Roundup: Hand-Held Hard Drives With Up To 500 GB

Fresh Convenience Storage Products for Spring 2009

Fujitsu, Samsung, Seagate, or Western Digital? The top storage companies are ready with great new portable storage products based on 2.5” hard drives. Samsung even sent us a 1.8” hard drive-based model that is smaller than a mobile phone. Half of a terabyte should be sufficient for mobile users since performance is typically limited by the USB 2.0 interface anyway. However, features and bundled software differ greatly from one product to another.

Portable Means Flexible

The days of needing to install new hard drives into your PC to address increasing storage requirements are over (that is, if you want them to be). Although USB 2.0 represents a bottleneck for almost every modern hard drive, the interface is widely available, compatible, and flexible—a USB 2.0 based storage product can be hooked up to literally any host system, be it a PC or Mac, and becomes almost independent from the operating system you use. Average users will probably get the greatest benefit from a portable USB drive, as they are fast enough for most applications, and capacities of up to 500 GB should also suffice for nearly any use.

Portable Drives vs. External Drives

There are two different types of stand-alone storage products: those aimed at maximum mobility, and ones that cater to high capacity or performance. High performance external storage devices increasingly connect via eSATA to alleviate the aforementioned USB 2.0 and FireWire bottlenecks, and some models even implement RAID technology to increase data safety, performance, and capacity.

In contrast, portable drives for mobile users don’t have to provide maximum performance, but they need to be light, small, and flexible. All of the drives we tested can be operated via the power provided by a USB 2.0 port, so they don’t need an additional power supply. They do not get hot, and they’re more than acceptable from a noise standpoint.

However, their style, software bundles, usability, and warranty differ a lot. We looked at the Fujitsu Handy Drive 320 GB, the Samsung S2 Portable 500 GB and S1 Portable 120 GB, Seagate’s FreeAgent Go 500 GB, and the Western Digital MyPassport Elite 500 GB.