Once you've gotten used to using portable drives, it's tough to imagine life without them. Sure, you can always email or FTP files around, but that is something that isn't always convenient for a couple reasons. For one thing, there's always the possibility the PC may not have an Internet connection and secondly, it takes some time for the transfer to complete depending on the available bandwidth.
Flash drives have really boomed the last couple years, and although most of the sub-$100 drives can't store as much as a writable DVD, they are much easier to carry around than optical media. Large capacity flash drives exist, but they are not cheap. For those looking for gargantuan portable storage, there's always external hard drives, but those aren't exactly convenient as fitting one of those into your pocket isn't going to be easy.
Seagate 5GB Pocket Hard Drive
The Seagate 5GB Pocket Hard Drive (#ST650211U-RK) we'll be looking at today addresses some concerns regarding portable storage, at a price much more reasonable than the higher capacity flash drives. The drive arrived in a form fitted plastic enclosure and contains the drive, documentation and software CD.
We already knew ahead of time the Pocket Hard Drive was a diminutive device, but it was much smaller than we expected. The dimensions are about 2 3/4" in diameter and 3/4" thick, and the weight is hardly anything, but if we were to "guess-tamate", it's probably about 6oz, or about the weight of a Big Mac patty (Ed. Note: Food references = good). Unlike your typical flash drives, the Seagate Pocket Hard Drive uses a 3600rpm microdrive with 2MB of cache.
supreme lazy genius that I am, I tossed the manual aside and tried to figure out how to use the Pocket Hard Drive. My first thought was "Where's the USB cable?". After about 2 minutes, I figured out that the cable can be accessed by rotating the drive module within the shell clockwise or counterclockwise and pulling out the cable. The cable measures about 6 1/2" long, including the USB attachment and although it may not be long enough to reach from the back of the computer to the front, the cable is thin enough that you should not have any clearance issues with the drive unlike some bulky USB flash drives. We do have some concerns over long-term effects of letting the drive "hang" on the back of the PC, but in the four weeks with the drive, all seems to be well. It would be tempting to yank on the drive to unplug it, but we recommend just pulling on the USB plug as you would (or should) with any USB cable after properly "ejecting" the device.
Getting into the usage, the Pocket Hard Drive is a cinch to use as the drive is bus powered. We had 100% success using the drive in the rear motherboard USB slots as well as any USB slots from the case or D-Brackets (included with some motherboards) that plugs directly into the motherboard. The drive did not work on our Microsoft keyboard USB slot, but most USB 2.0 flash drives in our labs did not either. On that note, that hub is USB 1.0 anyway, and although the drive will work in a powered USB 1.0 hub, you'll naturally be handicapped by the slower speeds. If you haven't already figured it out, the Pocket Hard Drive is a USB 2.0 device and happiest in those connections.
NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI: Intel 3.73GHz Extreme Edition, 2 x 512MB Corsair TWIN2X PC5400, 160GB Seagate 7200.7, 2 x NVIDIA 6800GT, Windows XP SP1.
For the first test, we transferred a 705MB MPG file to and from the Pocket Hard Drive to our PC. Transfers from the device gauges the read performance, and transfers to the device the write performance. We repeated this test by archiving the file into 14MB files (48 of them) for a total of 659MB. For all of our transfer tests, lower numbers are better.
Write performance is a bit slower than the read performance, averaging 5.5MB/sec for the large file and 4.4MB/sec for the small files. For the read performance, we saw speeds of 7.1MB/sec and 7.2MB/sec for the large and small files respectively.
For the next test, we put the Seagate Pocket Hard Drive against a Kingston DT Elite (512MB) to gauge the performance of the Seagate device against a flash drive. We transferred three files (47MB, 107MB, and 59MB) the same way as the previous test, as well as zipping the three into one 213MB file for the large file transfer.
There shouldn't be any surprises here as flash media is significantly quicker than microdrives in pretty much any application. We'll get into the cost disadvantage of flash memory in a second, but for those seeking quick transfers, flash media is the way to go. Keep in mind it isn't very easy finding large capacity flash drives though (in excess of 2GB), and if you can, chances are it still won't offer the 5GB capacity of the Pocket Hard Drive, and it will be a lot more expensive.
While smaller drives will get the job done, assuming you only transfer a moderate amount of files, having access to 5GB of storage is quite a life saver, especially with chores such as driver updates, application patches and multimedia file transfers.
Performance is not Earth shattering, but it does provide decent performance given that it is still a hard drive at heart and not flash memory. Despite the mechanical nature of the device, it is rather sturdy and continued to function after dropping it on to a hardwood floor from 4 feet up. We have some reservations about running it over with a car or kicking it across a concrete street, but if that is how you tend to treat your PC parts, maybe it's better to invest in a soccer ball. It's about "as durable" as typical flash drives, but less so against our personal favorites, the Corsair Flash Voyager and Kingston Elite. Provided you don't unreasonably abuse the device, the Pocket Hard Drive carries a one year warranty plus free "techincal advice" after the warranty ends.
Compared to typical flash drives, we found the Seagate Pocket Hard Drive to be similar in portability. I wouldn't put it in your back pocket, but the drive should handle the rigors of travel in a chest or front pants pocket. Compared to optical media and traditional external hard drives, it's no contest. The Pocket Hard Drive is lighter and easier to transport.
The only issue we really have with the device is the short USB cable. If your PC sits on the desk, and the USB ports are close to the table's surface, you'll be fine. The device works well suspended (if you plug it into a USB port higher up on the case), but it still makes us a little uneasy.
We didn't talk about it much since we've always felt bundles software are throw-ins, but the Toolkit software is pretty useful, especially for those of you who lend out portable media to people. You can create secure partitions, including password protection. Couple this with a nice device should make the Seagate Pocket Hard Drive very high on your list when shopping for a (truly) portable drive.
Pros: Good Dollar per meg deal, decent performance, portable, bus powered. Service oriented warranty.
Cons: Not as durable as some flash drives, USB cable is short.
Bottom Line: Ultimately, not matter how good or bad a product is, most of us are going to be concerned about the price. At , the Seagate 5GB Pocket Hard Drive rings in at little more than $0.02 per Megabyte. Compare this with a 4GB flash drive at , which rings in at about $0.09 per meg, we can see the Pocket Hard Drive's value.
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