by Brian Beeler

Icy Dock 4 in 3 SATA Internal RAID Backplane Review (MB974SP-B)

The Icy Dock 4-in-3 backplane gives users easy access to four hard drives in the space occupied by three 5.25" drive bays in a typical PC case. The unit is highlighted by tool-less/tray-less hard drive slots and dedicated SATA connections making it an ideal RAID backplane. Icy Dock has also thrown in a bunch of extras like individual drive power buttons, front mounted USB and eSATA ports and a three mode, user-replaceable fan. 

Icy Dock MB974SP-B Specs

  • Fits 4 x 3.5” SATA HDD into 3 x 5.25” Device Bays
  • Screw-less, tool-less design for genuine plug & play and hot swap use
  • Aluminum body construction for durability and heat dissipation
  • 3-speed 80mm cooling fan (replaceable)
  • Fan only powers on when a drive is powered on
  • Front side USB and eSATA ports
  • Individual power switches and LEDs for each drive
  • Internal SATA cable and USB header cable built into rear of device
  • 3-year warranty

Design and Build

The backplane itself is largely aluminum, with a black plastic face. The body is rigid, with excessive pressure required to get it to bow in on the top or sides. The plastic bits are largely reserved for the drive doors, but even there metal pins and hinges are used, giving the overall build and feel of the unit a very sturdy feel. 

Drive doors open with a lift up latch, that also has a little button underneath that acts like a safety. Pressing the button and lifting the latch are natural, if you're intending to open the drive door. If the bay gets bumped or otherwise brushed against, it seems unlikely that the doors will pop open with this additional safety. Once the doors are open, drives slide easily into the unit on metal shelves, locking in place when the door is closed. 

To the left of each door is an individual power button for each drive, again with a measure of accident protection. The power buttons require a deep push, something that's hard to accomplish unless you intend on doing so. The rest of the face features eSATA and USB ports, along with a physical switch to manage the fan's three modes of operation; low, high and auto. 

The rear of the backplane features two power ports on the left, the fan in the middle, four SATA connectors on the right, one for each drive and the wiring harnesses for the front-mounted eSATA and USB ports. The fan is user-replaceable, which is a nice touch. The included 80mm fan should do fine for most, but if you want something different, so be it. Icy Dock includes both 2-pin and 3-pin power connectors to accommodate most fans. 

In Use

Getting going with the backplane is as easy as sliding it into your chassis. We tested on a pair of Corsair Series Obsidian 800D cases and it went in with little argument. Connect the two power ports and the SATA connections for the drives and you're ready to roll. 

When drives are active, the blue power lights flash accordingly. When four drives are being accessed in RAID, it's quite a light party. A black Sharpie marker can dampen the lights if that's an issue. The fan only operates when the drives are powered on. If you're in a situation where noise, or perhaps, more noise is an issue, the fan behavior is welcome. 

If we start looking for negatives, the biggest problem we can find is the cable to connect the front eSATA port to the motherboard is a little on the short side. This probably isn't an issue for many, but the cable is soldered to the board and can't be replaced. Otherwise the backplane worked well for quickly swapping drives, building a new array when connected to our LSI MegaRAID 9265-8i and the other daily tasks we asked it to do. 

Warranty

Icy Dock includes a three year warranty with this product; most competing products offer a one year warranty.

Conclusion

The Icy Dock 4-in-3 internal RAID backplane does what it's supposed to do, a common refrain when looking at Icy Dock products. We found it to be reliable, intuitive to use and hard to find much fault with. The street price of $139 puts this backplane in the same area that others charge with this feature set, a fair price considering the quality build, user swappable fan, front-mounted eSATA port and three year warranty. 

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Icy Dock 4-in-3 SATA Backplane