Hey Jack, by the Reviews Team

One USB 2 hard drive to go, hold the slow connection!


I can't tell you why I hadn't noticed external USB 2 hard drives before. I noticed when they dropped in price by about 40% in one year. And I noticed when they began to use a USB 2 fast connection. Some have both USB 2 and Firewire connections built-in. (See separate box about USB 2 vs. Firewire.) I see USB 2 capacities up to 300 gigabytes. Let me suggest basic criteria when buying your hard drive. Like RAM, buy the largest capacity you can afford. You will always need more than you think. Although the price of hard drives is becoming more stable, 40GB is about the norm. A 5,400 rpm drive is more typical of the "value" systems, but 7,200 rpm is more important for multimedia applications. Most users won't see the difference in rotation speed. There's a new standard becoming more common called Ultra ATA/133. It's great for some applications, but for general use, the less expensive ATA/100 is quite adequate. For faster access to your hard drive consider USB 2 or SCSI Ultra 160/320. A minimum of about 2MB of hard drive buffer is acceptable. Many manufacturers use something called "seek speed" to impress us. It is the average speed (in milliseconds) to find a file. You're not likely to notice the difference between 4ms and 10ms seek time.

The drives reviewed are already formatted to FAT 32 which can be read by Windows 98 through 2000/XP. If you choose to reformat using the NTFS system, your files cannot be read by Win98/ME. Consider this when you determine what you will use the drive for. NTSF, used by Win2k/XP, is a better file system. NOTE: There is no support for USB in Windows NT.

NOTE: on any external drive, be careful to check your toolbar for a small symbol that will tell you when it is safe to remove the hard drive while your computer is on. Obviously, don't remove the drive when you have data transfer in progress.

There is a separate box for basic tests of these hard drives. These are basic and should be used as a guide only. Hard drives are listed in ascending order of capacity. Next month we may add one more USB drive.

Charles W. Evans, Reviews Editor

USB 2 Pocket Hard Drive: 20 Gig, by Marcie Thorton


BUSLink, source for this drive, has a winner. This pocket size 20 gigabyte hard drive is smart, good looking and uses a fast USB 2 or Firewire connection.your choice. It spins at 7,200 rpm - fast by most standards. "Pocket size"? Yes, it will fit into a shirt pocket or my purse or briefcase. But let me start at the beginning. I opened the box and it had the usual USB cable, power adapter (more on that later), CD and install booklet. I am using WinXP and I didn't need the last three. After carefully removing it from the protective plastic enclosure, I connected the USB cable to it, then into the USB 2 port on my computer and waited for the ubiquitous "Windows has found a new device". Never happened. The only message I received, in less than ten seconds, was "your new device is installed" and I saw the new drive letter. That's about as plug 'n play as you'll ever find. For Win98 and ME, a USB 2 driver is included on the CD.

But what about power? Why didn't you use the power adapter? The answer to both is the same. You don't need a power adapter if you plug it into a powered USB 2 port. By the way, it is backwardly compatible, so if you are still using a USB 1 port, it will work. (Please. Don't insult this hard drive by hooking it to a USB 1 port. Splurge and for about $18 you can get a USB2 card.)

I develop training materials and generally they are large video or multimedia files. I've outstripped ZIP disks, which tend to be a pain to install each time you go to a new computer. (Often I take these large files to various locations, so convenience and access are important to me.) CDs are convenient, but not large enough for many of my files. I can use two to five CDs to get the job done. Now I don't since I've tried this new hard drive. I will add that the hard drive transfer, thanks to USB 2, is faster and offers smoother A/V playback than a CD. My main use is to transport and present large training files. I now relegate archiving to CDs. (Don't tell my boss, but I've used it to bring some of my favorite MP3s from home.)

This hard drive comes with a backup program called Retrospect Express. A newer version is available, but this one does an adequate job. Download an updated driver for it. It has a nice, friendly and simple menu and it is easy to configure. However, it has a device scan feature that never recognized my Buslink drive. To its credit, this backup program recognized my CDs, hard drive and ZIP drive. It will also back up on tape. Although I thought the program was a bit clumsy to use, it did the job quickly and without any further intervention on my part. It has a versatile set of configuration options/features and should be all the backup program you'll ever need.

I must tell you I am so in love with this drive, I can't find anything wrong with it. I would, however, suggest three things: 1. a power switch, 2. some "feet" to keep it from skidding around and 3. a carrying case. (This is a tough drive, but don't play basketball with it.) If you need a drive as smart looking as you, as portable as a toothpick and convenience as a big plus, get this drive. Three thumbs up for Buslink and this "Disk-on-the-Go" drive. Go www.buslink.com for more info and driver updates.

Marcie Thorton is a HAL-PC member and corporate trainer for a large land developer. Her responsibilities include design of video training materials.

USB 2 Portable Hard Drive: 40 Gig, by Harold G. Spangler

transportable hard drive by Buslink

This transportable hard drive by Buslink is amazingly compact - about the size of an eight-track cartridge (those of a younger persuasion will want to ask their parents what size that is!) Weighing in at about two pounds, plus CD, USB cable and an AC power unit, it rotates at 7,200 rpm to provide very fast transfer of files - large or small. I am using Win98SE, but bought a USB 2 card so I already had USB 2 ports available. I just turned it on, plugged in the USB 2 port and in a few seconds it was available. Sorry Iomega, but I've stored my external ZIP drive and now use your case for this hard drive and power unit.

Since most of my software files are very, very large, I use this hard drive for off-line storage and to transport to other computers. I know it is risky to use a hard drive to back up files, but critical ones are burned onto a series of CDs as a redundant backup. Actually, at the price of this hard drive, I might never use the CDs, just make copies on another hard drive. And since access speed is excellent, I can store data files while I am working on them.

I installed the backup program called Retrospect Express which is the most current version. It offers a choice of installations, a very useful scripting function and helper-wizard. The menus are uncluttered and easily understood, except for where you wish to backup. If a file is mission critical, make several copies of one backup on different media. It does an OK job in installation, but somewhat less than intuitive to configure it. If you don't already have a backup program, this one will do very nicely. It has a variety of features to allow either a simple or more complex backup configuration. Once you get the hang of it, it is a very useful and easily operated program. It is basic, but it offers surprisingly sophisticated options.

I've not used tape backup in years, but it will recognize your tape drive. I tried several backups and it worked flawlessly. It allows you to choose down to the very last sub-folder and whether you want incremental or other types of file backup criteria.

There are a couple of non-operating features I'd change. For instance, the two end caps have sharp edges on the inside edges; this is a poor design as is the lack of non-skid feet. You can also stand it on side, but I wouldn't - too easy to tip over. Although it is a good looking case and rugged, I'd suggest some type of padded carry-pouch to keep it in. And please make the power switch much larger. It is hard on one's finger and not easily found from the front. Last, there is no vent in the case and, I assume, no cooling fan. This is not a negative, just an observation and I'm sure the engineers have considered this cooling in its design. The case doesn't get hot, but warmer than my hand. After sustained use it was a few degrees warmer.

I'm impressed with this drive's ease (my understatement for this review) of installation, and convenience is spelled "Buslink USB 2 hard drive". For mass, external storage or a fast hard drive to transport files, this drive gets the brass ring and you read about it here, first (well, almost first). Go www.buslink.com for more info and driver updates.

Harold Spangler is a HAL-PC member and a senior NASA software consultant who can be contacted at hgshu54@hal-pc.org.

USB 2 Transportable Hard Drive: 80 Gig, by Randy Maple


Maxtor is one of the world's largest hard drive manufacturers and it has survived by designing excellent value in their hard drives. This Personal Storage 5000LE 80 gigabyte drive is no exception. It looks a bit like the wall flower at your HS prom. But inside it is a killer. It runs at a speedy 7,200 rpm in a fan cooled case with sturdy, skid-proof legs. There is a small stand so you can mount it vertically, but I thought the stand was not that stable and cannot recommend using it. It has a two meter power cord with AC adapter which is handy for a far-away power strip, a CD with a backup program and USB cable. I plugged it in (no power switch) and inserted the cable into the computer and there it was just a few seconds later.

I skipped ZIP drives for backups and used a CD burner. It was easy to use and fairly versatile; however, unless I used a rewriteable disk, it was not possible to change the contents or update the info and data I wanted to save. For the price the CD was great, but this external hard drive is where I put all my backups from construction estimates to customer info to accounting/payroll data. About once a month I burn it onto a CD, permanently. At the end of the year, I will take my hard drive to my CPA and off-load the past year's accounting data for a tax return. I'm impressed with just how transparent this drive is to the operating system. It is just another hard drive. Be warned, however, do not install a program on the drive and take it elsewhere. It will expect certain files to be on Drive C: and they won't be there.

Maxtor bundled a backup program called Retrospect Express. After I installed it, I followed the admonition of the Reviews Editor and checked for updates. There was one which I downloaded and installed. It is a comprehensive backup/restore program with a number of useful features; e.g., making more than one copy of a given backup, even to different locations, auto or scheduled backups, etc. I am familiar with CD burners and was, thus, a bit confused when even with the update, the Devices option under Configuration did not list my external hard drive. It found all other storage media (internal hard drive, ZIP, CD, etc.) I forget where, but I selected the external drive letter for the location of my backup files and selected "compress". Until it was about finished backing up, I didn't know for sure if it was actually backing to the selected drive.

Look at the front of the hard drive and you'll see a small button on the left which is the convenient "OneTouch" backup button. Configure Express and each time you press the button it will make a backup of the files or folders you have selected. Are you a DIY person? There's a handy "script" applet and sort of wizard to guide you in making your own script activated backups. It is very customizable. Select incremental or full backup and select which folder or one of the sub-folders. The program was convenient and easily understood after figuring out where the various settings were and how to interpret them. This is one of the better, though basic, backup programs and provides the essential options to suit most any need.

I'd appreciate a power switch. Maxtor, on their web site, offers a carrying case. Other models have both USB 2 and Firewire built-in. For convenience and fast transfer of files, you have a significant amount of storage in this five star drive. Go www.maxtor.com for more info and driver updates.

Randy Maple is a HAL-PC member who is a former FDA Inspector and now retired CEO of several construction companies. He can be contacted at ranma@hal-pc.org.