180 Watt Power Center: – $69.99
3.5" Hard Drive Enclosure – $49.95
All-in-one Card Reader and USB 2.0 Hub – $49.95
MyGamer Hardware Score: 9.2/10
OK, let's cut to the chase: I love these products.
Not because of what they do. There are plenty of other products in the marketplace, many for half the price or less, that do what Ultra's new Stackables do: USB hard drive enclosures, external card readers and USB hubs – they can literally be found everywhere. No other competing product that we've ever tested, however, has a tenth of the elegance and convenience of Ultra's latest offering.
Usually, when installing a new HDD enclosure or powered hub, you must locate a free port on your power strip, then deal with yet another power cord, with its attached power brick, amongst the snake-pit that already exists under your desk. Not the Stackables. While every device can be purchased separately, and comes complete with a power cord and all the needed hook-up cables, where the Stackables really shine is when they are combined with the 180-Watt Power Center.
This unit, which can power up to six additional Stackables components, runs from a single AC cord, and can be switched on and off independently of the user's PC. The Power Unit comes with 6 cables in 3 different lengths, with the increasingly long cords used to reach devices on top of the stacks. The Power Center also provides built-in Over Voltage and Short Circuit protection.
Given Ultra's long history with producing modular, high-end PC power supplies, we expected no less from the Power Center unit, but you can still color us impressed. It's an elegant solution, one that minimizes the cable clutter on top of the desk marvelously. Anyone with a jumble of cables and cords strewn across the desktop will appreciate this feature.
Every Stackable device comes wrapped in matte black rubber, and are a treat for the eyes. Blue indicator LEDs festoon the front panels, giving the devices a very current (almost, dare I say it, trendy) look. Every Stackable comes with the option to use the side-mounted support feet for an upright installation, as well as adhesive square rubber feet that allow the Stackables to… well… stack. The rubber feet are engineered to fit into matching square depressions on the tops of other Stackables, creating a stable, non-slip tower.
Best of all, being from Ultra, every component not only looks good but performs good as well. The Hard Drive enclosures come in three flavors: one for basic IDE drives, one with E-SATA support and the third with Firewire outputs. All versions have USB 2.0 support, as well. When operating, the Stackables were consistently amongst the quietest enclosures we've ever used, possibly because they were surrounded by so much noise-deadening rubber.
The All-in-One Card Reader and USB 2.0 hub has ports for an impressive array of different media cards, from basic Compact Flash and Memory Stick to Smart Media and XD cards, as well as six additional USB slots on the rear, making it one of the nicest reader/hubs we've tested. Ultra also makes a stand-alone 7-port USB hub with the ports on the front, for those that either do not need the card-reader functionality or want more convenient access to the ports (not reviewed at this time).
Now that we have the Stackables on our desk, we already can't imagine ever having to give them up – they've integrated themselves into our work environment that quickly. Gone are the scattered, mis-matched boxes we used to have, replaced with the single, sexy black tower. If it weren't for the high price tag (which hopefully will come down, if the Stackables sell well and an economy of scale kicks in), we'd be giving these to all of our PC geek friends for Christmas this year. As it stands, they can come by and drool on them at our place if they like.
For their world-class product design and clever engineering, we're awarding Ultra's Stackables with this month's Hardcore Hardware Award – congratulations, Ultra!
Pros: Awesome looks and convenience, especially when used with the Power Center. No more cord hassles! The HDD enclosures are simple to set up and are extremely quiet when operating. The Card Reader feels solid and slots all media smoothly and firmly (the mark of a quality-built unit). Can stack up to 6 units on a single Power Center, or use individually – all necessary cables are included.
Cons: Indicator LEDs are very bright, so much so that we actually painted the Power Center indicators with black ink to tone down the glare. Also, some controls, mainly the USB ports on the Card Reader and the power switch for the Power Center, are on the rear, making them hard to get to. Version 2.0 of the Power Center really should feature a front-mounted, glowing On/Off switch – with a few minor tweaks, this could easily be a 10/10 product, despite its high-end price tag.