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External Hard Drives Buyer's Guide

We assess 25 of the hottest external hard disk drives from Cavalry, Iomega, LaCie, Maxtor, Seagate, Western Digital, and more.

We've reviewed 25 external hard drives from 13 vendors. You won't see any external box in the group with a drive that's smaller than 2.5-inches. That's the typical laptop-sized hard disk. There are 1.8-inch and even 1-inch drives floating around, but they're typically used for flash drive alternatives and don't even remotely have the capacity available to 2.5-inch devices. (Samsung recently announced a 500-GB unit!)

AcomData Ondago
(click for image gallery)

As well as only dealing with external units containing either 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drives, we're also limiting our group to single drive models. That caps the capacity for these external drives at 1 TB for the time being -- which is more than enough space for most of us, even the media hounds.

External enclosures with multiple drives are becoming more common, but for now, we're just looking for the simple gear. The mysteries (and overhead) of RAID ("redundant array of inexpensive disks") with which these devices are typically endowed are grist for another mill on another day.

As always, the statistics we're quoting here (like the drive's capacity) are from the manufacturer. They are mostly correct and sincere -- even the transfer rates, because of the way in which the testing is done. (You wouldn't expect them to make their own drives look bad, would you?)

As for the capacity, there's always a difference between the hard disk manufacturer's claimed amount of space and the equivalent computer-reported capacity. For a hard disk manufacturer, "1 KB" is 1,000 bytes. To a computer, it's 1,024 bytes. That little discrepancy is why you shouldn't be surprised when your 1-TB external hard drive ends up attached to your PC and displayed as a 931-MB drive. It's the digital version of "Your mileage will vary."


Perhaps not the first name in external storage that might come to mind, AcomData nevertheless has some interesting possibilities.

Capacity: 40, 60, 80, 100, 120 GB
Interface: USB, Firewire
Durability Rating: Tip-over
Transfer Rate: 480 Mbps, 400 Mbps
External Power Supply: No
Fan: No
Dimensions: 3.25" x 5.28" x 0.80"
Weight: N/A
Price: $99.95 (120 GB)
Web Site

The Ondago is a pocket drive wrapped in a water-resistant silicon sleeve. It features both USB and FireWire connectivity and has push-button backup capability using EMC's Retrospect Express.

AcomData HybridDrive 2.5
(click for image gallery)

HybridDrive 2.5
Capacity: 160, 250, 320. 400, 500 GB
Interface: USB
Durability Rating: Tip-over
Transfer Rate: 480 Mbps
External Power Supply: No
Fan: No
Dimensions: 2.9" x 4.8" x 0.55"
Weight: 6.24 oz.
Price: $79 (160 GB)
Web Site

Wrapped in stainless steel, the HybridDrive 2.5 is a USB-only device. Its Nomad application allows you to run (an open source equivalent to Microsoft Office) directly from the drive, no matter what computer it's attached to. As with the Ondago, the HybridDrive 2.5 also features push-button backup.

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