Review: Three One-Touch Hard Drives - InformationWeek

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Review: Three One-Touch Hard Drives

External hard drives from Maxtor, IOGear, and Seagate let you back up your data at the touch of a button.

Backing up data is something that everyone knows they should do, many say they will do, but only a few actually follow through on. Even with Windows’ simple “Drag and Drop” ability to move files and folders, most of us can’t seem to find the time to copy our precious data to a second location, just in case. Of course, there is always plenty of time for expletives when the hard drive dies and all of the data it once contained disappears forever.

Fortunately, there is a way to save data that requires only a minimum investment of time: the one-touch, or single-button, external hard drive. Once you've installed its companion backup software on your system, it requires just the press of a fingertip to instigate a backup of all pre-specified files and folders. You can walk away. For this review I tested three of these one-touch drives: the IOGear COMBO 3.5-inch ION 320GB Drive with Tri-Select, the 300GB Maxtor OneTouch II, and the 400GB Seagate Pushbutton Backup External Hard Drive.

These drives are not indestructible. Standing like soldiers at attention, they are easy prey to an errant elbow or knee.

If, like me, your data is extensive (my "smallest" PC has a little more than 900GB), it’s all right to connect more than one of these to your PC at the same time. However, you might notice that most of the photos of these drives show them vertically oriented. There’s a reason for that: heat saturation. If you stack drives on top of each other, heat generated by lower drives will rise up and congregate in the top drive on the stack. While not instant death for the drive, it is certain death nonetheless. (I speak from experience — it’s the only problem I ever experienced with my first-generation Maxtor one-touch drives.)

Also, keep in mind that these drives are not indestructible. Standing like soldiers at attention, they are easy prey to an errant elbow or knee — and most hard drives don’t work well (or at all) after being knocked over. And no manufacturer recommends that you move a drive while it’s running.

Finally, a note about interfaces: Each of these drives has both USB and FireWire interfaces. The inclination of most people will be to use the USB port. That may not be the best option. A well designed FireWire interface will, despite its slower speed (80Mbps less than USB's rate), allow faster data transfer than the typical USB port. The reason is that USB requires much more processor arbitration than does FireWire, and that can slow down the actual data transfer rate. It also means that CPU usage is typically greater when using USB, which can affect the execution of other applications in the foreground.

How can you tell which is better for your computer? Unfortunately, computers don’t have a “well-implemented FireWire interface inside” label, so the only real way to determine which interface works best with your computer is to try them both. It’s worth the effort.

(Incidentally, none of the reviewed drives handled the new FireWire IEEE1394b (800Mbps) standard. That's not unexpected — it is a fairly recent standard and few computers are equipped to take advantage of it.)

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