Carrying a significant fraction of a terabyte around in live, usable form—as opposed to tape—isnt as difficult or expensive as it used to be.
Toshibas USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive is currently available in 100, 120, 160 and 200GB models at a cost of about a dollar per gigabyte. (A 250GB version is on the horizon.) The drives are available now through retail stores, channel vendors and ToshibaDirect.com.
While more expensive per gigabyte than external drives that use 3.5-inch disks, the USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive, which uses a 2.5-inch drive, can just about fit in a shirt pocket. If the user has access to USB 2.0 ports or two USB 1.1-powered ports, no AC power adapter is needed. Fanless, the drive runs almost silently, and it handles being carried around without any obvious problems.
While the main intended use for these drives is backup, especially for mobile users, the drives also serve as a handy storage device for carrying around large software images or video. Toshiba is aiming the drives at consumers, but SMBs (small and midsize businesses) are also a target. The drive also provides an upsell opportunity in the channel.
Small, rugged and cool
The new Toshiba drive is 3.5 inches by 5.6 inches by 0.94 inches—about the size of two decks of cards side by side. With the 4-foot USB-to-mini-USB connector, it weighs 9 ounces. According to Toshiba, the drives will work with Microsoft Windows 2000/XP/Vista and Macintosh OS X 10.3.9.
The aluminum body dissipates heat without need for a fan, making the drive close to silent. Even after an hour of continuous downloading and playing multimedia files, the case didnt seem any warmer than when I had started.
Toshiba has bundled the drive with a CD-ROM of NTI Shadow backup software, which can be set to do continuous data backup of files and folders each time they change—either overwriting the backup or saving as many as 99 full previous versions of each file. Data is stored in its original format, so backup files can be accessed from another computer without special software.
Click here to read more about Toshibas portable storage devices.
During tests, I connected a 160GB version of the Toshiba drive to my Windows XP desktop, my IBM ThinkPad T40 with XP and a Lenovo ThinkPad X61s running Vista Business. All systems recognized the drive without any hesitation, or any effort on my part.
File transfers to and from the drive were quick and simple. For example, I copied a few gigs of MP3s (legally, of course) and a handful of applications from PortableApps.org, and even downloaded a 1.3GB movie (a legitimately free download of “The Inspector General,” starring Danny Kaye). From the drive, all multimedia played fine and applications worked.
According to Toshiba, a patent-pending shock-mount system helps prevent or minimize damage from jolts and drops. I did not conduct drop tests, but the drive didnt seem to be harmed by all the schlepping around with it I did. When I gently shook the drive while it was playing multimedia files, I saw only sporadic artifacts on the screen.
However, like many USB-powered devices, the drive has no on/off switch. In addition, the cables should be at minimum labeled, especially the USB/power one. Id prefer it if they were tethered together, even joined with a zip cord, to make it harder to forget or lose one. Even better, they should be prelabeled and tethered to the drive. (But not directly terminated to the unit, so theyd be easier to replace if a cable broke.) I also wouldnt mind seeing a carrying case and user ID tag.
But these criticisms are minor, and far outweighed by the benefits the drive has to offer.
Daniel P. Dern is an independent technology writer. His Web site is www.dern.com.
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