External storage is always handy to have around, but it never seems to be fast enough or large enough. The original USB devices offered some relief, but transfer rates weren’t high enough to really make it a replacement for network storage. Evergreen Technologies, a company familiar to many IT pros for its processor upgrade products, has introduced a series of external storage devices intended for a wide variety of roles. The most versatile and compact model in its lineup is the Pocket HotDrive, which supports both 1394 (FireWire) and USB 2.0 for maximum flexibility.

Supported interfaces
FireWire and USB are supported by Mac OS 8.6 or greater and Windows 98SE, Me, 2000, or XP. USB 2 has just been introduced to Linux; however, it’s only on the development kernel and, to date, has not been tested with the Pocket HotDrive or Evergreen controller. Be aware that while the Pocket HotDrive does drop down to USB 1.1 mode, not all USB-enabled OSs will work with it. For instance, Windows 98 recognizes that the device is installed but can’t recognize that it’s a hard drive.

The look and feel
The Pocket HotDrive is a fairly compact affair, measuring 5” x 3” x 1”—not surprising, since it uses a 2.5″ IDE laptop drive. The casing is gray with blue rubber insets that act as feet and handgrips. The front panel has a black plastic window, mostly for show, as only a single green/amber LED on the right side indicates activity and status. On the rear panel, you’ll find a 1394 (FireWire) port, an A-type USB port, and the power adapter port.

With Pocket HotDrive, you’ll also receive a three-foot, six-wire 1394 cable; a USB 2-compliant cable; a USB/PS2 power dongle for laptops; a standard 110v power adapter; a driver disk; and a few sheets of instructions. The USB/PS2 power dongle combines a PS2 pass-through port, USB port, and the 5VDC power plug, which virtually guarantees power for your drive on a laptop. In many cases, laptops do not provide the full power levels expected by the USB standard, and 1394-equipped laptops are usually equipped with the four-wire, nonpowered version typically referred to as iLink. By using the USB/PS2 dongle, you can pull power from additional sources as needed to ensure functionality without a 110V outlet nearby.

How it fares in testing
I tested its performance under Windows 2000 on a 266-MHz Pentium II, for worst-case scenarios. I also tested USB 1.1 support by the USB controller on the motherboard. An Evergreen PCI USB 2/1394 Combo Controller Card provided USB 2 and FireWire connectivity (Figure A).

Figure A

I combined the disk transfer rate test results into a single graphic for easy comparison (Figure B).

Figure B

You can see that FireWire was significantly faster than USB 2 and was only limited by the speed of the 2.5” IDE hard drive. It wasn’t until the drive dropped below 17 MBps that USB 2 and FireWire were comparable. USB 1.1 was left far behind at 1 MBps.

Some people might be surprised by USB 2’s results, as its raw bandwidth readily provides for up to 60 MBps of throughput vs. 50 MBps for FireWire. However, the USB 2 specification states that devices are recommended to use between 30 and 40 percent of the available bandwidth to allow multiple USB 2 devices to operate simultaneously and still leave enough bandwidth for USB 1 devices like mice and keyboards. As 17 MBps is 29 percent of 60 MBps, it seems Evergreen is just playing nicely.

Regardless, the Pocket HotDrive under USB 2 or 1394 can transfer more than 12 MBps, which is more than a match for 100-Mb Ethernet without the stress on the network. With an average transfer rate of 1 GB per minute, it makes an excellent medium for small-scale backups and restores. Compared to even a 40x CD-ROM, the Pocket HotDrive is nearly twice as fast and can drastically cut down on installation times of large applications or disk images.

An excellent multipurpose device
As the new generation of motherboards is rolled out this year, USB 2 and/or 1394 will be standard on all of them. Combine these motherboards with the Pocket HotDrive’s backward compatibility, and you have an excellent multipurpose device suitable for storing and creating disk images, archiving, simple expansion of storage space, or providing an ultimate driver disk for a support department. The bonus of working on virtually all recent platforms either natively or with some patching makes it ideal for a mixed system shop. The 10-GB Pocket HotDrive is available from Evergreen for $199.99, the 20-GB version for $249.99, the 30-GB version for $299.99, the 40-GB version for $399.99, and the Pocket HotDrive enclosure without a drive for $99.