If you’ve ever built a small form factor PC, using a mini-ITX or micro-ATX motherboard, then you’ll know that storage can be an issue. Achieving the balance between high capacity and a small physical footprint is essential for a successful build.

Startech.com’s Dual Bay 2.5" to 3.5" SSD/HDD Converter is a clever solution to this common problem. It’s an enclosure that, on the surface, looks just like a 3.5″ hard drive – and slots into a standard drive bay – but in fact holds two 2.5″ SSDs or traditional hard drives.

Priced at $74.99, but available online for around $60 at the time of writing, it’s ideally suited for small footprint gaming PCs or home theater PCs. That said, the converter is suitable for a wide range of applications. Alongside its small footprint, the converter has a couple of additional tricks. Not only is it compatible with SATA I/II/III (up to 6 Gbps) connectors, so can offer upgrades for legacy PCs, you’ll also find RAID support available, with RAID 0 and RAID 1 plus Spanning and JBOD modes on offer.

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Gamers (or indeed anyone seeking a high-speed/high-capacity system volume) can choose to span Windows across two SSDs in a RAID 0 array – a common setup which can boost achieve read and write speeds. Alternatively, the converter offers a neat way to mount 2.5″drives in a JBOD configuration if your PC case only includes 3.5″ bays. It’s also a great option for creating a RAID 1 mirror of a system volume on a home server. Simply install the OS on one SSD and mirror it using Windows Disk Management on the second drive.

Installation

Installation of the twin SSDs is very straightforward. Startech has developed a tool-less design with an internal lever connected to the converter’s front latch. Pop in the drives and as the front door is closed, the drive connectors are pressed into the backplane. The connector on the drive is keyed so that it only fits in the adapter one way, of course. Open the latch and pull the front door forward and your drives are eased out.

Once the SSDs are fitted, the converter itself slides neatly into a spare 3.5″ hard drive bay. Four screws are supplied with the converter, for securing into the drive bay.  For ease, I’m showing the converter mounted in a NAS drive tray so you can see how well it fits, but it’s more likely that you’ll slot such a device into a PC case and connect SATA and power cables to the converter’s rear connector. Once that’s done, slide the rear switch to select your storage configuration and you’re done.

Incidentally, the robustness of the outer chassis means that you could, if required, use the converter as an external drive enclosure. For testing, I paired the converter with another Startech.com accessory, a USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) adapter cable for SATA drives and plugged the converter into a spare USB 3.1 port on my PC. This adapter cable neatly combines SATA data and power in a single connector – the perfect partner for the SSD converter.

There is no storage management software supplied with the drive, so you’ll need to use the native disk management tools on your Windows PC or Mac.

As I use the two Samsung SSDs I installed into the converter regularly, it took a little work in Diskpart to clean out the existing partitions before Windows Disk Management was prepared to initialize the disks. However, once that job was done, the two disks were recognised as a single RAID 0 disk and formatting was completed in a matter of seconds.

Performance

In terms of performance, I benchmarked drive speeds as follows:

RAID Seq. Read (MB/s) Seq. Write (MB/s) Random Read (IOPS) (MB/s) Random Write (IOPS) (MB/s)
Baseline 557 505 38,190 38,285
RAID 0 532 509 16,497 34,727
RAID 1 535 505 38,968 37,804
JBOD 472 365 38,114 34,710

The baseline scores are taken from a 120 GB attached directly to our test PC (that is, not installed in the converter). The RAID 0, RAID 1 and JBOD benchmarks are measured with two SSDs installed in the converter.

Overall, the speeds I measured with the Startech SSD converter are pretty good. In RAID 1, where you may expect to take a performance hit (due to data mirroring), it was pleasing to see that read/write speeds weren’t too far away from the baseline. However, I expected to see a better result from the RAID 0 tests, which came in with a similar result to RAID 1. To compare, I tested a similar (external) enclosure back in November, the CineRAID 2-Bay Portable RAID Storage Enclosure (CR-H218)  (see the review) and that device delivered faster speeds of 662/858 MB/sec (sequential), with random read/write speeds coming in at 38083/40780 IOPS.

Summary

Priced around $60, the Startech.com Dual Bay 2.5" to 3.5" SSD/HDD Converter  is a really innovative device for installing twin 2.5″ SSDs in your desktop PC. That said, you can find competing products (from less well known brands) available at almost half the price

The aluminium-topped enclosure itself is robust, with a simple latching mechanism that makes drive installation a cinch. Performance is decent, if not class-leading – those looking for the fastest RAID 0 speeds for a gaming rig may wish to look at alternatives. That said, for extreme performance, 2.5″ SSDs are really no match for PCIe M.2 storage modules, so it’s a moot point.

Otherwise, Startech has delivered another high quality, convenient and altogether neat solution for an alternative desktop storage configuration.