As much as I am enamored with USB “thumb” drives, some storage problems — such as system backups — need a more robust solution.
Robust need not mean bulky. There are USB portable hard drives on the market that fit in the palm of your hand and are big enough to support substantial data demands.
Trial and Error
It took a bit of trial and error to wed my computer to the Maxtor drive.
A “Y” cable is included with the drive to connect it to a computer. The stem of the Y plugs into the drive, the forked end of the cable plugs into a computer.
The idea is if one USB port is insufficient to power the drive, two should do the trick. If you have a limited number of USB ports, though, reserving two for the drive may be a tad irritating.
An optional power supply is available for the drive, but that puts a kink in its portability, as anyone who has had to lug around power supplies can tell you.
Snubs the Hub
When I connected the OneTouch to my desktop computer through a USB hub — a gadget used to expand one USB port into several — my PC told me I had connected the drive, but it didn’t appear in Windows Explorer. I took that to mean the drive wasn’t getting enough power.
So I plugged the drive into a USB port on my computer. It appeared in Windows Explorer and began searching for software to install.
After watching the drive spin its wheels for a couple of minutes, I canceled the search operation and manually accessed the device. I saw something called “launch.exe” there and launched it.
After that software installed several programs on my hard drive, I was ready to use the mini drive’s “OneTouch” feature. With one touch of a button on the device, Maxtor’s drive management program will appear on the screen.
The software is easy to use and the OneTouch button turns chores like backups and file syncs into minor tasks.
While customization is a strong suit of the Maxtor drive, personalization distinguishes Pexagon’s Store-It drive.
When you buy a drive from the company’s Web site, it will laser-engrave three lines of personal information on the back of your unit.
In addition, it has a “lost and found” option that will engrave a unique product identification number linked to contact information about you on the drive itself, and store that info a secure company database as well.
If the drive is lost, a person finding it can go to the Pexagon Web site and fill out a form with the personal ID number. The person will receive a reward for returning the drive and the unit will be returned to its owner free of charge.
Pexagon’s software, Retrospect Express, is made by EMC, of Hopkington, Mass. It works on both PCs and Macs and requires a system reboot after installation.
After installing the software, you can hook up the drive. Like the Maxtor unit, the Pexagon’s drive comes with a Y cable. I found I needed only one USB port to run the drive on my HP notebook computer, which was connected to a wall outlet.
The Store-It drive also has single button operation. After connecting the drive to my computer, I pressed the button and EMC’s software popped up.
The EMC software is sparse compared to Maxtor’s application. It does backups and restorations, but doesn’t have the synchronization and rollback features found in Maxtor’s program.
Pexagon’s pygmy drive ranges in capacities from 60 to 120 GB and sells from US$125 to $195. Maxtor’s 100 GB mini drive is priced in the $135 to $190 range.
If you like the convenience of thumb drives but have storage demands that outstrip the capacity of those dongles, these palm-sized drives will meet your needs in a convenient and untaxing way.
John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected]