What do you do when an application you need to use requires a specialized PCIe board and your laptop doesn’t a have a slot to accommodate it? Expansion enclosures provide needed slots and connect easily to either your PC or your OC or Workstation.  While several desktop expansion enclosures have been introduced in the last couple of years, no other has offered the breadth of options as ‘The CUBE’ family of expansion enclosures. This line of innovative products not only boasts seven different sizes but each size offers a variety of options including the number of cards supported, the type of cards, and the type of connectivity to the computer. 

The CUBE family includes four basic sizes, the nanoCUBE, mCUBE1, 2, and 3 and the CUBE 1,2, and 3. The nanoCUBE supports a half-height short card 7.3” long, the mCUBE supports a full-height card 9.5” long, and the CUBE, a full-height, full-length card 13.25” long. The nanoCUBE is ideal for adding a fast storage Flash card to your laptop to quickly download and temporarily store video or graphic data. The mCUBE is ideal for an Apple laptop user that requires a mid-range video streaming card and wants to connect it thru a Thunderbolt port. Both enclosures offer a lightweight chassis with whisper-quiet operation. It’s also extremely easy to install a board into them. One thumbscrew retains a lightweight metal frame that easily slides out of the enclosure exposing the add-in card slot. Once the card in installed in the slot, the frame easily slides back into the enclosure and is secured with the thumbscrew. 

The nanoCUBE is small, lightweight, whisper-quiet and cost less than competitive products

Mobility is a huge advantage of expansion enclosures. Smaller and lighter than a Workstation, a laptop with an expansion enclosure can easily become mobile. The film industry, along with many others, uses laptops to download digital images and video on location. High-end digital cameras use software and boards to accelerate the download and transcode time from the cameras. These boards along with Flash memory boards for fast storage can be installed in the enclosure and then simply plugged into the laptop when required.

On-location computing requires mobility of systems. Laptops, which are the preferred hardware for on-location jobs, cannot accommodate necessary application boards like video, streaming, graphics, and audio to effectively do their job. These boards are typically installed in bulky, noisy rackmount computers that are wheeled onto location. This is often difficult and impractical. Recently, expanding from the laptop has become more popular with the adoption of Thunderbolt and PCI Express (PCIe) connectivity options. Today you can plug a Thunderbolt cable or an ExpressCard, the equivalent of the old PC Card, into your laptop and cable off to an expansion enclosure that can accommodate any number of application boards.

A number of expansion protocols have become available in recent years. USB, Fiber Channel, Firewire, Infiniband, Rapid IO, and Thunderbolt, to name a few, have been invented to meet some specific application demands.  The challenge of all of these has been that they have limited bandwidth and they require a certain amount of conversion software that delays data transfers. PCIe expansion has greater bandwidth than any of these and there’s no software conversion due to the fact that it’s utilizing the same bus as is operating on the motherboard. 

The performance graph above illustrates the difference in bandwidth between the popular types of expansion.

PCIe expansion was developed in 2005 and has experienced a slow but steady adoption in the rackmount computing market. Recently this high speed expansion bus has entered the commercial market to support expansion enclosures for application boards, disk arrays, cameras and other end-point appliances. As the performance chart to the right indicates, PCIe connectivity packages are categorized by the number of data lanes that are supported where in Gen1, one lane operates at 2.5Gb/s, Gen2 at 5Gb/s and Gen3 at 8Gb/s. So an appliance with a PCIe x16 connection to the PC is operating 8 times faster than 16Gb Fiber Channel used in some storage arrays today.

                In intense rendering applications GPUs can reduce down time due to the rendering process. ‘The CUBE’ enclosures offer multiple slots for single-wide and double-wide full-length cards like GPUs. While the CUBE can support one double-wide card, the CUBE2 supports two double-wide cards and one single-wide card, and the CUBE3 can support four double-wide cards.  All have the power and cooling to support these power-hungry cards.

A 3D rendering application operates at a much faster rate with multiple GPU’s.  Today’s high-end GPUs are fully supported by the PCIe x16 Gen3 bus.  Many of the PC’s or MAC Workstations today may only have one or two PCIe x16 Gen3 slots and even then they may not have the power or cooling to support these boards using 350 watts a piece. This is an ideal application for an expansion enclosure with power and cooling to support these hot cards. 

The CUBE3 supports up to 8 full-height, full-length, single-slot boards or 4 double-wide GPUs.

Today you can have access to the exact specialty boards your job requires and be completely mobile with The CUBE desktop expansion enclosures. This saves you having to lug around a bulky, noisy Workstation or rackmount enclosure. But more than that, it saves you time and money. You can now have immediate access to high-end boards that will reduce your down-time and you don’t have to invest in larger, more expensive computers to do the same job you can now do on your laptop. The CUBE, mCUBE and nanoCUBE expansion enclosures are lightweight, whisper-quiet, and are less expensive than other enclosures that are on the market today. You can easily order them on www.onestopsystems.com.

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