Review: Newer Technology miniStack
In just a few short months, countless companies have created hard drive/hub combinations for the Mac mini. One such product is the NewerTech miniStack, available in sizes from 80-500GB, and even an add-your-own-drive model. Despite the miniStack having a name that will suggest it can only be used with the Mac mini, any USB- or FireWire-equipped Mac can utilize it.
Starting at around $90 for the empty version, the miniStack is priced quite competitively with many hard drive enclosures, and once you add its USB and FireWire hub capabilities into the equation, it is an even better value. The miniStack enclosure is the US version of Macpower’s M9-DX (Asia) and Iomega’s MiniMax (Europe).
miniStack + Mac mini
Obviously, the miniStack is designed to match the mini, but we did find a few quirks. First, the miniStack is plastic, to prevent heat from dissipating through the sides and top (and possibly baking your mini). Because of this, the silver-colored plastic does not quite match the mini. It was only noticable if you’re really paying attention, but otherwise won’t draw attention to itself. Also, unlike many other stackable Mac mini hard drives, the miniStack features a blue LED in the center of the unit, rather than a white LED like the Mac mini.
The miniStack powers on and off with the Mac mini when the power switch is in the “on” position, but functions like any other hard drive in every other regard. Since the drive functions as a USB and FireWire hub, there are three FireWire ports (one is used to connect the drive to the computer), and three USB ports (with another for connecting to the computer). When the drive is off, the hubs do not work, so if you want to use your peripherals, it’s a good idea to keep the miniStack turned on. A switch selects whether or not the drive connects to the computer as a USB or FireWire drive. For most users, FireWire mode will be the best choice.
Also included with the drive are two short 16″ cables (USB and FireWire) for connecting the drive to the computer, and a CD with a few extra tools. Intech HD Speedtools is decent for benchmarking various hard drives and running various diagnostic tests. Dantz Retrospect Backup is good for making sure you’re covered in case of problems. The hard drive itself also comes with almost 2GB of freeware/shareware and other cool files loaded on it.
The miniStack can function as the Mac mini’s boot drive, but only in FireWire mode, which will speed things up tremendously over the built-in laptop-style hard drive. Since most users might want to use the Mac mini without needing the miniStack all the time, we really didn’t do too many tests on this subject.
In terms of heat, the miniStack only got slightly warm in our hours of testing and usage. Besides having a fan to blow hot air out of the back, along with a really cool speed switch, the bottom features a giant heat sink to draw heat out of the bottom, and keep it away from the Mac mini’s air intakes. The miniStack’s top has ridges that keep the Mac mini in place and do not obstruct the air vents.
The drives themselves are the same as the other Other World Computing drives— 7200 RPM, 3.5″ parallel ATA. Most miniStack models come with a Hitachi Deskstar (formerly IBM). My experience with these drives has been pretty good in the past, but a two-year warranty is offered on the miniStack if trouble arises.
Overall, the miniStack is a pretty cool product that prevents the need for many extra accessories. Although it might cost a tad more than some other external hard drives, its hub functions, as well as the ability to sit under the mini make up for the premium.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
With a competitive price compared to normal hard drives, the miniStack is a cooler (and more functional) alternative that will make any Mac mini user happy.
Pros: Design matches Mac mini, connects with FireWire or USB, also serves as a FireWire and USB hub, lots of cooling settings, Oxford 911+ bridge
Cons: Color is a bit off, hubs don’t work when power is turned off