BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests

Of The New, Tiny, Featherweight FireWire Drives, Which Is The Smallest? Fastest? Best Value? -- "FireFly"? "FireLite"? "Cutie"? "Clear 911"?

January 11th, 2002
Updated January 15th with pictures of the FireFly, Cutie and Clear 911 side by side
Updated January 17th with 60GH Travelstar in Clear 911 case
Updated January 23rd with 60GH Travelstar inside Titanium G4 PowerBook
Updated February 11th with the NEW FireLite 40GB (40GN) drive from SmartDisk
Updated March 12th with
big price drop on the tiny FireFly
by
rob ART morgan, Bare Feats Mad Scientist



SMALLEST?

The SmartDisk "FireFly" uses the same 1.8 inch drive as the iPod (which I believe is Toshiba's model MK5002MAL). At 91 grams, The FireFly weighs half as much as the iPod (or "Cutie!). It's the smallest and lightest of all. It's even lighter than the popular Nokia 8260 cell phone. It is truly "palm sized."

The FWDepot "Cutie!" is the world's smallest 2.5 inch FireWire enclosure. It will take any 9.5 mm thick 2.5 inch hard drive including the new 40GB "pixie dust" IBM 40GN Travelstar. I fitted it with the 30GB Travelstar 30GN (identical to what ships on the TiBook 667). With that drive the whole unit weighs in at 6.75 ounces (189 grams)--more than twice the weight of the FireFly but still lighter than any 2.5 inch drive/enclosure tested to date included the FireFly's bigger brother, the "FireLite."

The SmartDisk "FireLite" is slightly larger and heavier than the "Cutie" but looks just like its smaller sibling, the "FireFly." My test unit features the Toshiba 40GB MK4018GAP drive. I noted from the specs that it uses the least amount of power to spin up compared to the IBM 2.5 inch drives.

For perspective, I also tested the popular "Ultra Compact" Portable FireWire (I call "Clear 911") enclosure from Trans International with the 48GB 5400rpm IBM Travelstar (and the 60GB 5400rpm Travelstar). These drives are 12.5 mm thick so they won't fit in the "Cutie!" case. This beautiful clear case once looked so small. Now it dwarfs the FireFly and Cutie. I've prepared the table below to help clarify the size and weight of each case (including in relation to the iPod).

 

Apple iPod
SmartDisk
FireFly
SmartDisk
FireLite
FWDepot
Cutie
TransIntl
Clear 911

Weight with test drive

6.4 oz
(183 grams)
3.25 oz
(91 grams)
6.75 oz
(192 grams)
6.75 oz
(189 grams)
9.25 oz
(312 grams)

Thickness

.78 inch
(20 mm)
.51 inch
(13 mm)
.71 inch
(18 mm)
.63 inch*
(16 mm)
1.1 inch
(27 mm)

Length

4.0 inches
(102 mm)
4.0 inches
(102 mm)
5.1 inches
(130 mm)
5.0 inches
(127 mm)
5.5 inches
(140 mm)

Width

2.4 inches
(62 mm)
2.4 inches
(62 mm)
3.2 inches
(80 mm)
3.0 inches
(75 mm)
3.5 inches
(89 mm)

Storage Capacity as tested

5 GB
5 GB
40 GB
30 GB
48 GB
and
60 GB

Maximum Optional Drive

no option
no option
Toshiba 40GB MK4018GAP drive
40GB IBM Travelstar 40GN
60GB IBM Travelstar 60GH

Price as tested

$399
$199**
$399
$262
$462
or $524

* NOTE: I'm learning to weigh and measure things myself. I earlier reported that the "Cutie" was thinner than the "FireFly" at 12.8 mm but when I measured it myself, it was 16 mm thick. Thin, but not as thin as the manufacturer lists in their spec sheet. Oddly enough, the "Cutie" was narrower and shorter than listed in the spec sheet.

** 3/12/02 -- SmartDisk dropped the price on their tiny 5GB FireFly FireWire drive to $199.

 

 

 

FASTEST?

 

 

 

 

 

The "FireLite" 40G was surprisingly the fastest in three out of four tests, even though the 60G and 48G drives had a higher rotation speeds. Looking at the drive specs, it should be no faster than the 30GB Cutie. Maybe their software or bridge board has some optimizations the others lack. I also noticed the

The 5GB "FireFly" was the slowest by far, to nobody's surprise.

 

BEST VALUE?

It you look at speed versus cost versus capacity versus size, the "Cutie!" comes out on top. You'll pay $137 for the 30GB 30GN Travelstar (GoogleGear.com) and $125 for the "Cutie!" case (FWDepot.com) for a total of $262. (... or $277 total if you get the Cutie Combo case with FireWire and USB 2.0 ports). Put a 40GB Travelstar in it and the price rises to $326.

Compare that to the "FireFly" which costs $299 ( direct from SmartDisk.com), only holds 5GB, and is much slower. (NOTE: since this article was posted, the priced dropped to $199. Buy.com has it for $185.)

Or compare the Cutie to the 40GB FireLite from SmartDisk at $399. Not as cheap as the Cutie with the same size drive but you are paying for a fancier case and faster performance.

Or... compare that to the TransIntl "Clear 911" case* with the 48GB Travelstar (GoogleGear.com) for a total of $462 or with the 60GB Travelstar (GoogleGear) for a total of $554. Both are much faster than the "Cutie!" but both are the biggest/heaviest of the three case/drives. (*The Clear 911 case is also available from FWDepot.com (eDrive 911) and Other World Computing.)

If you are "rolling your own" FireWire drive, you might be aware of IBM's new, exciting 2.5 inch portable drives:
The TravelStar 40GN 4200rpm ( fits the Cutie case and Clear 911 case; available at GoogleGear.com for $201)
The TravelStar 60GH 5400rpm (fits the Clear 911 case only; The best deal now is the GoogleGear.com price of $429 )

FLASH: 02/12/02 -- Toshiba announced the industry's first 9.5mm 5400rpm 2.5 inch drive with up to 40GB capacity... and 16MB buffer....(and that isn't a misprint).

4/20/02 -- WiebeTech is shipping its novel "key chain" FireWire drive. It accepts either Compact Flash or Microdrive modules. I tested one with a 1GB MicroDrive. It clocked 3.7MB/sec READ and 2.7MB/sec WRITE. That's 3 to 4 times faster than the USB key chain drives you see advertised. Price? $99 and you provide the memory module.

It weighs 2.5 oz (75 grams) with microdrive and measures 2.38 by 1.75 by .75 inches. (Compare that to the spec chart above.) That makes the WiebeTech Key Chain world's smallest, lightest FireWire drive enclosure--the ultimate stealth drive.

 

FIRE IN YOUR CLOTHING

Which should you buy? It depends on your priorities.

If you want a drive that fits in your shirt pocket and doesn't make it sag, the "FireFly" is the way to go.

If you want a faster, bigger capacity, good looking drive, the "FireLite" should please you. It fits your shirt pocket but will make it sag to one side.

If you want the largest capacity (and fast) portable FireWire drive, the "Clear 911" with the 60GB Travelstar should meet your need. It won't fit in your shirt pocket but it will fit in your hip pocket. Just remember to take it out when you sit down.

If you want an external drive that goes 35+ MB/sec -- much faster than any of the portable FireWire or internal laptop drives, you should consider a not-so-portable, A/C powered, 3.5 inch FireWire drive/case kit like the Cobra or Granite.

If you want a portable, bus powered FireWire drive that balances size, performance, and price, the "Cutie!" can't be beat.

 

WHY DO I NEED A SMALL, PORTABLE FIREWIRE DRIVE?

I can think of all kinds of reasons. I like the fact that you can carry them with you anywhere and plug them into a desktop or laptop to do your thing even without an A/C adapter. When I go to MacWorld or even to the local CompUSA, I carry one in my pocket along with a small FireWire cable. If I see an interesting Mac I want to test, I whip it out, plug it in, and rock'n'roll. It carries all my test applications and documents with room to spare.

I also use one for quickie dynamic backup of key documents and/or for moving documents from one system to another when networking is not available or convenient. I always carry one with me when traveling as a backup drive. Even if your laptop has a CD burner, the portable FireWire drive is faster, easier, and holds more when it comes to backups.

If you are a system administrator, these compact, portable FireWire drive/cases are a great tool for carrying around the latest updates for various Macs in the office. You can even boot from the drive to run diagnostics.

Until I got an iPod, I used a portable FireWire drive to carry around my favorite music. Even if you put a 20GB in the "Cutie!" case, you can hold 4 times as many MP3 tunes as the iPod (or "FireFly")... at half the cost.

 

TEST NOTES

The test "mule" was an Apple Titanium G4 PowerBook (667MHz) with disk cache set to 512K (to diminish effect of system caching), AppleTalk OFF, Virtual Memory OFF, and Extensions set to minimal (BASE).

TEST DRIVES:

TEST DRIVERS/FORMATTERS:

SmartDisk has their own Formatter and Extensions for the FireFly and FireLite. For the rest of the drives, I used FWB HD Toolkit 4.5.2.

Intech HD Speed Tools is also a very good formatter/driver for FireWire -- has a "tuning" function to help you optimize performance for your system.

 

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© 1995-2007 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
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