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Need extra storage space? These FireWire external devices might do the trick

Looking for an external data storage solution for your laptop or desktop? In this product review, Kyle Harmon examines three FireWire hard drives and a CD-RW device that could help solve your storage needs.


USB technology has been on the computer market for several years. Since its introduction, however, USB has been limited by its low bandwidth, which at its highest performance can only achieve 12 Mbps. With the introduction of FireWire technology, it is now possible to attach high bandwidth devices to your computer. Here are four storage devices that give you lots of space, quick data transfer rates, and portability. Find out if one of these devices is right for you.

FireWire
FireWire is actually Apple’s trademarked name for the IEEE 1394 standard. Other companies have developed their own names for this standard. For example, Sony calls it i.Link, Evergreen Technologies has dubbed it fireLINE, and other companies just call it high performance serial bus (HPSB). No matter how it’s named, the IEEE 1394 technology has one very distinct advantage over USB: speed. FireWire runs at a full 400 Mbps or 50 MB/s. This speed satisfies the needs of digital video enthusiasts as well as individuals seeking high-speed external data storage.

The QPS Que! External FireWire CD-RW
For this review, I obtained a QPS Que! External FireWire CD-RW. This device writes CD-R discs at 8x, rewrites CD-RW discs at 4x, and reads standard discs at 32x. The QPS CD-RW was designed to work with both the PC and Mac, and it emphasizes portability.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the device comes with a carrying case that houses the CD-RW, a power adapter, a FireWire cable, and a few CDs. I was also impressed with the ease of the hardware installation as well as the device’s reliability. After installing the bundled software (EZ CD Creator for the PC, Toast for the Mac) and the proper drivers, I was able to burn a full-length 74-minute CD in about 10 minutes. During this test, I did not receive a single error.

The QPS CD-RW does have shortcomings, however. The device requires an external power supply, and its large size makes it impractical to carry with a laptop. The device is currently priced at around $300.

Evergreen Technologies has also released a similar device running at 6x4x32x, which works well, but the use of a FireWire bus hardly seems warranted with such low writing speeds. Iomega plans to release a FireWire version of its upcoming Predator CD-RW.

Three FireWire hard drives are put to the test
Three FireWire hard drive vendors sent me their products to review for this article. Evergreen Technologies sent its 30-GB fireLINE hard drive, LaCie Technologies its 18-GB Pocket Drive, and VST its 18-GB Pocket Drive. These devices are nothing more than laptop hard drives enclosed in a plastic case attached to a FireWire drive controller and power supply.

Evergreen Technologies 30-GB fireLINE hard drive
This device was the only drive of the three that was not pocket-sized. It was actually the size of a standard internal CD-ROM drive enclosed with a plastic casing. Inside the casing is a 7,200-RPM hard disk.

The hard drive comes with a FireWire cable, a driver disk, and a manual. Because it was the only full-sized drive in the test, I expected it to be one of the better performers. However, Evergreen’s device proved to be the poorest performer of the three drives tested.

Table A
Large files: Read: 6.76 MB/s
Write: 7.22 MB/s
Small files: Read: 2.71 MB/s
Write: 4.77 MB/s
Average access time: 17.26 ms
The read and write times of the Evergreen Technologies 30-GB hard drive

The 30-GB drive retails for about $280, and an 80-GB version retails for about $500. Forty- and 60-GB capacities are also available. Evergreen Technologies is also starting to manufacture similar drives in pocket-sized versions.

VST 18-GB Pocket Drive
The VST 18-GB Pocket Drive was the best overall performer. In terms of size, the VST Pocket Drive was the smallest of the three drives. It actually fit in the palm of my hand. Although the unit reviewed was FireWire only, VST also makes FireWire/USB combo units, allowing for access using either the USB or FireWire ports. The VST 18-GB Pocket Drive also includes a Kensington lock port to prevent theft.

Table B
Large files: Read: 13.02 MB/s
Write: 13.99 MB/s
Small files: Read: 3.66 MB/s
Write: 7.02 MB/s
Average access time: 19.99 ms
The read and write times of the VST 18-GB Pocket Drive

The VST drive retails anywhere from $600 to $800 depending on the vendor, making it the most expensive of the drives reviewed. The VST Pocket Drive is currently available in capacities from 3 to 30 GB, but full-height drives are available up to 75 GB.

LaCie 18-GB Pocket Drive
Although the LaCie 18-GB Pocket Drive’s performance was slightly lower than that of the VST drive, the physical design of the drive itself is what sold me. This drive is designed for portability from the ground up. In addition to its plastic case, the drive’s edges are encased in rubber, providing excellent protection. In addition, you can store the FireWire cable inside the casing while the drive is not in use.

Although each of the drives that I reviewed had two ports in the back of the units to allow for daisy-chaining (similar to SCSI), the LaCie was the only unit that came with the power adapter necessary to daisy-chain the units.

Table C
Large files: Read: 12.52 MB/s
Write: 13.65 MB/s
Small files: Read: 3.69 MB/s
Write: 7.09 MB/s
Average access time: 20.72 ms
The read and write times of the LaCie 18-GB Pocket Drive

The LaCie drives range from around $400 for the 10-GB model to about $800 for the 30-GB model. I also found full-height drives available for about $250 for 20 GB to $750 for the 75-GB model.

Kyle Harmon is a frequent contributor to TechRepublic. He co-owns and operates a web hosting company, UCANweb.com.

Have you used a FireWire device lately that has blown you away? If so, we want to hear about it. Send us an e-mail about your experiences with the device or leave a post below.

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