Ample, If Not Flashy, Portable Storage

Toppling the floppy was one thing, but replacing the notebook hard disk is something else. Flash-memory cards and USB key-chains have made it easy to carry your favorite files around town and across the country, but won’t help if you want to move double-digit-gigabytes worth without lugging around your whole laptop — or need to back up said laptop while on the road. Recordable CDs and DVDs offer plenty of capacity, but burning discs is time-consuming and labeling and carrying them is a chore.

The solution, of course, is the portable hard drive — and Apricorn, which already offered 20GB and 40GB versions of its EZ Bus Mini, now tempts SMB travelers with 60GB (all right, 56GB after formatting) of storage in a goof-proof package about the size of a pack of playing cards (3- by 4- by 0.6-inches).

What’s more, the five-ounce external drive works fine without a wall outlet or AC adapter in sight, since it both transfers data and draws power from a computer’s USB port. Additional benefits include hot-swappable support for Windows XP, Win 2000, Windows XP, and Mac OS 9.2 and X with no need for installing software drivers.

What’s the bad news? Convenience doesn’t come cheap at $349 (the 20GB and 40GB models are $179 and $249, respectively), although Apricorn cost per gigabyte is far below that of flash drives. Still, for a mix of capacity and simplicity, the EZ Bus Mini is hard to beat.

Storage on a 1.8-Inch Platter
Externally, the gadget is spartan in appearance: a black plastic casing provides a measure of scratch protection while safeguarding the sensitive innards, while a green LED indicates drive power.

A recessed compartment on the bottom of the casing lets you stash the Mini USB 2.0 cable (backward-compatible with USB 1.1, albeit at much slower data-transfer rates). The cable gives you only about four inches of breathing room between the drive and your PC; fortunately, the drive comes with a meter-long extender cable and a padded travel pouch.

Inside the casing, the centerpiece of the device is a Hitachi Travelstar C4K60 1.8-inch IDE hard disk (referring to the diameter of the platters; the complete drive measures 2.1- by 2.8- by 0.3- inches) — not as miniscule as the latest, relatively low-capacity 1.0- and 0.85-inch drives, but still decisively smaller than the 2.5-inch drives used in most notebooks, let alone the 3.5-inch heavyweights of most desktops.

Keeping a drive so small while ensuring travel-friendly characteristics like low power requirements and heat generation requires some compromise: The Travelstar has a modest 2MB onboard buffer and spins at a leisurely 4,200 rpm (versus laptop drives 5,400 or, increasingly, 7,200 rpm). Hitachi specifications for the C4K60 include an average seek time of 15ms and average latency of 7.1ms.

The Softer Side
Apricorn bundles three Windows software packages with the EZ Bus Mini, making backup, synchronization and security a snap.

The company’s EZ Gig II backup and recovery software performed flawlessly, creating regular and compressed images of our target hard drive and easily restoring an image onto a full drive.

A utility called Second Copy 2000 handles data synchronization and works quietly in the background to store an up-to-date backup of your main hard drive on the Mini. Finally, Cryptainer LE offers 128-bit Blowfish data encryption of the entire EZ Bus drive or just of specified partitions and folders. Predictably, the encryption added a read/write performance hit, but the overall application is easy-to-use and problem-free.

Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect a tiny, pocket-sized hard disk to pack the wallop of a 2.5-inch laptop drive, let alone a speedy, power-sucking desktop model (or a solid-state flash device). But the 60GB EZ Bus Mini delivers thoroughly capable, simple storage even if it doesn’t set any speed records. Its price may cause sticker shock to mainstream shoppers, especially when compared to lower-capacity key chains, but it’s a sound investment for the busy executive seeking notebook backup or an easy way to carry volumes of critical data.

Adapted from

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