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Cheaper, Faster and More Versatile: External Hard Drives from CoolMax, Maxtor and Seagate

External Hard Drives Get Smarter

Photos, videos and music-the flood of multimedia data you want to keep somewhere safe shows no signs of abating. A reasonable alternative consists of burning important data regularly to CDs or DVDs. If kept cool, dark and dry, you can reasonably expect media from established vendors to last 10 or more years. However, CDs or DVDs usually lack the capacity for most PC backups and-especially when you have to rummage through a stack of disks looking for those .jpg pictures of your trip to the Bahamas-leave a lot to be desired convenience-wise.

From this perspective, external hard drives are just about unbeatable. The latest 3.5" desktop drives, for example, now feature capacities of up to 400 GB. The most attractive drives price wise at the moment are those with 160 GB or 200 GB of capacity. Today's models are practically all connected with the versatile USB 2.0 interface or, alternatively, with a Firewire (1394a) link. However, we have not yet stumbled across an external storage product that would allow two different interfaces to be used simultaneously. If you try connecting Firewire and USB to more than one system, only one will function.

That said, there are now so many external hard-drive suppliers out there that it's easy to lose track of things. However, you only need to keep in mind that USB and Firewire are the most common interfaces and UltraATA is the de-facto standard. So where do the differences lie?

Maxtor and Seagate sent us their latest external hard drives with 250 GB and 200 GB capacities, respectively, with additional backup functions. U.S. supplier CoolMax also sent us the XtremeFiles F1-B, which the vendor says accommodates all commercially-available hard drives and offers similar features compared to Maxtor and Seagate's devices.