The Newest Ultra Portable FireWire Drive from SmartDisk/VST sports more speed and an optional USB interface.
First posted 9/29/2000.
Tested by Rob-Art Morgan
If there's anything more convenient than a hot-swappable FireWire drive, it's a FireWire drive that you can carry in your POCKET! If there's anything more versatile than a FireWire device, it's a one with a spare USB port. Now you're ready for anything!

Let's start with speed. The charts below show how the performance of this newest version compares to an "older" portable FireWire drive as well as the newest full height FireWire drive.



More Speed

The new 30GB USB/FW Combo HD from SmartDisk/VST with its new graphite and clear color scheme is WAY COOL. It is FASTER than VST's original 6GB "Fire" red and yellow portable FireWire drive. The READ speed has almost doubled. The WRITE speed was 33% faster. In fact, the sustained WRITE speed is virtually identical to that of the new 45GB Full Height FireWire Hard Drive, the fastest FireWire drive tested to date. I'm sure part of that gain could be attributed to the bigger, faster drive mechanism but credit must go to improved firmware as well.

The alternative USB port is handy in cases where you don't have the FireWire drivers installed yet or when using a machine (like early the iMac) that only has USB ports. Keep in mind, though, that it transfers files 20 times slower than the FireWire port (as you can see from the above graph).

Speed Limit Caveat 

Some readers say, "I thought FireWire could go 400 megabits/sec." (Or 50 megabytes per second). That theoretical speed does not translate to real world...yet. As indicated in earlier articles, the current crop of FireWire drives are simply external Ultra ATA drives with a bridge board and power supply that allows them to plug into the FireWire port. More improvements to the bridge board and firmware are needed before we see speeds rivaling even Ultra ATA, much less Ultra SCSI or theoretical FireWire limits.

NEWS FLASH: If you can find version 3.1 of Intech's Hard Disk Speed Tools, it supports striped arrays (RAID0) on two or more FireWire drives. (Hopefully it will appear their DOWNLOAD section.) I'll be testing this as soon as I get my hands on version 3.1 and post my findings.

Go Where You Want, Do What You Want

One of my favorite pastimes is smuggling a small, thin FireWire drive into the local CompUSA or the MacWorld Exhibition Hall. Why? Because I gotta test the hottest, newest Macs! A portable FireWire drive is perfect because it can hold all my favorite real world test applications, test documents, and test results with room to spare. I just plug it to any demo unit and rock'n'roll. If anyone asks what I'm doing, I just hand them my card and keep testing. "Bare Feats? I've been to that site. That's you?"

I could put my test applications on a CD-ROM, but they don't all fit on one CD. Launching or installing apps from a CD-ROM is either tedious or problematic. With the portable FireWire drive, I just run them. The ultra portable FireWire drive doesn't need a power supply since the built-in FireWire port provides enough juice to run the drive!

In some ways a Portable FireWire drive is more useful than owning a laptop. What? Yes! Let's say you have a Macintosh at work and at home. You don't really need a laptop, but you want to keep all your important files and ongoing projects with you as you move back and forth from one location to the other. Simple solution. Just put all those documents on the Portable FireWire drive. It fits neatly in your brief case or backpack or purse, with size and weight close to that of a Palm Pilot.

You might want to go one step further and use one of several "folder synchronizing" applications to coordinate key folders stored on both the desktop and the portable FireWire unit. To see what's available, go to VersionTracker and do a search on "synchronize."

For consultants and technicians, the portable FireWire drive is handy for carrying around all the diagnostic tools known to man. In certain situations, you can even boot from it.


Where to Buy? 

A big "mahalo" to SmartDisk/VST for letting me test the new thin (ultra portable) 30GB USB/FW Combo HD along with the new 45GB Full Height FireWire Hard Drive. You can order those products directly from them.

Check the SmartDisk/VST Special page for great discounts on certain FireWire models.

The SmartDisk/VST drives are also available from Small Dog Electronics (search on "VST"). 

Here are some other companies that make small, thin, portable FireWire drives or enclosures for 2.5 inch drives.
FireWireDirect (
Spark Drive)
LaCie (
Pocket Drive)
MetaBox USA (
MetaDrive FireWire Express)
FireWire Depot (
DF 2.5 Enclosure Kit)


More Test Results Coming 

I hope to test the LaCie Pocket Drive and one of the 2.5 enclosures in the next few days. I'll post the comparative results on this same page.


Test Notes

Test machine was a G4/400 Sawtooth with MacSelect's G4/500 upgrade, 256MB of RAM and Mac OS 9.0.4 (version 2.4 of FireWire Enabler/Support)

Only SmartDisk/VST brand drives were used in this test. They included:
1. The thin, graphite colored (ultra portable)
30GB USB/FW Combo HD
2. The
45GB Full Height FireWire Hard Drive
3. The
6GB Fire Engine red ultra portable

All the FireWire drives were connected to the built-in FireWire port on the Sawtooth. VST's version 2.2.1 driver was used.

The SUSTAINED READ OR WRITE test results were obtained by using ATTO's Express-Pro Tools 2.3.2 benchmark test with 8MB maximum file size and system disk cache disabled. Sustained Rate is displayed in the charts. Peak rates can be impressive but do not reflect typical drive performance.


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© 2000 Rob Art Morgan, publisher of BARE FEATS
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