A terabyte’s worth storage bang for your buck

Too much is never enough, and this adage is unarguably accurate when it comes to hard drive space.

With digital cameras churning out multi-megabyte images and digital video chomping up gigabytes of space in one shot, it’s not hard to hit the limits of your hard drive. One answer to your storage dilemma is a high-capacity external disk, such as the SimpleTech SimpleDrive USB 2.0 External Hard Drive. Though it has a few quirks and problems, its low-profile designer looks, superior USB performance, and attractive per-gigabyte price combine to deliver a good value for your storage dollar.

Resembling a buttonless telephone answering machine, the small and stylish SimpleDrive features four LEDs on top that are arranged in a circle and function as a capacity meter. Each LED represents 25 percent of the total storage; as the drive fills up, the LEDs light up to indicate how much space is being used. If the lights flash red when you power on the drive, less than 10 percent of the drive’s storage is still available. The light segments also flash and chase each other around the circle during a copy operation. This could be a boon for novice users, letting them know when they should definitely not unhook their drive.

The device is formatted for Windows by default, which means that you should reformat it with Apple’s Disk Utility before using it with Leopard’s Time Machine backup application. It also comes with ArcSoft TotalMedia Backup software, which works in conjunction with the one-click backup button. We tested this PowerPC-based backup software in both Tiger and Leopard, and mileage varied. There were no problems on our test machine running Mac OS X 10.4.10. However, the software worked smoothly on one MacBook running Leopard, but crashed another one. This kind of stability issue would have been more dire if the OS didn’t already come with Time Machine, which works with any drive. Like a few other vendors, SimpleTech has elected to include the software on the drive itself, rather than on a separate CD. There’s nothing wrong with this–unless you’re like us and fail to read the small warning sheet cautioning you to copy the software before reformatting the drive. Luckily, the software was not critical to operation.

The drive connects to your Mac via USB and also comes with a small power supply. Although limited by the speeds of USB 2.0, when it comes to USB performance the SimpleDrive nonetheless managed to mostly edge out other, more expensive drives we recently reviewed, including the OWC Mercury Elite AL Pro 1TB () and the WiebeTech RTX100-SJ 1TB (). If you don’t need a full terabyte of storage, SimpleTech also sells 250GB, 320GB, 500GB, and 750GB capacities in the same enclosure, as well as offering a USB/FireWire 400 enclosure model.

Included with the SimpleDrive is 2GB of free online storage for supplemental backup or for sharing your files with a wider, Web-based audience. This is a nice thought, but not of tremendous value, considering that free online storage is fast becoming the norm (for example, Google recently bumped up Gmail storage to 5GB).

Despite a few rough edges, the SimpleDrive represents a good overall value. It packs a large amount of storage into a petite, classy-looking package, though the USB-only design limits its performance.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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