External Seagate Drives: A Portable 2.5" and a Pocket Drive

Storage
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June 15, 2006 by Devon Cooke

Products
Seagate USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive
160GB, 5,400 RPM Portable Hard Drive

Seagate Pocket Hard Drive
6GB, 3,600 RPM Portable Hard Drive
Manufacturer
Market Price
Portable Hard Drive: ~US$290

Pocket Hard Drive: ~US$100

External drives are not new to the market, but their popularity has jumped significantly in the past year as drive prices have come down along with their size and weight. The newest models are based on 2.5" drives and provide enough capacity to hold a decent sized digital library. Of course, 3.5" drives can provide much more capacity, but very few people regularly need more than 200 GB of portable storage. For most people, the smaller size of a 2.5" drive is worth the loss of capacity; an external 2.5" drive is small enough to fit into a pocket, whereas an external 3.5" drive can only be considered portable if it comes with its own carrying case.

The biggest sign that external drives are no longer a niche market is the arrival of the big storage companies on the scene. External storage was once the domain of a handful of small companies that purchased the drives in bulk from the big manufacturers and package them in their own enclosures. Now, the HDD manufacturers themselves are getting in on the game, and Seagate is leading the way. Their practically named USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive is available in capacities of up to 160 GB, and, unlike the large 3.5" drives of the past, it does not require a separate power cable.


Coming soon to an electronics store near you.

For those for whom size and weight are paramount, Seagate also makes a 6 GB "pocket" drive that shrinks the package down to the size of a cookie and integrates the USB cable into the enclosure. While it is not quite at the wallet-size of the latest flash memory cards, it remains competitive by being significantly cheaper. It also has the advantage of using the ubiquitous USB interface instead of requiring a specialized card reader (USB flash memory sticks have yet to reach capacities much beyond 2 GB, though they are steadily increasing in capacity).


Unfortunately, a small product doesn't necessarily mean small packaging.

USB 2.0 PORTABLE HARD DRIVE

Seagate USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive (quoted from Seagate's datasheet)
FEATURE & BRIEF COMMENT
These portable Seagate drives are highly compact, so they take up very little space in your jacket pocket, briefcase or on your desktop. And they weigh less than a pound. Portability is the main reason to get an external drive...
Safely and easily transport large amounts of data. The chrome-plated, aluminum enclosure absorbs shocks, ensuring reliable performance wherever your work takes you. Important, since hard drives can be quite fragile.
Never worry about data corruption due to overheating. They’re specially designed, inside and out, to run much cooler than other hard drives. "Other hard drives" probably means full size desktop drives.
BounceBack Express software from CMS backs up faster and easier than any other method. Better than drag-and-drop?
Powered by your laptop, so you don’t need a power supply. Just plug your drive into the USB 2.0 port of your laptop or other personal computer. Essential for portability. No need to lug around a wall wart.
Hot-swappable, so you can connect and disconnect without turning off your computer. If it's a USB device, it had better be, but disconnecting during a transfer is still a bad idea.
Compatible with your PC and Mac. Thanks to the wonderful magic of a common USB standard and Apple's support of FAT32.

The portable 2.5" drive seemed surprisingly large for the size of the internal drive. With the additional bulk of the enclosure, the entire unit was not much smaller than a bare 3.5" drive. This was a surprise, as the only other 2.5" enclosure we've looked at, the Enermax Laureate, was only slightly larger than the bare notebook drive that we installed in it.

The additional size may be for more than just show, however. Several features suggest that the enclosure is intended to be more than just a metal casing. The edges of the enclosure are made from a thin, perforated metal that should permit enough airflow around the drive to keep it quite well cooled. Visible inside are several blocks of blue foam that serve the twin purposes of protecting the drive from hard knocks and deadening vibration.

The device feels very solid and sturdy; even the thin metal vent around the edge didn't have much give to it. A couple of finishing touches — like rubber feet and a 5V power jack — give the impression that the product wasn't just slapped together over a weekend.


The blue seek LED is very bright, as the reflection shows.
Note the vented walls.


The bottom has two hard rubber strips that prevent the drive from sliding around but don't do much to isolate vibration.

While the power jack is a nice just-in-case feature, one has to wonder why Seagate bothered. No power cable is included in the retail package, and no such cable exists on Seagate's web site. It's true that there have been reports that some USB ports have been unable to supply the power needed by a 2.5" drive, but Seagate has addressed this issue by including a Y-cable that draws power from two USB ports if one is insufficient. None of the systems that we tried it with required the extra plug, so it seems unlikely that the power issues are widespread. (All systems were connected through the front port connections.) Perhaps the second plug is helpful when connecting to a laptop.

The cable itself uses standard USB connectors (USB A to Mini USB), so it should be replaceable with a generic cable as long as you don't need the extra power connector for your specific system.


The blue cable is labeled"Power Only" and need only be connected if the drive won't spin up with just the green plug.

Software

As you would expect from a retail product, a small software bundle is included. Seagate gives the backup software, BounceBack Express, special billing in the marketing literature, but it's little more than a prettied up file copying utility, complete with a nag screen to get you to upgrade to BounceBack Pro, for those who haven't mastered drag and drop.

The rest of the software comes from Seagate itself and is limited to the usual partitioning and maintenance utilities. Online versions of the tools can be found on Seagate's web site. A cursory examination of the software showed that it wasn't really useful for much more than diagnosing whether or not the drive needs to be returned (no errors could be fixed), but one item in particular caught our attention: Something called the "Acoustical Spin Down Test".

Despite its fancy name, the test is very, very simple: It simply stops the drive motor so that its acoustic impact on the system can be gauged. The utility works with all brands of drives and should prove a useful tool for silencers. A second test, the "90 Second Drive Scan" generates random seeks, and should be a useful tool for evaluating seek noise.


One of the utilities lets you spin down your drive to "help isolate noise sources".



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