Review: SimpleTech Duo Pro Drive by Fabrik

Aside from love and possibly money, hard drive space is one of those things you can almost never have enough of. Fortunately, external drives are plentiful and they make adding more storage to a PC quick, easy and relatively inexpensive. But for the utmost in capacity, performance, and protection, you really need an external drive with not just one, but a pair of hard disks within. SimpleTech’s Duo Pro Drive by Fabrik is the latest example of such a storage device.

Interface and Storage Options
The Duo Pro Drive comes in three capacities, 1,1.5 and 2 TB and sells for $399, $599 and  $799 respectively. The drive comes housed in a sharp-looking silver plastic chassis with faux ventilation grilles on the broad sides of the device and a functional air outlet and fan at the rear. You can set up the Duo Pro in either a vertical or a horizontal orientation; and if you choose the latter, indents in the grill let you stack multiple drives for more efficient use of desktop space.

The Duo Pro gives you a choice of two interfaces — either the pedestrian USB 2.0 or the better-performing eSATA-300, which at 3GB/sec offers more than six times the theoretical throughput of USB’s 480 Mb/sec. In fact, the Duo Pro is the first eSATA-equipped dual-disk storage device we’ve seen. (Unlike many external drives today, FireWire is not on the Duo Pro’s menu.) A USB cable comes with the Duo Pro, but not an eSATA one — if your system lacks an eSATA port (as most still do these days), Fabrik offers PCI or PCI Express eSATA card and cable bundles for $50 and $70 respectively.

Inside the Duo Pro you’ll find twin 7,200 RPM eSATA drives. Our $399.99 MSRP test unit used 500 GB drives giving it for a maximum capacity of 1 TB. Given the dual-drive configuration, you can operate the Pro Duo in either RAID 0 (striped) mode for maximum capacity and performance, or in RAID 1 (mirrored) mode if you’re willing to forgo half your capacity in the interest of data redundancy.

RAID 0 is the Duo Pro’s out-of the-box configuration, and to change that to RAID 1 the Duo Pro does make you jump through a few too many hoops. First you have to power down the unit, flip a recessed toggle switch at the rear of the device, and hold down a reset button while turning the drive back on.

SimpleTech Duo Pro Drive by Fabrik
Double Drive: The SimpleTech Duo Pro Drive offers big capacity, fast performance and a free online storage account.

Next, you must use Windows Disk Management utility to manually partition and format the drive. Granted, changing a RAID configuration is not something everyone will need to do, and most who do will only do it once, but it would be nice if Duo Pro provided a software utility to automate the process as many external drives do.

There’s no easy way to access the Duo Pro’s internal drives, but to its credit Fabrik warranties the Duo Pro (parts and labor) for three years and says it will advance-ship a replacement unit to customers in the event of a drive failure. While we’re on the subject, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that the first two evaluation units we received came with their innards askew, evidently as a result of an assembly problem during production.

Although Fabrik’s aware of the problem and has addressed it, some bad units may be in the marketplace, so make sure whoever you purchase from has a good exchange policy, and when feasible it might pay to examine your unit closely – bad units will exhibit a distinct rattle and the ports in back won’t line up properly – before leaving the store.

Local and Online Data Backup
Fabrik bundles the Duo Pro with an obligatory data backup utility labeled Fabrik Local Backup, but which is actually ArcSoft’s TotalMedia Backup and Record. The software lets you easily backup data from a system to the Duo Pro, or to a CD or DVD disc for that matter. Speaking of discs, TotalMedia Backup and Record also functions as a general-purpose burning utility for data, music or movie discs, but it doesn’t let you create disaster-recovery type backups of an entire system that you can restore from bootable discs.

Of course, backing up your data to an external hard drive doesn’t necessarily provide ironclad protection, since the drive is still vulnerable to things like viruses, theft or just garden-variety hardware failures. For data redundancy beyond a local backup, Fabrik lets Duo Pro purchasers avail themselves of a Fabrik Ultimate Backup account for online storage.

The account is free and provides 2 GB of storage, and while that’s but a tiny fraction of the storage available on even the smallest Duo Pro, it should be enough for most people to safeguard copies of their most critical files. For a $4.95 monthly subscription fee Fabrik offers an upgraded Ultimate Backup account with unlimited storage, and at less than $60 a year, it’s worth considering.

To use Ultimate Backup you need to install a separate backup utility onto your system, which links to Fabrik’s storage servers via a secure 128-bit SSL connection. Ultimate Backup protects your stored data via 448-bit BlowFish encryption — you can have an encryption key transparently created for you, or specify your own (though if you go that route and forget your key, your data won’t be recoverable).

You can configure backup sets either by folder location or file type and have them occur automatically or according to a custom schedule. Depending on how much data is involved, an initial backup can take hours or even days — it’s governed by the speed of your upload speed of Internet connection, which for most people is significantly slower than the download. Subsequent backups are much more expedient, however, since only changed bits need to be transmitted, not entire copies of modified files. The Ultimate Backup software can be configured to limit its use of your upstream bandwidth and/or system resources to minimize any performance impact on your network or computer.

To restore data, you log in to your account and use a browser-based application to select the files/folders you want. Within several minutes they’re packaged up into ZIP files you can download (you’ll get an e-mail notification when they’re ready). Since Ultimate Backup lets you access your online backed-up data from any system, it serves as a form of remote file access.

Bottom Line
The Duo Pro could use more streamlined software, and it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you get with some competitors—things like password protection and data encryption come to mind. But if you can do without such features and are mainly concerned with ample capacity, RAID support, and a speedy interface, the SimpleTech Duo Pro Drive by Fabrik is a good choice.

Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He’s also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he’s currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

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