your other devices (hard drive type and capacity, desktop, laptop, Mac, operating system, etc.) and that it meets your budget. Whichever option you chose, use it wisely, and it will serve you for a very long time and save a lot of time and hassle!

Gareth Otwell

About Gareth Otwell

Gareth Otwell is a 28-year-old tech geek. Currently working at a big IT company. He chooses to widen the topics he writes about so as to provide his readers with an all-in-one go-to platform that they can use to research for just about anything. Read more