WOW. I thought I was the only one who saw the need for something like this. I can only hope we few can help each other out...
I've seen considerable time and money researching and experimenting, only to still remain amazed at how the rest of the world simply does not care... I must consistently look for the off edge solutions only a few appear to want.
1. I was a VERY early adopter of using FireWire 400 and USB1 (now USB2) as removable "hot swappable" storage devices. But after getting burned by crappy bridge chips and Windows lack of stable firewire/usb interfaces resulting in junk like the infamous "delayed write cache" which TO THIS day still plagues many FW and USB storage users. I simply gave up on these things over a year ago after losing too much data. And yeah I've followed tons of site that monitor the delayed write problem.
2. I finally broken down and bought a few nVidia nforce4 boards since their version 6.xx IDE drivers support drives (SATA) that show up as removable. I thought this was the holy grail I was looking for.
Wrong. Not only are there consistent debates about the quality and reliablity of their IDE drivers vs stock MS drives on the Win32 platforms, I just ran into some (long story) and now have to resort to using the stock MS drivers. SO that just killed using nVidia for this.
3. I bought a few Silicon Image PCI SATA controllers (3512 and 3114) with eSATA external plugs. Flashed their BIOS with the non-RAID BIOS. Installed the non-RAID drivers. Bam! I thought I'm almost home.
Wrong. You can power on a box (eg, Windows 2003 server) once the drivers are installed. Later, turn on your external eSATA drive. SI will pick up the drive. But they never considered giving any kind of functionality to dismount the units.
A workaround? I go to the drive properties of my external drive and mark it as DISABLED. It appears that's enough to possibly cause the caches to be flushed from both Win32 and the drives internal. I wait a min or so, then power off the external chasis. Its not pretty, but so far NO DATA CORRUPTION unlike the nightmares that have plagued my Firewire and USB days for the last 6 years.
Believe me I have tried so many different FW and USB bridgeboards over the past 6 years, etc that I cannot believe people trust their data to that junk. How much money I've spent on that mess I do not even want to think about.
Other possible solutions I may try:
The Initio shows promise of hot swap since it is NOT based on Silicon Image chips...
the problem for me is that it does not appear to use eSATA for the external connectors.
For background, I've started to retrofit a bunch of my FireWire external chasis that have been sitting idle with eSATA bridges. Bought a bunch of eSATA stuff from places like cooldrives.com.
Good luck to you!