Seagate 5Gb Pocket Drive


There’s no commercial investment in this column, but it’s very hard to talk about a pocket hard drive without first saying a few words about Apple users.

Since the advent of the world-beating iPod, Mac users have been spoilt in the field of removable storage devices (and despite the iPod’s availability for Windows, most of them are still owned by Mac users, like most cross-platform Apple products are).

The world’s self-proclaimed coolest digital music player’s less-promoted use is that of a fully contained removable hard drive. Aside from its interaction with the software that drives it (iTunes), the iPod appears on your desktop as just another disc. So if you own a 20Gb hard drive but only have 5Gb of music on it, there’s 15Gb to play with — your usual data backup, for instance, is taken care of.

And based as it is on Firewire technology, data races from one to the other. Moving 600Mb of data onto a second generation iPod took around 60 seconds, whereas the Seagate 5.0Gb pocket hard drive took between 10 and 15 minutes.

That says more about the advanced capability of Firewire than any limitations to Seagate’s cute device. Being USB 2.0, it’s inherently slower. Filling up the 5Gb disk is likely to take a very long time depending on the complexity of your filing.

So as the natural evolution of the gimmicky flash cards that are to be found on the end of pens, keyrings etc, is it a good product despite any comparisons?

256Mb flash cards were as fast as the Seagate 5.0Gb, but it didn’t take long to fill up 256Mb of data. The Seagate is still la lot quicker and a lot less cumbersome than burning 5Gb worth of rewritable CDs, but as a tool, you’ll get the most worthwhile use out of it doing a daily copy of several gigs of data where you can plug it in, start copying and leave. On the machine we used to test it, it transferred about 1 Megabyte per second, so to fill the 5Gb completely would take over an hour (in theory).

If the data you want on it is likely to add up to 5Gb one day (while that’s easy for graphic designers, it’s not as likely for most of us who only use digital pics and office files), it’s a good long term investment that will return the money you paid for it in productivity, albeit a long way down the track. If you just need to copy the odd project folder or 100Mb collection of your digital photos, buying a 5Gb removable disk seems overkill.

As to the device itself, the small plastic disc with retracting cord is just gimmicky enough to make the Seagate cool while the design and usability ensure it’s serious.

It counts on use by a notebook or PC with easy-to-reach USB slots — if you have a tower on or under your desk and the only spare slots are around the back somewhere, attaching and detaching the Seagate will be a major pain. It’s obviously a constraint of the device’s design to have a cord of it’s length (about 7 inches), but if it had a much longer one it wouldn’t have to hang out the back of your computer like a remora attached to a shark.

Again to Mac users, the Seagate comes with a CD of Windows-only utilities, so once you’ve reformatted it for the Mac OS you’re left with basically a blank disc (by Seagate’s own admission however, the necessary drivers are already part of every new Mac).

Seagate claims the round shell acts as a shock absorber, and in a piece of machinery destined to be thrown from desk to car seat to briefcase, it’ll need to be pretty durable.

All in all there are better devices out there for the purposes you’re likely to need removable hard drive space, and the choice for the Seagate will be mostly aesthetic. In most of the field, removable disc sizes have outgrown the wiring technologies that connect them to your computer. The company who develops the next killer app in connectivity technology (as Apple did with Firewire) will be the one who’ll own this market.

$349


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