Hassle Free Drive Duplication.

We've seen our share of hard drive docks and even a few from Vantec, but this time they have something a little different. The NexStar HDD Duplicator also does as its name implies, it can duplicate drives on a sector-by-sector basis. The beautiful part is that it can do it independently, without the need of being connected to a host PC. Therefore, no software is needed and it doesn't really care what data or OS is on the drive. This makes for a very flexible tool which may appeal more to the techie crowd than the average user since not everyone has the need for drive duplication.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator and Box

For $63.09 shipped, the dock carries a little more of a price premium than that of a normal dual drive dock but it's meager given the extra functionality and what we'd expect to pay. It supports both 3.5" and 2.5" drives easily as long as they are the SATA I, II or II variety. While it's OS agnostic in duplication mode, if  used as a more traditional dock, it requires Windows XP or higher, or Mac OS X v10.6 or higher. The dock is covered by a one year warranty which is pretty standard for products of this type.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Drives

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator (NST-DP100S3) Features and Specifications:

In the box along with the dock, we have a power adapter, a USB 3.0 cable and a multilingual user manual. On their product page, that have a little more robust version of the manual. The USB cable is only necessary when used as dock and not in duplication mode.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Contents

Let's have a little closer look at the dock and its use.

Vantec NexStar Drive Duplicator Tour and Operation

The operation of the dock is very simple and we'll start with a product tour.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Front

The front is probably the busiest side of the dock with four LEDs and a solitary lime green button. The button is what initiates the duplication and the LEDs are the indicators for progress and/or errors which we'll speak a bit more about below when we outline the operation.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Top

The top of the dock has a pair of slots for the insertion of drives, each with dual flaps that accommodate both 2.5" and 3.5" drives. There are corresponding buttons to the right of the slots which are used to eject the drives safely without having to yank on them. They pop out like toast. Off to the left are markings which indicate that drive one sits towards the rear and drive two resides on the front as well as arrows depicting the direction of data when copying from one drive to another. Kind of important to know.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Rear

Around the back we find the USB 3.0 port off to the left and nearer to the center is the AC adapter port and finally, to the right is a power toggle switch. This is handy to have and not found on all docks.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Bottom

The bottom is unremarkable with the most notable feature being the no-slip circular feet in each corner plus we also find the product sticker down here. Overall, the build feels solid with aluminum and plastic body trimmed all in black. Much of what we expect from Vantec given our experience with their products.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Operation

Drive cloning operation is very simple. Place the source drive in the rear dock and the target drive in the front dock. It's important to note that the target drive, has to be equal to or larger than the source drive, regardless of the size of the data being transferred. An attempt to clone to a smaller drive or a failure in the process will be met with an angry red LED on the far right which represents the source drive. To begin the cloning process, the green button is depressed for five seconds. At this time the LEDs will cycle amber in color from left to right and back again while the operation is underway. As progress is made, the first LED will remain lit solidly indicating that 25% of the operation has been completed. The remaining lights will cycle as before. As you may have guessed, once the second light remains solidly lit it indicates that 50% is complete, the third 75%, and so on. Finally, when complete, all will flash amber simultaneously and that it. Task done.

For normal dock operation, the USB 3.0 cable needs to be connected. Once a drive is inserted, it shows as another drive on the system and the first two LEDs will glow solid blue and the third or fourth lights will also alight depending on which (or both) docks have a drive inserted. IO activity is indicated with the blue lights flashing to red and back in synch with the activity.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Corner

Hard drive docks are prevalent on the PC accessory market so having other features to help set the product apart can be a boon for sales.  As we’ve discussed, the Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator dock adds the functionality of sector-by-sector hard drive duplication without the need for intervention of an OS or even connection to a host PC. Using as a dock, it uses the speedy USB 3.0 interface and allows for two drives to be connected at one time. This all for $63.09, a price you'd expect for a product of this type. In our use, we found cloning a drive by copying from a 480GB drive to a 512GB drive with 70.5GB of actual data, took about 21 minutes to complete the process - and it did so flawlessly. We copied over several different drives and nary once had an issue. A few caveats to note though. First, you need copy to an equal or larger sized drive, regardless of the amount of data being copied. We tried to reverse the above scenario and were immediately met with an error light. When going to a larger drive, since it's a sector-by-sector copy, the difference in drive sizes will be leftover as an unformatted partition portion of the target drive. For those that have the room to spare on an SSD, this is a nice way to leave extra room on the drive for over provisioning. Otherwise, you'll need a drive tool to reclaim this space which is simple but may be daunting to some who've never had to deal with it before. It might be nice for Vantec to supply a free tool and some instructions on their site for doing so for those lacking experience in doing to. Second, users migrating from an HDD to and SSD on Win XP should beware that the alignment of the partitions may not be optimal for an SSD as Windows XP does not align optimally for SSD use by default. A sector-by-sector copy will carry the XP alignment over to the target drive - SSD or HDD alike. Overall, operation - whether as a typical dock or in duplication mode couldn't be easier.

Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator Box

Something readers may be pondering is why someone would even want to duplicate a drive. For our SSD reviews, we use the same archived copy of an OS drive image for all of our tests for the sake of consistency. It's much easier to pop a few drives in, press the button and make disk copies than it is to use software cloning methods that use up resources on other systems. Cloning software can be finicky too. For everyone else, there are handful of scenarios that make sense. First, is for backups/archival of precious data. For instance, make a copy of a drive used for your photos, music, etc and take that copy and store it off site for safe keeping. A lot of people are migrating from hard drives to SSDs and on laptops, this can present a challenge without some special cables. Pulling the HDD out, popping it into the dock and cloning to an SSD is an easy way to get this done. Keep in mind that for this product in particular, it acts as dock as well so if you are going to go out and buy a dock, why not have one with the extra functionality of independent drive cloning?

Legit Bottom Line: The Vantec NexStar HDD Duplicator dock is an excellent and easy to use tool for cloning drives at the sector level and works great as a USB 3.0 dock for any SATA based drive that may be on hand.