SolutionBase: Get true portability with the EZ Bus Mini USB hard drive

Sometimes you can't always carry a stack of CDs with you with all of the utilities you need. That's where having a portable hard drive can come in handy. Greg Schultz shows how you can save support headaches using a USB drive from Acorn.

When you're actually performing hands-on troubleshooting operations in your enterprise chances are good that you carry a small stack of CDs with you so that you'll be able to easily replace system files or drivers should the situation require it. One of the CDs might even contain diagnostic software should you need to run tests on the system. While you can use a CD wallet to cart your CDs with you, it can still be a hassle. Wouldn't it be easier if you could fit everything you needed in your pocket? I've always thought so.

As such, I began carrying a 1GB USB thumb drive and with a little effort I was able to fit most of what I needed within the confines of 1GB. While this worked well on many occasions, I still felt the need to tote the CD wallet with me in some situations, so I really didn't do away with the inconvenience altogether.

So when I started seeing pocket sized portable USB hard disks on the market, I began to do some research. However, while I was very interested I didn't find anything with the right combination of features and price to make me take the plunge. That is, until I found the EZ Bus Mini series of pocket USB 2.0 drives from Apricorn.

EZ Bus Mini is ideal for the job that I had in mind. It's small enough to fit in a pocket, has a very large capacity, has a built-in USB cable, doesn't require external power source, doesn't require any special drivers, and it carries an affordable price tag. In addition, it comes with a whole slew of software for extending the types of operations for which you can use this device.

In this article, I'll introduce you to the EZ Bus Mini and examine its features. I'll then provide you with an overview of a few of the other similar portable hard disk products.

Taking a closer look at the device

When you first see the EZ Bus Mini, its diminutive size is instantly intriguing. At 4 x 3 x Â? inches, this device is only slightly larger than standard deck of cards, as you can see in Figure A. And, at only 5 ounces, it actually weighs a bit less than a standard deck of cards. As such, you can immediately get an idea of the portability of this device--it can easily and comfortably be carried around in your shirt pocket. The device also comes with a nice neoprene travel pouch.

Figure A

The EZ Bus Mini is about the size of a deck of cards and can fit in a shirt pocket for easy portability.

If you flip the device over, as shown in Figure B, you can see that the USB cable, which measure about 3-inches, fits right into the back of the case in a recessed compartment where it's easily accessible with a flip of a fingertip. (The package includes an equally compact 40-inch extension cable, should you need a longer reach.)

Figure B:

The built-in USB cable fits snuggly right into the back of the unit.

As you look at the unit, you're probably wondering where the power cord is--well there isn't one. The EZ Bus Mini draws its required 5 volt power requirement directly from the USB bus.

 Packed inside the rubber-coated case is a 1.8-inch Hitachi hard disk with a 2MB buffer and an operating speed of 4200 RPM, thus allowing a data transfer rate of up to 480 Mbps. The unit that I worked with for this review contained a 40GB hard disk, but Apricorn also offers 20GB and 60GB models.

The EZ Bus Mini hard disk is formatted with the FAT32 file system in order to allow the device to be usable with all the Windows operating systems. However, if you're only going to be using it with Windows 2000 and Windows XP, you can easily reformat the drive with NTFS file system and take advantage its features.

Using the device

To use the EZ Bus Mini, just plug the unit into a USB port on any Windows 2000 or Windows XP system. When you do, the New Hardware Found balloon will appear while the operating system installs the native drivers and in a few moments the drive will be assigned a drive letter and be available in My Computer.

When you want to disconnect the EZ Bus Mini, close any open folder windows showing the drive and double-click and Safely Remove Hardware icon in the notification area of the taskbar. Then, follow the online instructions for removing the device. This ensures that all data is safely written to the drive. However, the drive is listed as being hot swappable, so if you're sure that all data has been written to the drive, you can simply unplug it and go. (The EZ Bus Mini is a USB 2.0 device but it is backwards compatible with USB 1.1.)

As I mentioned in the introduction, my primary goal for using this device was to be able to copy the contents of multiple operating system CDs, drivers and diagnostic software to the drive so that I could easily take them with me on troubleshooting expeditions. However, I've since discovered that this portable hard disk comes in handy in a lot of other circumstances.

For example, I recently performed several system migrations and used the EZ Bus Mini as the intermediary transport device for the Files And Settings Transfer (FAST) Wizard. Over the years I've carried out many system migrations with FAST and have used all different means of transfer, but I have to say that using the EZ Bus Mini was one of the easiest operations I've performed. And while I have yet to use the EZ Bus Mini as the intermediary transport device for the User State Migration Tool, I'm sure that it will function equally well in that operation.

Included software

In addition to using the EZ Bus Mini as a tool for the type of IT operations I've mentioned, you can use the drive for lots of other basic data copy and backup operations. In order to support these other operations, Apricorn has included a nice software bundle with the drive.

For backup and restore operations Apricorn provides you with their EZ Gig II software, which is specially designed for backing up to the USB channel as well as PC Card and IDE. Using EZ Gig II's two components--Clone EZ and Image EZ--you can perform a couple of different types of backup operations. With Clone EZ you can create a cloned copy of your computer's hard disk and save it on the EZ Bus Mini drive.

The cloned copy can serve as a disaster recovery backup or as a means of transferring your operating system and data during a hard disk upgrade. With Image EZ, you can create a snapshot of your entire hard disk and save the image as a compressed file that is roughly have the size file of the original. This will allow you the ability to save multiple images to the EZ Bus Mini drive.

For protecting your data files, Apricorn included Second Copy 2000, which allows you to protect your data by synchronizing copies of files and folders between your hard disk and the EZ Bus Mini. Second Copy 2000 is unique in that once it is configured, it continually monitors the source files and then in the background updates the backup copies any time it senses that the files have changed.

The other piece of software bundled with the EZ Bus Mini is Cryptainer LE an encryption software package. While Cryptainer will work on any drive once it is installed, the goal of its inclusion with the EZ Bus Mini is that it will allow you to protect any data that you copy to this very portable drive.

Getting your EZ Bus Mini

The EZ Bus Mini comes in 20GB,40GB and, 60GB hard disk models. The 20GB model carries a manufacture suggested retail price of $179, while the 40GB and 60GB models go for $249 and $349 respectively. However, the drives are available online for slightly less.

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.