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  1. #1
    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    Hello, I have been poring over web sites and hefting boxes trying to solve the problem of how to get the most portable, least hassle, highest capacity, lowest cost, hard drive to use for backups from a laptop while traveling. My ideal size is 30GB, but 20GB probably would be just fine.

    Tell me... am I missing anything critical here?

    (1) Interface. I think I have USB 1.1, which is pretty pokey, but I don't have to pay for anything new. It seems that FireWire and USB 2.0 run at about the same speed, but who can tell in the real world? For now, buying a USB 1.1/2.0 drive means I can use it immediately and upgrade my speed later without buying a new drive. Makes sense to me. Also, it will be easier to plug into other Dell boxes around here; none of them has IEEE 1394/FireWire ports.

    (2) Size. Anything that weighs more than a half a pound is a real drag. The notebook bag is heavy enough already, and my goal is to hide this little drive in a closet or drawer as a backup against (heaven forbid) laptop theft. Something that is too much of a hassle to put away isn't going to work for me. This means I have to get a drive in the 2.5" form factor, which is very limiting and rules out many of the huge capacity/least cost options. (For a discussion on building a portable drive with a 3.5" form factor, see last year's USB hard drive thread and the July 10, 2002 issue of Woody's Windows Watch.)

    (3) Power draw. The 2.5" drives in the 20-40GB capacity range tend to have low power needs. It is a real plus not to have to carry an AC adapter. Some drives claim to be fully powered from the USB port, but supply a splitter cable for the PS/2 port as a backup in case there isn't enough juice on the USB bus. These are preferable to drives or enclosures that demand AC power.

    (4) Price. The 2.5" solutions are decidedly more expensive than 3.5" solutions. Prices seem to vary widely on the web. Here's what I found at a couple of reliable-looking online stores:

    <table bgcolor=lightblue border=1 cellpadding=3><td>Product Line</td><td>Size WxLxH</td><td>Weight</td><td>Primary (Backup) Power</td><td>Price</td><td valign=top bgcolor=antiquewhite>Pockey DataStor Drives</td><td valign=top bgcolor=antiquewhite>3" x 5" x 0.5"</td><td valign=top bgcolor=antiquewhite>5.5 oz.</td><td valign=top bgcolor=antiquewhite>USB (PS/2)</td><td valign=top bgcolor=antiquewhite>20GB $185
    30GB $230</td><tr><td valign=top>STORIX Compact Drive</td><td valign=top>2.9

  2. #2
    Plutonium Lounger Leif's Avatar
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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    Something of a sideways view but the way I would look at it is this:

    It's a backup, right? (And everyone knows you don't ever need backups.) So you need to make sure you are going to both always take it with you and always use it. In other words, I would be inclined to be more influenced by the convenience factor rather than saving a few dollars. Anything that makes it easier to pack and easier to use would get my vote.

    (It's a bit like vacuum cleaners. I hate the things. But if spending a little more makes the job quicker and easier, I'm more likely to do the vacuuming today than leave it until tomorrow. And my apologies if this post might appear to infer you are not a conscientious and reliable maker of back-ups in the first place <img src=/S/grin.gif border=0 alt=grin width=15 height=15>. )

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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    Here is a PCMCIA solution, if you're interested. I saw this type of product advertised (or reviewed) on a Canadian computer program, Dave Chalk's Computer Life a few months ago. It looked like a great idea.

    This one I've linked to, only weighs 7 oz.
    Christopher Baldrey

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    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    That ABSplus is really cool...
    <hr>Upon initial connection, the ABSplus software partitions and formats the ABSplus drive to reflect your computers hard drive. A complete backup of all files, applications, and operating system is then initiated. This creates a bootable ABSplus.

    Each time the unit is plugged in, powered on or scheduled, the ABSplus automatically scans your source drive and copies only those files that have been changed or newly created since the last backup was performed. With a data transfer rate of up to 480 Mb/s, the speed is blazing!
    <hr>
    It would be excellent for someone who wanted to mirror the hard drive before embarking on their journey, or perhaps it could be used as a kind of "emergency disk" since it's bootable? As a $350 insurance policy against the complete death of a 30GB notebook hard drive, it's brilliant.

    I'd like a bit more control over my backups, though. <img src=/S/smile.gif border=0 alt=smile width=15 height=15> Sometimes there's no replacement for an older copy of a file.

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    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    UPDATE

    I used the Storix 30GB USB drive every couple of days for a month on the road.

    * About 1/3 of the time, Windows 2000 didn't properly get the device the first time, and I had to power it down and power it back up again. Not sure why.

    * With this and presumably other USB drives, to prevent possible data loss, you need to open one of Windows' device managers and "stop" the device. There already was an icon in my systray I could right-click to get to this dialog, otherwise it would have been rather nightmarish to find.

    * The drive is supplied with a second cable used to drain extra power from the computer's PS/2 port if the USB port doesn't provide enough power. This wasn't needed with my laptop, whether I was on A/C or batteries.

    * USB 1.1 is pretty slow. For backups, it's fine, but for "real work," I might spring for a USB 2.0 PC Card. That would eliminate the price advantage over FireWire products, but USB would retain its broad compatibility advantage.

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    Plutonium Lounger
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    Re: UPDATE

    I have been using a 256MByte USBDrive for a few months. It hangs from my keyring and I back everything up multiple times a day - to be sure, to be sure.

    You do have to "stop" the device from the system tray, but that's no big deal.
    I have never had a problem getting W2K to recognise it.

    StuartR

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    5 Star Lounger jujuraf's Avatar
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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    Hi, I know I'm late into this discussion (this being end of Nov already) but I'm about to buy a Firewire/USB external drive and want to know if I can use it for applications not just for data backup.I have two Win2k boxes that share the same keyboard/mouse/monitor but I'm too lazy to add a new physical drive to each of them so was considering this external drive solution. (Also for use with a Win2k laptop I have.)

    It used to be (olden days) that apps couldn't be installed on removeable drives (Zip) but I'm not sure if that's true anymore (with Win2k anyway) or if "removable" is really what these drives are.

    I want to be able to install something like VS.NET or different version of Office on it and use it on multiple computers or at least have other apps (and data) that I can swap between computers w/o having to buy larger internal drives. I'd assume that the registry entries for these apps would have to be the same on both computers (same paths) else swapping this drive in/out wouldn't work, right?

    Is this practical? <img src=/S/thinks.gif border=0 alt=thinks width=15 height=15> <img src=/S/nuts.gif border=0 alt=nuts width=15 height=15>
    Thnx, Deb

  8. #8
    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    It does seem a bit dicey because the registry may well contain paths with certain drive letters, and there's no guarantee as to what letter Windows will assign to the USB drive. That's not to say there isn't a workaround, or that it wouldn't work 95% of the time, but it's certainly not guaranteed.

    FWIW, from what little I have read, FireWire seems to run faster than USB 2.0, despite the latter's faster theoretical maximum speed.

  9. #9
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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    Hi Jefferson,

    One thing to be careful about with the current crop of USB 2.0 drives is the way they are marketed. USB 2.0 has, I think, three speed variants, of which two are 'full speed' and '[high speed'. From what I've read, the 'full speed' variant is nothing more than a good old USB 1.1 drive being marketed as a USB 2.0 drive (USB 2.0 being backwards-compatible). Apparently the USB standards committee made a 'marketing' decision to the effect that they would promote USB 2.0 only, leaving USB 1.1 to be seen as as 'yesterday's technology'. In reality, all they did with USB 1.1 was to recast it as USB 2.0 'full speed'. Sneaky, and quite a few people have been caught out.

    Buy a USB 2.0 'full speed' device and use it in a USB 1.1 port and you'll get USB 1.1 performance - which you'd expect. Upgrade to a USB 2.0 port and you still only get USB 1.1 performance from your USB 2.0 'full speed' device . Not only that, any USB 2.0 'high speed' devices on the same port will have their performance dragged down to this level too.

    Cheers
    Cheers,

    Paul Edstein
    [MS MVP - Word]

  10. #10
    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    I think I would return the product if a company did that to me. Of course, if they're all doing it...

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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    I don't belive your last statement is correct. I think the speed is negotiated on a device by device basis. See http://www.usb.org/developers/data/usb_20g.pdf.
    for an explanation of USB 2.0.

    Joe
    Joe

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    Re: Highly portable hard drives - USB/FireWire - 20GB+

    Thanks for that,

    Now I'm not sure whether I've mis-read a write-up I saw, or whether USB 2.0 has this as an additional capability over USB 1.1. Either way, it's not of any great consequence for me right now and, by the time I upgrade my PC, I'd be surprised if it had only USB 1.1.

    Cheers
    Cheers,

    Paul Edstein
    [MS MVP - Word]

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