Review: NewerTech miniStack V2 and V3 - Macenstein

Review: NewerTech miniStack V2 and V3

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

miniStack V2 and V3
Above: The miniStack V2 (left) and V3 (right)

I bought our Mac mini last year to serve as our kids’ computer, and at the time, it seemed the mini’s specs would suit their needs fine. They had no need for peripherals outside of a keyboard, and how were they going to fill up a 80GB hard drive, I thought?

Well, they didn’t. But I did. In attempting to be a responsible parent, I placed the Mac mini in the living room so we could easily monitor our kids’ computer use. However, upon seeing that mini positioned so close to the family TV, the inner Mac Geek in me quickly got to thinking of other uses for the”kid’s” computer. Long story short, the mini is now set up as a home DVR (digital video recorder) thanks to an Elgato Eye TV 250, and hard drive space (as well as expansion ports) is now at a premium.

Enter NewerTech’s miniStack V2 and V3. The miniStacks are designed to meet the needs of shortsighted mini owners like myself who loved the compact size and look of the Mac mini, but underestimated the eventual need for additional hard drive space as well as expansion ports. The miniStacks come in 8 capacities, ranging from 0GB (as in, bring your own drive) all the way up to 750GB (1TB for the V3). The units I tested were both 500GB models. The V2’s come with “regular” ATA (IDE ) drives, the V3 comes with the newer SATA spec. All models 250GB and up have a 16MB cache (the 1TB V3 sports a massive 32MB cache), lower capacities have an 8MB cache. All drives run at a fast 7200 rpm, compared to the 5400 rpm drive found in the Mac mini.

Expand your mini

Soon after buying our Mac mini I realized the need for extra USB and FireWire ports. The mini ships with four USB 2 and one FireWire 400 port. We have a FireWire iSight hooked to the mini, which meant I could no longer use the FireWire chord I had for my 4th Gen iPod. One USB port goes to the keyboard, one goes to the EyeTV unit, one goes to a Wacom tablet the kids like to draw on, and one goes to a pair of USB Powered Speakers. Add to that a whole slew of USB-powered eye candy the kids love, and it makes for not only a tangled mess of wires, but also a frustrating exercise of plugging and unplugging chords into the back of the Mac mini, which (as any Mac mini owner will tell you) invariably leads to accidentally pulling out the mini’s power plug.

miniStack V2 and V3
Above: the only physical difference between the V2 and the V3 (besides the V3’s label) is number/arrangement of ports on the back.

Both the V2 and V3 share the same form factor and design. While both can be used with any computer sporting FireWire or USB connections, they are geared in both design and name to be used with the Mac mini. The miniStack is designed to sit directly under the Mac mini, and shares its 6.5-inch x 6.5-inch form factor. NewerTech includes a short 7-inch FireWire and USB cable to make the connection between the two devices, without adding unnecesarily to cable-clutter. From the front, the two devices look almost identical (although the miniStack is about half an inch shorter, and missing the optical drive slot, of course). Newertech did a great job designing the miniStack, and both the the V2 and V3’s materials and coloring appear to be a perfect match to the mini. A slight lip protrudes around the top of the miniStack and is designed to hold the Mac mini in place above it.

The V2 vs the V3

The main difference between the V2 and V3 miniStack is the type and number of extra ports they deliver. On the back of the V2 you will see two FireWire 400 ports and two USB 2 ports, with an additional FireWire and USB 2 port on the left side. However, unlike the USB (which provides a separate USB 2 uplink port) you must use one of the 3 FireWire 400 ports to connect the miniStack to your computer, meaning you actually have two FireWire 400 ports available. Rounding out the back there is also a micro security slot, power chord, power switch, connections switch (more on that in a second) and exhaust fan.

miniStack V2 and V3
Above: A slight bezel holds your Mac mini firmly in place on the minStack.

On the V3, you will find 3 USB 2 ports, and only 1 FireWire 400 port (located on the side of the miniStack). However, you will find some additional “higher end” (and more expensive) connections not found on the V2. There are 2 FireWire 800 ports, as well an eSATA port, which is something usually still found only on high end drives. Their inclusion seems a bit odd, however, as neither FireWire 800 or eSATA ports can be found on the current Mac mini. (Note: There is an included FW 800 to FW 400 cable included with the V3, so in theory you can use an FW 800 connection with your Mac mini and still have an open FW 400 port.)

Daily Operation

I’ve used the miniStacks every day for about 3 weeks now, and I am happy to report I am thrilled with both of them. The design, materials, and performance of the units are all top notch, and operation is almost identical, save for the connection ports. The one issue I was worried most about, fan noise, proved to not be much of an issue. When in use, the miniStack’s fan is certainly audible, however it is not overly loud, and shuts itself off when not needed. Both the V2 and V3 have a smart power on/off feature as well, which will turn your miniStack on and off with the computer, saving you the trouble of reaching behind the unit and feeling around for the power switch each night, a big plus.

As I mentioned, I use the Mac mini as a DVR, and frequently found the need to delete shows without ever having watched them in order to make room for more important “must-see” shows. Jumping from the 40GB or so I had free on the Mac mini’s internal drive to the 500GB of the miniStack was like a breath of fresh air. Now, not only do I not have to worry about making room for new recordings, but I can also now record at the highest quality setting allowed by EyeTV (2.7GB per hour as opposed to 1.3GB per hour). The quality difference is amazing, and to me, more than justifies the miniStack’s price.

The previous iteration of the miniStack (the V1) has all 3 of its USB and FireWire Ports located on the back of the unit. The V2 and V3 have one of each port moved to the back left corner, and this is a welcome addition. While it may mean potentially you might see a little more plug than you might like, it also means you can now more quickly plug in removable devices, such as the iPod shuffle, without needing to fish around in the back of the unit and risk unplugging something. In my case, I found it was great for plugging in an Elgato Turbo.264 unit we were also testing between multiple machines.


There is not much bad to say about either miniStack, performance-wise. The only thing I find a little confusing about the V2 model is the included “connection switch”. This switch allows you to choose between “1394A connection”, and an “Auto” setting. NewerTech recommends you select the 1394A setting if you plan to access the hard drive via FireWire, but doesn’t really say why it’s better. In my own personal tests, I found attempting to record shows (via EyeTV) with the switch set to “auto” resulted in a slight “pulse” through the image that was barley perceptible, but noticeable on shots with a stationary graphic. I feel this may have something to do with the miniStack using the USB to access the hard drive and the fact that the Elgato EyeTV unit I use is also USB based. Perhaps this causes a little interference or taxes the USB 2 chips on the Mac mini. Whatever the reason, I kept the switch set to “1394A”, and all was good.

miniStack V2 and V3
Above: The miniStack V2’s port layout.

As far as the V3 is concerned, the V2’s “1394A connection” switch is gone, so the only real question is whether the V3 offers anything over the V2 that you would find particularly necessary. As I said, the V3 gives up two of its FireWire 400 ports, but adds two FireWire 800 ports and an eSATA port. However, neither FW800 or eSATA will work with the Mac mini, and eSATA won’t work on ANY Mac at the moment without first buying an additional eSATA card. There have been rumors that perhaps the Mac mini, long overdue for an update, may be being discontinued. Perhaps NewerTech is hedging its bets in making the V3 less Mac mini-specific, but whatever the reason, for my personal use, I find the V2 is actually better suited. As I mentioned, I found that when using the miniStack with EyeTV as a DVR, the FireWire connection worked better than the USB 2, and I enjoyed having the addition two FW 400 ports available even when connected via FireWire. The V3 would really offer no benefit for me, as a Mac mini owner.

miniStack V2 and V3
Above: The miniStack V3’s port layout.

Because of the more high-end ports, the miniStack V3 is more suited to MacBook Pro or Mac Pro owners, although the styling (and name) is still very “Mac mini”-like.


The NewerTech miniStack V2 is the must-have accessory for any Mac mini owner who is using their mini as a digital video recorder. The design nicely compliment’s the Mac mini, and does not take up much additional space nor add much additional noise to an entertainment center setting. The price is quite reasonable when you consider you are not only getting a large external hard drive, but also a USB and a FireWire hub, all wrapped up in a quiet, sleek package that nicely compliments your mini.

The V3 is a less clear choice. The hgher-end connection options seem geared for non-mini use, however the form factor remains the same as the V2. The added cost of these ports may put off mini users who cannot benefit from their increased speed.

miniStack v2

$69.99 (no hard drive kit) up to $329.99 (750GB)

Pros: Beautiful Design, quiet operation, provides much needed storage and expansion lacking from the Mac mini

Cons: non significant

miniStack v3

Price: $119.99 (no hard drive kit) up to $549.99 (1.0TB )

Pros: Provides extra storage and “high-end” ports, quiet operation

Cons: New features are not designed to work with the Mac mini, although it retains the same Mac mini styling as its predecessor; Offers 2 less FireWire 400 ports than the V2; Is more expensive due to the inclusion of the FW 800 and eSATA ports.

22 Responses to “Review: NewerTech miniStack V2 and V3”
  1. Mike says:

    Nice review of these hard drives. I have a 400 gig V2 on my 24″ Intel iMac and love it. The styling looks good next to the iMac and it is connected via FW400. I am looking for another one and am looking at the V3 for a couple of reasons. First, I want the consistent styling, but, more importantly, I wan to hook it up vi FW800 (which my iMac has). I also consider the eSATA port a plus for use in future systems because who knows what future generations of iMacs may hold for us.

    Again, great review and I understand the V3 scoring when considered for the Mac Mini only. Keep up the great owrk on one of the best Apple sites around!

  2. Rowlings says:

    eSATA IS a bit of an odd choice for the miniStack. Unless NewerTechnology knows something we don;t about upcoming minis and iMacs?

  3. Yacko says:

    The number and type of ports are not the only difference between the models. The V3 model with the eSATA port also has a SATA hard drive inside. The V2 model has a PATA. This doesn’t make much difference for those buying a model with a hard drive already built in, but for those buying the least expensive version, an empty case in which you can install your own drive, new or old, this is a big issue. That’s why the Firewire 800 port which is better than 400, but still slower than a SATA connection (and internal drive).

    One should also note that Seagate has indicated they will be gradually discontinuing PATA drives starting the end of this year. Perhaps 1GB will be the largest? So if you need a Version 2 because you need a case for an older hard drive, don’t wait too long to buy one as they will also probably be discontinued sometime the next 12 months. The future belongs to SATA.

  4. Constable Odo says:

    I use a MiniStack v2 with a Seagate 400 drive as my Airport Drive connected to my Airport Extreme Base Station N. It is a very well constructed enclosure. I’ve had it running 24/7 for a couple of months now and the enclosure always stays nice and cool. I have it sitting atop the AEBSN.

    It would be nice if the MacMini is continued and sports an eSATA port. Probably the iMac will have one.

    I’m very pleased with my MiniStack v2 and I would highly recommend it to anyone who needed an external case. I purchased mine from OWC.

  5. zahadum says:

    nice review of the V3:

    1) fw800: yes! …

    but the review does not tell us if the owc stack will support any of the special dual channel drives that were created (cant remember the oem) to exploit a high-performance RAID-0 s double stripe on a single spindle …. that thing rocked, as i recall; so it would be nice to know how sophisticated the new firewire controller is on the owc stack!

    but perhaps a SATA drive can match the performance of a dual channel fw800?! the review doesnt provide any benchmarks – it would be nice if collaborations with Bare Feats could be arranged 🙂

    2) fw400: but it is a big shame that V4 loses two fw400!!!! 🙁 … this is essential for the apple mini (and adapters) arent the same thing ….

    though i can see a power consumption / thermal dissipation / fan noise issue once one starts cranking up the juice on lots fw (which supply way more voltage (12v vs 5v) and way more current (2A vs 500ma) than usb does.

    3) uplink port: the lack of a dedicated fw port (like usb has) is also missed (it would serve for both fw as a repeater and as a hub)

    4) NAS: network attached storage is a no-brainer yet it seems totally MIA! 🙁

    while apple does support IP-over-firewire, your review doesnt explore how the stackV3 can utilize that feature …

    at this price-point, an ENET port — and/or a slot for a wifi-n card!! — is a big disappointment …

    note: ironically, apple’s new airport extreme offers NAS! …. not to mention the rush of new NAS-based p2p servers hitting the market: embedded servers are much cheaper than apple’s price for the mini (only the appletv is priced to compete in this remote access market, but it is not clear if the ATV’s version of osx can be loaded with external programs, though recent hacks have no succeeded in hacking its usb port so that it can support the large external storage that is required in a media-server type of configuration).

    5) laptop leverage: a pc-card slot and a media-card reader are also no-brainers that are MIA at this price-point! 🙁 … there is lots of laptop that would be great in a ministack.

    6) remcon: a big disappointment that there is no I/R! (infrared) at this price-point 🙁 …

    so it is not possible for the 10M++ legacy macs to use frontrow etc (even when it comes standard with leopard; it requires some hacks to be use with non-apple I/R gear).

    7) wireless: a slot (add-in vs built-in?) wifi/BT card would have been a nice touch – not for NAS but for direct attached storage – on the 10M++ legacy macs that didnt ship with wireless as a standard feature.

    8) PATA: it is not clear from the review if the internal drive can only be SATA or whether it is backwards compatible with legacy IDE drives? … again, at this price-point one does not expect that the legacy drives will be serviced by a distinct product-line (ie V2 of the owc stack).

    9) DC: it would have great if the owc mini also supported some extra guest power ports, so that 5V devices could conveniently re-charge (without having a tangle of power bricks! eg cell phones, digital cameras, ipods, pda’s, gameboys, etc).

    10) stackability: there is no separate uplink port (maybe a hyper-transport mezzanine port?!) for the “stack” itself, so if one needs a couple of these units then one is forced into using the daisy-chaining of the fw hub or perhaps the usb hub …. but i think this approach has performance implications depending on the I/O controller chip used … at a slightly higher price-point, the owc stack v3 could have a genuinely intelligent platform (that might even be a suitable NAS-type companion to an IP-based kvm).

    All in all, we have waited for a LONG time to see V3 of the owc stack ….

    while the modest additions are welcome, V3 ministack is an underwhelming exercise in missed opportunities. The owc ministack V3 is not a glowing addition to any product manager’s resume – nor to the prosumer’s arsenal of AIO solutions.

    this disappointment – missing a series of no-brainers – is another example which suggests that a whole new business model is required in which mac customers can get the functionality they need – perhaps like a subscription model (pay-for-feature) … something big needs to come along – like p2p and then the ipod did – in opposite yet mutually reinforcing ways – for the stodgy media world or e-bay did for classified adverts – that can aggregate the purchasing power of tens of millions of dissatisfied mac customers, that can be directly funneled to ODM’s in taiwan.

    surely the lackluster, incrementalism of most mac oem’s calls out for something new & better than be served warmed-over, half-hearted efforts (that are either long-delayed or over-priced).

    the owc is surely not the only example of mediocrity …. but it is perhaps the poster boy!

  6. Bought a 400GB miniStack v2 last week for my new mini. Beautiful unit. Very quiet operation. Another great offering from Other World Computing.

  7. The Jenkinator says:

    Wow zahadum, I think maybe you want a little too much from an external hard drive.
    I got the V2 because it was a hard drive that matched the mini and added some ports. Things like a card reader would be nice, but most of the other stuff you want would add a lot of cost and be used by a small percentage of people.

  8. RLD says:

    I bought 2 barebones V2 miniStacks when I bought my mini (2 mths after it came out). I’ve been very pleased with both. I installed 2 120GB HD and just recently bought a 500GB to replace one of the failing drives. I would recommend them to anyone whether they had a Mac or a PC.

  9. Greg says:

    I bought a 320 GB v3 Ministack from OWC. I opted for the v3 over the v2 because I have a MacBook Pro and the FW800 was a must have. One of the reasons they include the eSata port is because that’s what the drive controller supports, oxford semi OXUF934DSb.
    I also use this drive with my Airport Extreme as a wireless drive. It works great.
    The only issue I’ve had recently is the fan started staying on all the time. It didn’t used to do that, but now it’s pretty annoying. Any suggestions?

  10. Bob Walberg says:

    Very nice the v3 has a sata connection, i assume you coult put an sata disk in it?
    The only problem at the moment is that there isn’t a suitable cable to put insite the mini instead of the internal harddisk and connect to the v3

    Now i have the v2 and also a micronet hd and i have mac osx on the v2. But with an dvd burner i have 4 devices (at maximum 400kb firewire) if i could use the v3 with SATA my burner coult speed up i think.

  11. eT says:

    Thanks for the review, very interesting.

    Even if the just presented new MacMini’s do not feature eSATA: there are enough reports on the web for ‘case mods’ for the Mini with the internal 5400 rpm 2,5″ SATA harddisk removed and replaced by an outside connected 7200 rpm SATA drive. Having a matching eSATA enclosure will facilitate this mod. (data throughput / performance of (e)SATA is much higher than Firewire!).

    Allthough I do not know if in this case the ‘fall asleep and rewake with MacMini’-function of the MiniStack v3 will work. Someone more enlightend?


  12. Broken42 says:

    I’m looking at the V3 just from a future-proofing standpoint – I want to be able to slip in a new drive in a year or two if necessary.

    Anyone know if this model will take a SATA2 drive?

  13. AngelArs says:

    There is only really one reason to buy the V3 and thats to be able to use a SATA hard drive. We can’t wait to buy a Seagate SATA drive for our minis main drive. Appearance wise we really wish that they would do away with the side ports, as they look ugly as #*&@. Maybe offer ‘covers’ that you could plug in them to cover them up instead of seeing open ports on the side. Thank God the Mac Mini doesn’t have side ports! Wish the price of the V3 was more reasonable too, as it’s almost twice as much as the V2 JUST for the option of using an internal SATA. It’s nice that they offer FW800, but since the Mac Mini can’t use it – it’s a little like someone giving you a check for a million dollars but telling you that you can’t cash it…

  14. Overkill says:

    AngelArs, you said the V3 costs almost twice as much as the V2. On Newertech’s site, a 500GB drive is only $30 more for the V3 than the V2 ($250 vs $220).

  15. AngelArs says:

    No, the V2 enclosure is 69.00. The V3 enclosure is 129.00. That’s around twice as much. Plus we would NEVER buy a ministack with one of their hard drives. They offer nothing as good as the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 with perpendicular recording technology.

  16. Suburbanites says:

    AngelArs, ’tis true for the enclosure-only solution and bring-your-own-drive. When you look at the prices for the hard-drive-supplied product, the cost difference is nearly negligible. Just noted it at a $20 difference between the v3 and v2 at 750GB spec, the v3 provides FW800 support even if you’ve no eSATA port (even new iMacs don’t), compared to the transfer rate of a FW400 bus. For $20 more, it wasn’t much of a decision to replace my 2 month-old Maxtor 1TB Drive (defective fan, way loud) and have something until I can get warranty replaced. And just the convenience of a single case, extra ports, and a sexy footprint makes this worth $320 to me. If the v3 reliability is comparable to the v2’s from prior reviews, I’ll be very happy.

  17. nasser says:

    can i use v2 with my U.S. Robotics Wireless MAXg ADSL Gateway as a server hard disk?

  18. The Pontificator says:

    I just bought a V2 (500GB) and the “auto on/off” feature doesn’t work. When I shut off the mini the V2 still runs until I manually turn it off.

  19. Trinity says:

    The ministack is the worst computer accessory I have never bought. The auto on/off never worked. The drives unmounted suddenly due the bad quality of the internal connectors, and the power supply died in only four months. Macsales offered a RMA but I don’t want to get a replacement of that… thing.

  20. Robinthehood says:

    Good review Dr. ,
    In the future I will be looking into the – computer to TV – solution(s).
    This device may be apart of the storage answer… but,
    … one important question not answered here is about the noise level from the cooling fan.
    When investing in any device with fans, the decibel level should be listed, or at least compared to something commonly known.
    High noise during viewing will quickly wear anybody’s patience thin.
    If you or anyone can help fill in this info, thanks ahead of time.

  21. Dan MacK says:

    I bought 2 of the v3 ministacks made by Newertechnology and i am presently using both as bookends or rather, I am using 2 replacements as bookends now.
    In about their 4th month both units failed within 2 weeks of one and other and I RMA’d them back to the company for the replacements alluded to above. They worked fine for another 4 and 6 months respectively and then they too crashed.
    The interface used in them seems to over heat and die in very short order.
    I did a lot of reading on them at the time and there were overwhelming reviews from other purchasers re these being very crappy products.
    I write this so as to give you all a fair warning in the likelyhood you are about to buy this piece of junk.
    They won’t stand up to the heat.

  22. JebNY says:

    I have had 3 of these over the years (500GB to 1TB) all failed the same way, the last one a few weeks ago. They start intermittently making a scrapping sound that could be a disk bearing or a fan going bad. Either will cause a complete failure in time so I pulled them out of service. I recently took them apart and tested the drives in a disk dock and the drives seem to be fine so I’m guessing in was the fan that was going out but I haven’t ran them long enough yet to be sure.

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