Boxes For Your Bytes (External Hard Drive)

Published Date
01 - Aug - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Aug - 2006
 
Boxes For Your Bytes (External Hard Drive)
Hard drives were initially manufactured exclusively for research and development institutes and mainframes. Now they are, of course, mass-produced for our computers, and today, hard drives come under the consumer electronics segment. According to CNET, hard drive shipments for consumer electronics worldwide will grow by about 35 per cent this year-a huge increase from last year. The overall hard drive market is projected to increase by 18 per cent by the end of this year.

A few months ago, we reviewed DVD-Writers, which are the most popular data backup devices. But DVDs are limited in terms of capacity, so backing up a large hard disk using these is extremely difficult. Now, you could, of course, use another hard disk to back up your data, but then, what if you don't have free bays in your cabinet? What if you need to synchronise data between home and office?

Enter portable hard drives. These devices today have capacities on par with those of their internal counterparts. External hard drives allow you to exchange games, movies, music and other stuff with friends. Besides, not everyone is comfortable with opening up the PC cabinet and connecting an internal hard drive to swap data. An external drive spells convenience.

As hard drives celebrate their 50th birthday, we bring you a shootout of external hard drives available in the Indian market. We received a total of 18 external drives from Freecom, Iomega, LaCie, Qrisma, Seagate, Transcend and Western Digital. We divided these into three categories: portable hard drives, desktop replacement / backup drives, and microdrive-based hard drives.

The first segment-Portable hard drives-comprises the drives  with a capacity of 120 GB or less. Drives with more features, and larger than 120 GB, comprised the second segment-Desktop replacement / backup drives. And three very compact drives-something like larger versions of USB sticks-fell in the third category, Microdrive-based hard drives.

What's to be tested in an external hard drive? After all, they're just boxes for your data, right? Well, they can be differentiated according to their targeted consumer segment. There are large differences, such as their interface, whether there are dedicated buttons to back up data, how sleek they are, the software they come bundled with, as well as their speeds and prices-amongst other variables.

So we tested them, and here's what we found.

PORTABLE HARD DRIVES
The drives in this category target the consumer who does not need to use the drive on a regular basis, such as a home user who only needs to back up data occasionally. Such a user might also find an external disk useful when he wishes to swap music and movies with friends and doesn't want to open-or doesn't feel like opening-his cabinet. Naturally, these drives do not include high-end features such as FireWire ports.

A bulk of the drives we received-10 drives out of the 18-come under this segment. Of these, two were from Freecom, one from Iomega, three from LaCie, one from Seagate, two from Transcend, and one from Western Digital (WD).

Features
Capacities And RPM
Capacities range from a modest 30 GB to a good 120 GB. The LaCie Skwarim is 30 GB, which is internally a Hitachi HTC42603 Travelstar C4K60 drive. There were two 120 GB hard drives-the LaCie Rugged RUG U2 and the WD Passport.

The rotational speeds, or rpm, of the drives is 4200 rpm for Freecom FHD-XS, Freecom FHD-2 PRO, LaCie Skwarim 30 GB and Transcend StoreJet 40 GB; 5400 rpm for the Iomega 80 GB, LaCie Rugged RUG U2, LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche 40 GB, Seagate 40 GB, Transcend StoreJet 80 GB, and the Western Digital Passport 120 GB. The higher the rpm, the higher the data tread and write speeds, at least theoretically.

Interfaces
The interface is USB 2.0 with all these drives. All computers these days come with motherboards with USB 2.0 ports, which support a peak data throughput of 480 Mbps-fast enough to back up your data: for example, theoretically, a 700 MB DivX movie can be transferred in around 12 seconds, though in reality the figures are different. These drives are backwards-compatible with USB 1.1, which means you can use them with older computers. Of course, data transfer will be much slower.

Bundled Software
All the drives came bundled with some kind of backup or data synchronisation software. The Freecom drives came with the Personal Media Suite, which synchronises your data at the press of a button on the drive. Acronis True Image-a good and fast data backup and drive imaging software, which has simple Wizards that first-time users will find easy to use-also came bundled with these drives. The LaCie drives came with 1-Click, another good backup software. The WD Passport box was marked "WD Sync software included", but there was no CD inside; we later found that the software was on the drive. If you purchase the WD Passport, back up the software before you start using the drive-it is a file synchronisation software.


Freecom
FHD-XS
The Iomega came with FolderShare, a synchronisation software that allows you to synchronise your data over the Internet! You'd want to use this feature to, say, synchronise data on a daily basis between your office and home computers.

The StoreJet suite software bundled with the Transcend drives consists of several utilities. The StoreJet PC Lock software can be used to securely lock your OS: it gets locked when the drive is unplugged, and you unlock your OS when you plug the drive back in. Security HDD is an Explorer-like file manager that stores files on these drives by compressing and encrypting them. Mobile Internet Explorer, Mobile Outlook Express and Mobile Address Book let you get online from any computer using your customisations such as bookmarks, e-mail accounts, etc., and all these can be stored on the drives. The applications-Mobile Internet Explorer and so on-appear on the Device Desktop panel, which is something like a toolbar. This lets you carry your Desktop anywhere.

Cables And Accessories
All the drives came with regular USB cables, except those that had retractable ones-the Freecom FHD-XS and the LaCie Skwarim. The retractable cables sit inside the drive case, and can be pulled out when the drive needs to be connected. The above two drives' extension cables are required because the length of the retractable cable is not more than an inch, and it can be difficult to connect them to a PC.

The Freecom FHD-2 PRO, LaCie Rugged RUG U2, LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche 40 GB, and the Transcend StoreJet 2.5 80 GB come with a separate power cable that connects to an additional USB port: normally, these USB drives draw power from the USB data cable, that is, a single port. But in some systems, the power that the port can supply is limited, and the power required to run the hard drive may be insufficient. A separate power connection is therefore required. The Seagate 40 GB drive had a cable with two USB connectors to connect to two USB ports. This is done to remedy the same power problem mentioned, but in this case, there is a single cable that carries power as well as data.

The Transcend drives and the LaCie 40 GB each came with carry pouch.

Other Features
The most robust drives are the LaCie Rugged, LaCie Skwarim and the Seagate 40 GB. The LaCie Rugged looks like a brick, and the name spells it out: it's quite rugged! It has a rubber shock-absorbing jacket. LaCie Skwarim is a perfect square, and its texture looks like a brick wall. The exterior is made of a durable, shock-absorbent material. We had a hard time overcoming the urge to see if these drives could survive a "drop test"!


LaCie Design
by F.A.Porsche 40 GB

The Seagate has a hard casing with a unique design that looks like a wire mesh on the sides. The aluminium casings of the Freecom are also quite sturdy, with a smooth finish. The WD Passport matched up to the Freecoms, though it had a plastic casing.
The Transcend and Iomega drives, too, have aluminium cases, but these aren't as firm as those of the others. They can be easily dented-not a good thing, since these drives are meant to be carried around.

To be truly portable, a drive should, of course, be small and very light. The Freecom FHD-XS is the sleekest drive in this category, while the lightest is the LaCie Skwarim, weighing just 99 grams. The LaCie Rugged is the drive with the largest dimensions, but isn't the heaviest-that dubious honour goes to the Seagate 40 GB drive, at 292 grams. Of course, even at 292 grams, you can't consider this drive heavy!

The drives from LaCie are not only rugged, they are also elegantly designed. The LaCie Skwarim was designed by world-renowned product and interior designer Karim Rashid; it is pink, it's smooth to the touch, and it looks like it was designed specially for women.

The LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche hard drive was designed by the well-known design agency Porsche Design GmbH. These are drives you can actually show off!


  •  How We Tested
Test Machine Configuration
Our test machine consisted of an Intel Pentium 4 processor running at 3.6 GHz on an Intel 925XCV motherboard with 1 GB of Micron DDR2 533 MHz RAM and a Seagate Barracuda 120 GB SATA hard drive. A fresh installation of Windows XP with SP2 was done and the latest versions of the hardware drivers were installed along with DirectX 9.0c.

Test Procedure
The performance tests consisted of synthetic tests using benchmarking software and real-world tests where application performance and file transfer speeds were tested.
The synthetic tests were conducted using HD Tach RW 3.0.1.0 and SiSoft Sandra 2007 Home, which are popular benchmarking software for storage devices. Their results can be compared with benchmarks conducted anywhere with similar versions of these software.


Features
For features, we noted various aspects of the drives such as the capacity, dimensions, weight, bundled software, interface type, cables and accessories, and ruggedness.

Performance
Synthetic Test-HD Tach RW 3.0.1.0
The fresh hard drive to be tested was connected to the test machine and was not formatted; it was allowed to remain raw. HD Tach RW 3.0.1.0 was then run and used to evaluate the hard drive.
The scores we noted were as follows:

1. CPU Utilisation
This benchmark determines the CPU load of the storage device. Lower CPU utilisation is better. High CPU utilisation (above 15 per cent) generally indicates that a poor controller is being used, that DMA needs to be enabled, or that a driver update is required.

2. Random Access Time benchmark
This benchmark determines the random access speed of the device. Random access is the average time it takes to retrieve data from a randomly-located sector on the device. Lower random access speeds mean better application and database performance. Random access times can also give an insight into the efficiency of the interface a device is attached to.

3. Sequential Read and 4. Sequential Write
The maximum sustained speed (lowest speed on the device) is an important metric for real-time sequential access applications. The maximum speed may be important to a power user who would like to partition the drive into a high-speed partition and a low-speed partition. These were noted and logged.

Synthetic Test - SiSoft Sandra 2007 Engineer
A 20 GB FAT32 partition was created where possible, with the compression turned off, on the test hard drive. A second partition was created utilising the remaining capacity. SiSoft Sandra 2007 Engineer was launched and the File System benchmark module was run. The 20 GB partition we created was benchmarked using this module. The Sequential Read, Random Read, Sequential Write, Random Write and Access Time scores were reported at the end of this benchmark, which we noted.

Real World Test: File Copy
The real-world tests consisted of copying a 1 GB file (for sequential data transfer speed) and 1 GB of assorted files (for random data transfer speed) from one partition of the hard drive to the other. The time taken for this data transfer was noted. The sequential file transfer time will give a fair idea about how the hard drive will perform when large files such as movies are transferred. The assorted files consisted of multiple file types that included applications, Word documents, Excel files, MP3s, small video clips, etc., thus simulating a real-world situation.

The tests we carried out were:
 Time taken to copy the file(s) to the external drive, thus giving a measure of the drive's interface performance as well as the write performance.
 Time taken to copy the file(s) from the external drive, thus giving a measure of the drive's interface performance as well as the read performance.
 Time taken to copy the file(s) within the external drive, thus giving a measure of how well-tuned the drive's internal mechanics are, well as the overall performance.

Real World Test - Multitasking
In this test, we copied 1 GB of assorted data from the external hard drive and to it simultaneously. This tests the drive's multitasking capability and also gives a measure of its interface performance.

Performance: Synthetic Tests
HD Tach RW
A drive consuming higher CPU resources is not a good thing, since it tends to slow down the computer. A CPU utilisation of above 15 per cent generally indicates something seriously wrong. However, if the figure hovers around 3 to 5 per cent, it shouldn't really make a difference with today's CPUs. This is especially true for external hard disks-the disk isn't connected to the computer all the time, and one doesn't usually do other tasks while transferring data to or from the drive.

In the HD Tach RW test, the CPU utilisation scores of the Freecom FHD-XS, the LaCie Skwarim, and the LaCie Rugged were all low-3 to 4 per cent. The Seagate 40 GB, however, went up to 9 per cent.

A lower random access time means better all-round performance. The Seagate 40 GB drive had the lowest random access time of 17.5 ms, closely followed by the Transcend StoreJet 80 GB with 17.8 and the LaCie Rugged with 17.9 ms.

In the average read and write speed tests, the LaCie Rugged, which posted the highest average read score of 30.3 MBps, was also the one to score the lowest in the average write test with just 3.9 MBps. The WD Passport scored the highest in the read test with 25.5 MBps; closely following it were the Freecom FHD-2 PRO and LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche, each with 25.3 MBps.

SiSoft Sandra 2007 Engineer
After testing the raw hard drives, we formatted them with the NTFS file system to evaluate their file system performance. (SiSoft Sandra benchmarks drives after they are formatted using a file system.)

The LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche and the WD Passport were tied for the top spot with a drive index of 27. Next-best was the Freecom FHD-2 PRO with 25. These drives performed extremely well in all the tests under this benchmark. The LaCie Rugged behaved strangely in this test as well: while it posted average scores in the read tests, it performed below our expectations in the write tests.


Transcend
StoreJet 2.5 80 GB

The access times of most of the drives ranged between 10 and 15 ms. The exception was the Seagate 40 GB drive, which scored 19 ms. Of course, a lower access time is desirable for faster file access.

Performance: Real-World Tests
Most of the data we usually deal with comprises assorted files. While transferring 1 GB of assorted files from our primary drive to the external drive (this is the real-world write performance test for the drive), the Transcend StoreJet 80 GB logged the best time: 55 seconds. The LaCie Rugged came in last at 110 seconds-much slower than any of the drives in this category.

The picture was different when the assorted files were transferred from the external drive to our primary hard drive (this is the real-world read performance). This time, the WD performed well, requiring just 43 seconds for the job, while the LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche was next with 44 seconds. The Freecom FHD-XS was the slowest here with 83 seconds.

When we wrote a 1 GB sequential file to the drives, the LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche was the winner, clocking just 40 seconds. Yet again, the LaCie Rugged was the slowest in the real-world write performance, taking 173 seconds.

In the test where we read a 1 GB sequential file from the external drive to our primary drive, the LaCie Rugged and the LaCie Design F. A. Porsche were the fastest, each taking 33 seconds. The slowest drive was again the Freecom FHD-XS at 94 seconds.

When you need to transfer large archives, movies, CD or DVD images and so forth, you are transferring sequential data. The above test should give you an idea of which drive is better suited for such operations.

We then transferred files within the drives: this tests the capability of the drives' cache and its overall read and write speed. In the assorted file transfer, the Freecom FHD-2 PRO performed very well, taking just 89 seconds to copy the files within the drive. Its little brother, the FHD-XS, was the slowest at 390 seconds. The picture was no different in the sequential file copy test: the Freecom FHD-2 PRO again scored the highest at just 83 seconds, while the FHD-XS was again the slowest at 340 seconds.

The last real-world test we conducted was the multi-tasking test: here, we transferred 1 GB of assorted files to and from the external drives at the same time. This puts a strain on the interface and every other aspect of the drive. This time, yet again, the Freecom FHD-2 PRO was the fastest at 98 seconds, but was very closely followed by the Iomega at 102 seconds. The slowest drive was the Freecom FHD-XS-for the third time in a row-with a timing of 365 seconds.

Our Conclusion
As always, we factored in price along with the features and performance scores to decide on the winner.

The WD Passport has the lowest cost per MB at 9 paise, while the Freecom FHD-XS, which is priced very high (Rs 16,500) has the highest cost per MB of 40 paise. This high cost is, however, understandable because of the expensive bundled Acronis True Image software, as well as the build quality and finish.

We concluded that the LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche 40 GB should receive the Digit Best Buy Gold award, because of its astoundingly low price of Rs 5,250, as well as good build quality and sound performance.

The Transcend StoreJet 2.5 80 GB is priced at Rs 8,000-nice for an 80 GB external hard drive. We adjudged this one the winner of the Digit Best Buy Silver because of its above-average performance and its uniquely versatile software suite.

DESKTOP REPLACEMENT / BACKUP DRIVES
The specialty of the external hard drives comprising this segment is that they are meant to be used for frequent and large backups. Thus the drives under this category are larger than 120 GB, which is necessary for the scenarios they will be employed in.

These are priced considerably higher than those in the preceding category, and are accompanied by good data backup software. Most also have the FireWire interface, and some are even physically designed so they can be stacked one over the other when there's a need to augment data storage capacity.

A typical user of this kind of external hard drive is a system administrator who needs to frequently back up and restore data, while also moving data between computers not connected via a network. We received five products in this category, which was dominated by the three drives sent in by Seagate-the Seagate Pushbutton Backup drives of 160, 200 and 400 GB. The others were the Freecom FHD-3 (400 GB) and the LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche 250 GB.

Features
Capacities And RPM
We've mentioned the capacities of these drives above. All the drives in this category were 7200 rpm drives. All had a good 8 MB buffer, so data transfer is smooth.

Interfaces
The LaCie 250 GB drive features only USB 2.0. All the other drives feature the USB 2.0 as well as the FireWire interfaces. They come with two FireWire ports, a feature that lets you connect more drives in a daisy-chain, and that does not require the computer to have more FireWire ports to add compatible devices.


Seagate
Pushbutton Backup 160 GB
This can be used to either connect other FireWire devices such as DV cams, or to augment the drive space by connecting more such drives.

Bundled Software
A backup button is present on all the drives except for the LaCie, whose software does not support such a feature. The Freecom FHD-3 comes bundled with the Freecom Personal Media Suite, which lets you back up or synchronise your data with the FHD-3 at the press of the button on the drive. Acronis True Image, a very good data backup and restore software, is also bundled with this drive.
The LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche 250 GB comes with the 1-Click data backup software as well as MacDrive, a software that allows you to connect and use Macintosh-formatted media directly on a PC. So if you connect this drive to a Windows PC, you can use the software to use the Mac-formatted drive with Windows without the need to reformat it to a Windows-compatible file system such as NTFS.

The Seagate drives are all bundled with the same data backup software-Bounceback Express, which in conjunction with the push-button on the drive, easily and conveniently backs up data.

Cables And Accessories
All the drives come with the requisite data cables and power adapters. Freecom bundles three power cables with different types of plugs for compatibility with different power plug-point types.

The LaCie comes with two power cables with plugs of different types. Except for the Freecom, all the drives have a power On/Off button, which lets you turn the drive on or off from the drive unit itself.

  • All About USB And FireWire
USB is now ubiquitous-it is perhaps the first true plug 'n' play medium that PCs have. As much as it is widely used today, it was not taken seriously when it was first introduced in 1995-that was USB 1.0.
It was when the iMac was introduced in 1998, with only USB ports, that USB became popular. At about the same time, USB 1.1 came into the picture on Intel-based PCs along with support in Windows 98 (the first Windows version to natively support USB). It could work at two speeds-1.5 Mbps for devices such as mice and joysticks, and 12 Mbps (called high-speed) for devices such as disk drives. USB 2.0, which was introduced in 2000, supports a maximum of 480 Mbps. Nearly all USB devices and motherboards today support the USB 2.0 specification.
Some older motherboards, however, supported only legacy USB devices (keyboards and mice). You cannot plug your Webcam or external hard disk into these USB ports! In such a case, an inexpensive USB hub can be installed in a PCI slot.
Apple introduced the FireWire port in 1995. The FireWire interface is officially called IEEE 1394. FireWire connectivity is found more commonly on digital video cameras than USB is, though the speeds are comparable-FireWire supports a maximum of 400 Mbps. However, a recent improvement to the FireWire interface called FireWire II (officially IEEE 1394b) boosts the speed to 800 Mbps.
All PCs less than three years old have at least two USB 2.0 ports. However, a USB 2.0 device will work on a USB 1.1 port; it will just be slower. Unfortunately for FireWire, not many motherboards have been supporting it. It is only now that it is becoming a standard port.
A significant advantage FireWire has over USB is in the amount of power it can deliver-1.25 A at 12V gives 15 W, while USB's 500 mA at 5V gives 2.5 W. This means peripherals have more power at their disposal with FireWire.
Both the FireWire and USB interfaces support the use of a hub-meaning that with just one physical connection to the motherboard, many more devices can be connected, so long as the total current drawn does not exceed the amount supplied.
FireWire is used by devices such as external hard drives, external DVD-Writers, DV camcorders, high-end digital audio equipment, digital still cameras, printers, scanners, as well as home entertainment equipment such as personal video recorders, game consoles, home stereo equipment, DVD players, and digital TVs.
One of the reasons for the overwhelming popularity of USB is that motherboard manufacturers provide USB 2.0 ports on every motherboard these days. FireWire ports are not so commonly seen on motherboards.

Other Features
The Freecom FHD-3 is the best-looking drive in this segment with its smooth finish and metallic lustre. It also has the best build quality, edging past the others. Next are the three Seagate drives, which are identical in looks and design. Last is the LaCie with its boxy design. Though it's called "Design by F. A. Porsche", we didn't find anything noteworthy about the design.

The Freecom and the Seagate drives have a design that facilitates stacking similarly-designed drives one on top of the other. As we noted earlier, this is useful when you connect several such drives in a daisy-chain.

Size-wise, the LaCie Design by F. A. Porsche has the smallest dimensions, followed by the Freecom. The Seagate drives are larger. The LaCie is also the lightest, weighing just 900 grams; the Seagate Pushbutton Backup 200 and 400 GB drives are heavier at 1.176 kg.

The Freecom drive as well as all the Seagates come with sturdy plastic stands to keep them in an upright position so as to save on desktop space.

Performance: Synthetic Tests
HD Tach RW
The CPU utilisation of the Seagate Pushbutton Backup 200 and 400 GB drives was the lowest at 7 per cent-just marginally less than the 8 per cent of the Freecom and LaCie and the 9 per cent of the Seagate Pushbutton Backup 160 GB drive. A figure of 8 or 9 per cent is perfectly fine. The case was similar with random access speeds, where the drives performed almost on par.


Seagate
Pushbutton Backup 200 GB
In the Average Read and Average Write tests, the Freecom FHD-3 and the LaCie scored high-with almost equal scores.

SiSoft Sandra 2007 Engineer
As was the case in HD Tach, the Freecom and the LaCie were the top scorers, with the Freecom scoring 30 and the LaCie scoring 29 MBps as the drive index. The other drives topped out at 25 MBps.

In the Random Read speed test, the LaCie scored 25 MBps, falling short of the 28 MBps scored by the Freecom FHD-3. The access time of the Freecom was the lowest at 6 ms, while at 22 ms, the Seagate Pushbutton Backup 160 GB was the slowest.

Performance: Real-World Tests
In the 1 GB assorted data transfer to the external drive, which tests the write performance, the Freecom was the slowest; there wasn't much variance in the scores of the others. Greater variance was seen when data was read from the drive. Here the LaCie and the Freecom completed the job in 43 seconds, whereas the older Seagate 160 GB took 55 seconds for the same job.

In the sequential 1 GB data transfer test, too, there wasn't a large degree of variation between the drives, with the fastest and the slowest drives differing by a maximum of 7 seconds.

Copying files between partitions on the same drive pushes the drive mechanics to the limits. In the assorted files copy, the LaCie, at 88 seconds, was the fastest, while the Seagate 160 GB was the slowest at 113 seconds. In the sequential file transfer, the Seagate 200 and 400 GB performed better than the others, taking 87 and 88 seconds respectively. The Seagate 160 GB took much longer: 108 seconds.

Finally, we transferred the assorted files simultaneously from and to the drive. Once again, the Seagate 200 and 400 GB drives performed well, taking 101 seconds. The Seagate 160 GB and the Freecom FHD-3 were slower, taking 118 and 114 seconds respectively. From this, we can see that while synchronising or backing up data, the Seagate 200 and 400 GB drives will definitely do a better job.

Our Conclusion
Once again, the cost factor was considered at the end to decide the winners. We found that the cost per MB of three of the drives was 4 paise; the Freecom FHD-3, which costs Rs 28,000, is very expensive at 7 paise per MB. The high cost can be attributed to the expensive Acronis True Image software, which is an excellent data backup software; it can be a lifesaver if your system crashes.

The Seagate Pushbutton Backup 160 GB has the same good features as the other Seagate drives such as the dual FireWire ports, a good data backup software, and a button to automate the backup process-along with average, but not bad, performance. Priced at a rock-bottom Rs 6,500, this drive wins the Digit Best Buy Gold in this category. There is a catch, however: the size of desktop PC hard drives has increased, and 250 GB hard drives are common today. A 160 GB hard drive could therefore be insufficient.

Not far behind in the final score tally is the Seagate Pushbutton Backup 200 GB, priced at Rs 8,400. It has a feature set similar to that of the Gold winner, and even showed better performance. But price was the sore point, and this drive was therefore adjudged the winner of the Digit Best Buy Silver award.

MICRODRIVE-BASED EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES
With a USB drive, all you need to do is plug in the drive to a USB port, and you're ready to drag-and-drop files-it's so easy! Storage capacity is, of course, the problem. Though we're now seeing the development of USB drives with very large capacities, they're terribly expensive in terms of cost per MB.


Seagate 5.0 Pocket Hard Drive

For now, then, microdrive-based external hard drives are the solution. Every computer today comes with USB 2.0 ports: this has contributed a great deal towards popularising such drives.

This is a niche category, and only a few manufacturers make microdrives. We therefore received only three products in this category: the LaCie Carte Orange 6 GB, Qrisma 6 GB, and the Seagate 5.0 GB Pocket Hard Drive.

Features
Cables And Accessories
All the drives here use the USB 2.0 interface. Only the LaCie came with a USB extension cable. This proves very useful if the computer does not have front USB ports and if the area around the USB ports is congested. All the drives have retractable USB ports, and they can be swivelled by 90 degrees to accommodate the drives in difficult-to-reach places.

Other Features
The LaCie Carte Orange drive is credit card-shaped. It is quite rugged, as is the case with all the LaCie drives we received. Orange in colour and with a retractable USB connector, this one would surely be a hit with the ladies.

The Qrisma has a small form factor, and it's just a bit larger than the LaCie. The body is of black plastic, but it doesn't seem strong at all. The retractable USB connector pops out at the flick of a button at the front of the drive, but we found doing this a bit tricky-the button is quite hard to press.

The Seagate 5.0 GB has a completely different design. It is doughnut-shaped, except for the hole, of course. The retractable USB cable is wound round the circumference, and the mechanism is excellent. A blue LED indicates drive activity.


LaCie Carte Orange

Since these drives are meant to be carried around often, they ought to be light. All the drives are, indeed, small enough to easily fit in a pocket, and weigh very little, too. The Seagate 5.0 GB, which is quite old, and which was also featured in our external hard drive shootout of last year, was considered lightweight back then-it weighs just 63 grams. But this time round, this was the heaviest of the drives in this category! The LaCie weighs 60 grams, and the Qrisma 6 GB is the lightest of them all, tipping the scales at just 30 grams!

Performance: Synthetic Tests
HD Tach RW
The CPU utilisation of the drives in this category was very low-practically insignificant. As Random Access time goes, the Qrisma was the slowest, scoring 51.4 seconds, while the Seagate scored 26.1 seconds.
The Average Read and Write speeds of the LaCie and the Seagate drives were almost identical. The LaCie exhibited peculiar behaviour: while it scored the highest in the Average Read test with 7.4 MBps, it scored the lowest in the Average Write test with 3.3 MBps.

SiSoft Sandra 2007 Engineer
The Qrisma drive failed to complete the SiSoft Sandra test, and we repeated the test several times, but with the same result. We therefore had to leave it out of this test. The Seagate edged a little ahead of the LaCie drive in all the disk read and write tests. The LaCie was better by a tiny margin in the access timings.

Performance: Real-World Tests
We knew that real-world tests with these drives was going to be a pain, because microdrives are slow! When we transferred 1 GB of assorted files to the drives, the Qrisma was very slow, taking 460 seconds. The LaCie and Seagate drives were faster, taking 287 and 299 seconds respectively. While copying the assorted files from the drive, the Qrisma was slower than the other two, but not by a large margin.

  • Contact Sheet                         External Hard Drives
 Brand Company Phone E-Mail  Web site
Freecom J. S. Equipments 022-23810713 jse@vsnl.com www.freecom.com
Iomega Neoteric Infomatique Pvt Ltd 022-39828600 sales@neoteric.co.in www.iomega.com
LaCie Neoteric Infomatique Pvt Ltd   
     022-39828600 sales@neoteric.co.in www.lacie.com
Qrisma J. S. Equipments 022-23810713 jse@vsnl.com www.qrisma.com
Seagate eSys Distribution Pvt Ltd 011-41811694 msinghal@esysmail.com www.seagate.com
Transcend Mediaman Infotech Pvt Ltd 022-23828100 sales@mediamangroup.com     www.transcendusa.com
Western Digital Mediaman Infotech Pvt Ltd 022-23828100 sales@mediamangroup.com www.westerndigital.com


When we transferred the 1 GB sequential file to the drives (this tests the write performance of a drive), the Qrisma was again the slowest, taking 229 seconds, while the LaCie and Seagate got the job done in 187 and 169 seconds respectively. While copying the file from the drive, the picture was completely different: the Qrisma was the fastest at 120 seconds, while the Seagate took 128. The slowest here was the LaCie at 169 seconds. We then performed the internal-transfer test on the drives. The Qrisma crawled, taking an impossible-sounding 2682 seconds for the assorted file and 2554 for the sequential file copy. The LaCie and the Seagate took 539 and 508 seconds respectively in the assorted file copy, and took 512 and 603 seconds respectively in the sequential file copy test.

The last test we conducted was the 1 GB assorted data transfer to and from the drive simultaneously, which, as we've mentioned earlier, stresses the drive mechanics to the unmost. Here, too, the Qrisma lagged behind by miles, taking 3024 seconds to copy the files, whereas the LaCie took 973 seconds and the Seagate took 696.

The Qrisma is without a doubt the slowest of the three drives in this category. But if you want a lightweight drive that's easy to carry around, and can put up with slow transfers, it's the drive for you.

Our Conclusion
As in the earlier two categories, price was taken into consideration in order to decide the winners. The Seagate 5.0 GB drive has the best cost per MB at 94 paise. The drive also performed better than the other two, and was therefore adjudged the winner of the Digit Best Buy Gold award.

The LaCie Carte Orange with its better features, rugged design and good performance was declared the winner of the Digit Best Buy Silver award.

So What's To Come?
The capacities of the external hard drives we tested rival those of their internal counterparts. This is primarily because internally, external drives are, after all, internal drives-they are only housed in an enclosure with an interface converter.

Some motherboard manufacturers have been advocating the use of SATA drives as external drives, providing brackets to externally connect a SATA drive without the need to open up the cabinet. If this trend catches peoples' fancy, then along with the growing number of SATA plug-n-play-capable motherboards, you can expect SATA drives to be used as external drives in the months to come.




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