Wiebetech Ultradock v5.5 review

I still regularly use the Wiebetech UltraDock v.4 that I got for review purposes ages ago — back then from James Wiebe in person. The other day, I wondered how the UltraDock would have evolved, asked CRU-Dataport for a test unit and promptly got an UltraDock v.5.5. There’s quite a difference between the two devices that are about eight years apart in terms of design and technology. But it still is the best solution to hook up a bare disk drive to your Mac or PC. The UltraDock v.5.5 comes with a number of tricks that may appeal to a bigger market than the old UltraDock.

ultradock v5.5

The UltraDock v5.5 is a blue aluminium box with a LCD screen on top and three host attachment options. It allows you to hook up SATA, PATA and other drives (some of which need an adapter). The UltraDock comes with the necessary accessories, including an AC adapter and localised power cord, USB and FireWire 800 cables, an eSATA cable, a SATA drive attachment cable, an IDE cable, Molex mini-fit to legacy power cable, and a metal drive plate with screws and silicon bumpers.

As with the old model I have, the newest UltraDock still is a breeze to use. Hook up a bare drive with the right cable, plug in the cable of choice to connect the lot with your Mac and switch it on. The same LEDs will start flickering if all goes well. New, however, is the central, bright LCD screen. This screen contains information about your drive and allows you to create HPA/DCO areas. Another new feature is that you can have the UltraDock itself be powered from a SATA power cable inside a computer case.

ultradock 5.5

The most interesting new feature, however, is the menu and capabilities offered and controlled by the LCD screen. Here you can get a view of the drive you have hooked up. Drive information includes disk capacity, temperature, manufacturer model and serial numbers, firmware revision, HPA and DCO size if any, S.M.A.R.T. disk health, start/stops, power cycles and bad sectors.

You can also see the UltraDock’s own information, including its firmware. The firmware can be updated with the CRU Configurator application, but only from the Windows version. The Mac version should show you the firmware the dock is at, but on my macOS 10.11 system, the UltraDock wasn’t recognised at all. Perhaps that’s due to the dock being connected over Thunderbolt via a LaCie eSATA to Thunderbolt adapter.

ultradock

With the UltraDock v5.5, you should be able to install and manage a Device Configuration Overlay (DCO) and/or Host Protected Area (HPA). Both are hidden areas found on some drives. When you store information in either the DCO or HPA, the BIOS, OS or user cannot access it.

With the UltraDock I was able to create a DCO and HPA on a Western Digital drive, but not on an old Samsung drive. Except for creating these areas — which aren’t even recognised by macOS 10.11 — you can also use the UltraDock v5.5 to resize them. Writing actual data to them is less straightforward and involves using Unix command tools as far as I know.

ultradock

To wrap up this review, the UltraDock v5.5 is a great hardware tool. It’s even better than the UltraDock v4 that I still have here. It does more and if it’s just as robust as the old one, it will last well over a decade without any hiccups whatsoever. It’s the best way to connect a bare drive to your Mac. The UltraDock v5.5 costs about €205 ($229).

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