External Storage, Eternal Choices

By Scott Koegler | Posted June 18, 2004
In recent years, external hard drives have simplified data backup to the point where deciding what type of drive to buy is harder than performing the actual backup. The trick is deciding what features you want and what price you're willing to pay. We take a look at two USB 2.0 drives — a cartridge-based removable-storage drive from Iomega, the new REV 35GB/90GB, and a standard external disk drive from Maxtor, the OneTouch 200 — to help determine which type of drive best suits your needs.

Reach Out and OneTouch Someone
Maxtor's OneTouch is simply a 7200-rpm, 200GB hard drive housed in an anodized aluminum case that connects to a computer via either USB 2.0 or Firewire. "OneTouch" refers to a single button on the front of the unit that initiates a predefined backup sequence.

Plug the drive into your PC (or any PC for that matter — no special drivers needed) and the drive appears automatically in the My Computer folder where you access it just like any drive on the computer. The drivers and software are for the automatic backup feature, and let you determine which files you want saved and to schedule backup sessions. Maxtor includes Dantz Retrospect Express as the backup solution, but you can set up the drive to use your choice of backup applications.


Maxtor's OneTouch 200
Maxtor's OneTouch 200 provides acres of storage area.

Maxtor ships the drives in FAT32 format, which limits the file sizes to 4GB. Given that the drive is intended to hold large backup files, you'd think the default format would be NTFS, since it allows nearly unlimited file sizes. Although the user's guide provides straightforward instructions to reformat the drive into NTFS, having to reformat isn't exactly what we'd call consumer-friendly.

Backing up with the OneTouch is simple and fast, but if you're looking for a solution that lets you take your data off-site on a regular basis (whether as a security precaution or to use at a separate location), it means disconnecting the drive and taking the whole thing with you. And while the OneTouch is both small and light enough to travel, the drive is no more protected against bumps and falls than the hard drive that resides inside your desktop computer. If your budget allows, you may want to consider a cartridge-based backup drive.

If you don't plan on moving the drive further than around the office or across town every now and then, you'll have a hard time finding more storage capacity at a cheaper price.

Maxtor offers the OneTouch in a variety of capacities ranging from 80GB to 250GB with prices from $159.95 to $ 299.95.

REV-el in Portability
Like the Maxtor OneTouch, the REV35 attaches to the computer via a USB 2.0 connection and lets you backup lots of information. That's pretty much where the similarities end, however. The REV lacks a Firewire connection and relies on removable cartridges as the medium for storing data. Each cartridge holds a total of 35GB of raw data or 90GB of compressed data.

The REV requires special drivers in order to work, so you can't just plug it into any computer and expect it to work, as you can with the OneTouch. Installation is simple, but not always possible when you need to use a computer that isn't yours. The drive itself is smaller and sleeker than the OneTouch, and it has rubberized grips on its sides as well as a Kensington lock slot, so it doesn't become dangerously portable.


Iomega's REV 35
Iomega REV's removable cartridges let you backup and go.

The drive includes Iomega's reliable Automatic Backup Pro software to handle both one-time and scheduled backups. You can also set the software to monitor selected folders for changes in your data and write a new version of the file every time it changes.

The package also includes a special version of Norton Ghost to create a bootable system image of your drive. It's a good safeguard and probably worth the investment in cartridges, since a full-system image is likely to require more than one cartridge.

Iomega chose to build its cartridges in a new way, keeping the sensitive drive heads and electronics in the drive — not in the cartridges — a design that makes it safe to drop cartridges without damaging or losing your data.

Priced at $399 (including one cartridge) for the drive and $59.99 for each additional cartridge, the REV 35 isn't what anyone would call a bargain. Still, anyone who needs to take data off site, without worrying about damaging the medium, will find this a convenient, reliable — if expensive — option.

Scott Koegler has been in the technology field for more than 25 years, and has written a book about systems integration as well as hundreds of articles about computers, software, digital photography, and networking over the last 12 years. He has been an IT executive in industries as diverse as health care, printing, and custom apparel.

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