Chances are that just about any type of USB peripheral you could possibly image--and perhaps even a few that defy description (such as a USB Ferris Wheel Phone Stand
?!?)--are already being made by the wacky creative brains at Brando Workshop. Some of their products are not the most practical, while others are designed to serve useful needs. Today, Brando Workshop announced two new USB-based products: The USB Illuminated Bamboo Mini Fountain
and the SATA HDD Dock Station Combo Stereo Speaker + Hub
There's not much to say about the fountain; it's USB powered, it's a fountain (with actual flowing water), and it costs $25. If this is the type of impractical product that excites you, then you are probably already familiar with the creations from Brando Workshop. The new SATA HDD Dock Station, however, is what caught our eye...
The Dock Station is a device that serves multiple functions. For starters, it is a hard drive dock/cradle that works with both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch bare SATA hard drives. Enthusiasts and other users who are continually building, rebuilding, tweaking, or migrating systems, often work with bare drives. A hard drive dock makes it much easier and quicker to transfer files or whole disk images from a bare drive that only needs to be connected temporarily. As the dock connects to your system via USB, you'll get slower transfer rates through the USB bus (up to 480Mbps) than you would by directly connecting the drive to an internal SATA connection (up to 3Gbps), but this way you don't need to crack open or system or an external drive enclosure. You also don't need to install any drivers, and the device works with Windows 2000/XP/Vista and Mac OS 9.X and higher.
The Dock Station also includes two USB ports on its front panel. Not only does this make the Dock Station a 2-port USB hub, but as the device also includes integrated (3W) stereo speakers, this enables the Dock Station to also act as a standalone MP3 player. If we're reading the specs right, any hard drive or USB flash drive that has MP3 files on it and which gets plugged into the device, will cause the Dock Station to automatically start playing the music files through its speakers. Unfortunately, the only controls on the Dock Station are volume up, volume down, and mute, so you won't be able to navigate through the music files. The specs also don't presently list which music file types are supported (and it's a fairly safe bet that it probably doesn't support music files that use DRM).
The Dock Station includes line-in and line-out audio ports as well a built-in "USB Audio Sound Card
," so you can use the device as your system's analog or USB-based speakers. Brando Workshop suggests that you could "connect it with a headset and therefore access easily to the VOIP applications, such as MSN, Skype, Google Talk
." Where we see the speakers true potential value, however, would be for when you are building a system using a drive in the dock: you can also temporarily use the Dock Station's speakers to make sure that the system's audio is working properly.
At $59, the Dock Station is certainly not the least-expensive hard drive dock/cradle option available; there are cheaper versions from other vendors, such as Tripp Lite or StarTech.com. Neither Tripp Lite or StarTech.com, however, offer hard drive docks that include a USB hub or speakers. But if you don't need the USB hub or the speakers, then perhaps a better choice might be the $43.99 StarTech.com eSATA USB to SATA External HDD Dock
, which includes both a USB and a faster (up to 3Gbps) eSATA interface.