The Battle Of The Thin, Portable
FireWire Drives.
Updated 10/24/2000 with RANDOM read/write. First posted 10/20/2000.
Test Pilot: Rob-Art Morgan
As I indicated in my earlier review of the SmartDisk/VST Portable 30, if there's anything more convenient than a hot-swappable FireWire drive, it's a FireWire drive that you can carry in your POCKET! Now I want to know how the SmartDisk/VST drive compares to the LaCie FireWire/USB PocketDrive. And what if I got an enclosure and "rolled my own" FireWire drive using the newest, fastest IBM 32GB 5411 rpm TravelStar? Moo ha ha...

First, My Favorite "Real World" Drive Test 

Next, A New "Small File" Bench Test For FireWire Drives


Here's Another New One: RANDOM read/write


Last, Old Faithful SUSTAINED Large Block Read/Write



The 30GB USB/FW Combo HD from SmartDisk/VST is the clear winner on SPEED alone. It beat the other two in 7 out of 8 tests. It was narrower, and thinner than the other two drives. (It fits in my pocket without making a big bulge.) At $999, it's the highest priced, but it rates as the best portable FireWire in my book.

Now don't send me email saying it was unfair to compare LaCie's 18G PocketDrive to the VST 30GB. I requested the 30G test unit but was sent the 18GB and was assured it was just as fast. The PocketDrive is enclosed in a "rubber baby buggy bumper" to keep you from scratching the drive when you schlepp it from place to place but it added 3 ounces to the weight and makes it thicker and wider than the SmartDisk/VST.

I dubbed the FireWire Depot DF 2.5 Enclosure the "Roll Your Own." Installation of the IBM TravelStar 32GH (32GB 5411 rpm) 2.5 inch drive (courtesy of Trans International) was a snap. I was disappointed that it lagged behind the other two in all speed tests. After all, it's supposed to be the newest, fastest 2.5 inch drive you can buy. Of course, it may not be the drive's fault since it tested much faster when placed inside a PowerBook.

How do we account for the significant difference in the speed of these 3 drives? I know of at least four possible clues: driver, firmware, bridge board circuitry, or all of the above working in concert. I wonder how the IBM TravelStar 32GH would run if I stuffed it in the VST case... (heh, heh, heh)


USB versus FireWire

The alternative USB port on the SmartDisk/VST and LaCie drives is handy in cases where you are using a machine that only has USB ports (like early the iMac or original iBook). Keep in mind, though, that the transfer speeds are much slower. In the ATTO ExpressPRO test, USB clocks less that 1 MB/sec. And you're going to need the AC adapter because USB doesn't provide bus power like FireWire.


"Go Where You Wanna Go, Do What You Wanna Do..."

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 not much different than a Palm Pilot. In some situations you don't need the AC adapter since most built-in FireWire ports provides enough juice to run the drive!

And think about this. A laptop weighs 6.5 lbs. A VST 20GB portable FireWire drive weighs about 6.5 ounces or the same as my cell phone.

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, thereby making the FireWire unit a dynamic, automatic backup drive. To try out synchronizing apps, go to VersionTracker and do a search on "synchronize." One that has the highest user ratings is FolderSynchronizer just updated this month.

FLASH: VST's Formatter includes a HotPlug Events option that enables you, among other things, to execute a folder synchronize function automatically when the FireWire drive is plugged in.

And added bonus is the robustness of these drives originally designed for laptops: They have high shock tolerance. The IBM TravelStar 32GH (32GB 5411 rpm) 2.5 inch drive can handle 150G's during operation but the IBM 75GXP (45GB 7200 rpm) designed for desktop computers can only handle about a half a G shock during operation! The non-operation difference is 700G's versus 350G's. Reliability rating is higher, too: 300,000 versus 40,000 load/unload cycles.

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

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! 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. 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.



Related Reviews 

As I indicated above, I know the drive I used in the FWDirect enclosure can go faster because it clocked 17MB/sec when put in a PowerBook G3. Read more at Accelerate Your Mac' article on IBM TravelStar (32GB 5411rpm) versus IBM TravelStar (20GB 4200rpm). has a review of the SmartDisk/VST ultra-thin portable drives.

Accelerate Your Mac reports on Firewire Direct's Portable Firewire Hard Drive Kit and How it Compares to VST's Superslim Drives.

Accelerate Your Mac posted Reader Report on the LaCie PocketDrive FireWire/USB.

Accelerate Your Mac also posted a review of the Portable FireWire drive.


Where Do I Buy One? 

A big "mahalo" to SmartDisk/VST for letting me test the new thin (ultra portable) 30GB USB/FW Combo HD. They sell it for $999 if you order from them direct. It's also available from Small Dog Electronics for a little less (search on "VST"). 

A big "mahalo" to LaCie for letting me test the PocketDrive 18GB FireWire/USB. You can order it from the LaCie online shop ($599) or Small Dog Electronics ($549). The LaCie 30GB PocketDrive goes for $799.

A big "mahalo" to FireWire Depot for letting me test the DF 2.5 Enclosure Kit. You can order it direct from them for $129.

A big "mahalo" to Trans International for letting me test the IBM TravelStar 32GH (32GB 5411 rpm) 2.5 inch drive. You can order it from them for $525. If that's too rich for your blood, try the 20GB TravelStar 4200rpm for $285. (According to Accelerate Your Mac, the 20GB is almost as fast as the 32GB.)

Here are at least two other companies I know of that make small, thin, portable FireWire drives or enclosures for 2.5 inch drives.
FireWireDirect (
Spark Drive)
MetaBox USA (
MetaDrive FireWire Express)


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 2.5 of FireWire Enabler/Support)

Test drives:

1. SmartDisk/VST 30GB USB/FW Combo HD. Includes VST Formatter/Driver, FireWire cable, USB cable, and small AC power adapter.
2. LaCie
PocketDrive 18GB FireWire/USB. Comes with SilverLining Pro software, FireWire cable, USB cable, and small AC power adapter. Covered in shock absorbing rubber.
3. FWDepot
DF 2.5 Enclosure Kit comes with FireWire cable and ProSoft drivers (ugh). Small AC power supply is optional. (I added the IBM TravelStar 32GH (32GB 5411 rpm) drive courtesy of Here on the specs on the drive: 32 GB, Height: 12.5 mm, 5,411 rpm, 5.5 ms average latency, 12 ms average read seek time, 66.6 MB/sec Ultra DMA mode-4 interface transfer rate, ATA-5)

SmartDisk/VST Combo 30GB
LaCie PocketDrive 18GB
FWDepot Enclosure with IBM TravelStar 32Gb


.875 inch
(22.2 mm)
1.0 inch
(25.4 mm)
1.175 inch
(29.8 mm)


3 inches
(76 mm)
3.38 inches
(85.7 mm)
3.25 inches
(82.6 mm)


5.5 inches
(140 mm)
5.5 inches
(140 mm)
5.5 inches
(140 mm)


10 ounces*
(280 grams)
13 ounces*
(366 grams)
10 ounces
(283 grams)
*The 20MB drive from VST only weighs 6.5 ounces or half the weight of the LaCie 18GB drive. That's the weight of a small cell phone or a Palm Pilot with a case. (All the size and weight numbers are Bare Feats' measurements. I took the time to do this because you can't always trust the advertised size and weight.)

The Tests:

Finder Duplicate of Lotza Small Documents and One Big Document
This is a great test since the drive has to read and write to itself simultaneously. I use a 10.7MB folder with 635 small HTML, GIF or JPEG documents for the "lotza small documents" test. I use a 27MB Photoshop document for the "one big document" test. A stopwatch is used to time the operation and MB/sec is calculated using the formula MB/sec = size*2/time.

VST Small Document Sustained Bench Test
Included with the
SmartDisk/VST Formatter 2.2 is a speed test for large and small files. I thought the results from the small file test was very interesting so I've posted the results.

Intech Random Bench Test
A reader asked for a RANDOM test instead of a SUSTAINED. So I used
Intech's QuickBench Utility which is part of HD Speed Tools 3.1.1. It displays RANDOM read/write results in graph as well as table form. My graph displays the 1024K file size results.

ATTO Large Block Sustained Bench Test
I used
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 often have more to do with hardware cache and do not reflect typical drive performance.


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© 2000 Rob Art Morgan, publisher of BARE FEATS
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