FWDepot's New "Titanium" Portable FireWire Drive Takes On VST's "IceCube" and Granite Digital's "Iceberg."

April 20th, 2001
rob ART morgan, mad Mac scientist

FWDepot has a nifty new silver FireWire enclosure for 2.5 inch drives. It's not really made of titanium but it matches the color of the Titanium G4 PowerBook very closely. Not only does the BTVN 2.5X Silver Enclosure snap together (no screw drivers needed) but you can "roll your own" 20GB FireWire drive for $285. Now do I have your attention?

I tested the FWDepot Silver 2.5X on three different Macintoshes:
1. PowerBook G4/500 Titanium (both built-in and cardbus FireWire)
2. PowerBook Wallstreet (with Newer G3/466 upgrade + cardbus FireWire)
3. Power Mac Dual G4/533 (built-in FireWire)

All three systems used Mac OS 9.1 and Apple's generic FireWire support extensions (2.8.1).



The FWDepot BTVN 2.5X Silver (30GB) had faster write speeds than the VST USB/FireWire 30GB but slower read speeds.

On "price/performance" the FWDepot blows away the VST. If you add the $130 for the FWDepot Silver enclosure and $329 for an IBM TravelStar 30G 4200rpm drive, you have a sassy setup for $459 total. Compare that to the VST USB/FireWire 30GB with the same 30G TravelStar at $850. (The 20G version savings is equally dramatic at $285 versus $500.)

It was a bit unfair to compare the 7 x 10" Granite Digital enclosure with the "Oxford 911" chip set and 7200rpm IBM 75GXP drive to the two portables but I'm responding to requests from readers who want the fastest FireWire drive for their PowerBook, no matter how big the case or power requirements. The "big dog" wins on read speed but is only slightly faster on write speed when used with PowerBooks.

What I really want is a small drive that goes like the Granite but is as small as the FWDepot drive. Granite Digital is supposed to be working on just such a drive but with the FireWire interface limitations on the PowerBooks coupled with slow drives, it may be all for naught.

Miscellaneous observations:

The FWDepot CardBus FireWire card produced transfer rates as fast or faster than that of the built-in FireWire on the Titanium PowerBook. That's good news if you want to create a "dual channel" FireWire setup.

The PowerBook Wallstreet has a reputation of slow FireWire sustained WRITE performance using the CardBus interface but the Titanium PowerBook turned out to be just as slow. That's compounded by the fact that drives tend to slow down as they fill up. That's bad news for Digital Video studios trying to use PowerBooks for production. Can you say "frame dropping," boys and girls?

The 3.5 inch Granite FW drive could READ and WRITE much faster on a desktop Power Mac than on any model of PowerBook.

Even a Power Mac 9600 with a G3/300 cpu and FireWire PCI card could read and write faster than any PowerBook. Even though PCI FireWire is slower than built-in, I measured 27MB/sec sustained READ and 22MB/sec sustained WRITE.

The FWDepot Silver drive weighed less than the VST (9.25 oz vs 10 oz) but was slightly larger in size. (The Granite Digital "iceberg" weighed in at 3 lbs, 14 oz.)

Both the FWDepot Silver and the VST USB/FireWire portable drives could run on FireWire bus power unless you are using a CardBus adapter. In that case, you must use the A/C adapter. In other words, if you don't want to be tied to an A/C outlet, you'll need to own either a Pismo or Titanium PowerBook with built-in FireWire ports. (Anybody want to buy my Wallstreet?)



The FWDepot BTVN 2.5X Silver is available direct from www.fwdepot.com.

(Don't make the mistake of going to www.firewiredepot.com. That's not the same company. In fact, it is a domain purchased by FirewireDirect, a competing company, that is probably trying to lure you away from FWDepot.)

The IBM TravelStar 30G drive sells for $329 at Trans International. They also have the 20G version for $155. The drive mounts in the FWDepot Silver case without requiring screws. The only trick is to remember to snap it in upside down.

Don't have FireWire in your G3 PowerBook? FWDepot has a good CardBus card with two ports for $86. Don't have FireWire on your Desktop? Get a PCI controller. The fastest PCI FireWire/USB combo card I've tested is the USB/FireWire PCI card from FWDepot. If you don't need USB and just want to add more FireWire channels, then you might hold out for the soon to be released Granite Digital 3 Channel PCI controller.

If speed is more important than portability, check out Granite Digital's site for enclosures, drives, and PCI controllers. If you a company that sells FireWire enclosures and/or drives, you can buy the Granite Digital FireWire/IDE bridge board. You won't find a faster bridge board anywhere.

Other World Computing has a new Elite version of their Mercury FireWire drives that produced sustained write speeds of 19MB/sec in their testing. That's not as fast as I got with the Granite Digital but the test system and drive might have been different. Stay tuned for a BARE FEATS shootout between the two drives.

See the STORAGE section of my HOT DEALS page for prices on these and other FireWire products.



The sustained read/write benchmark was run using
ExpressPro-Tools 2.5 (SCSI and Fibre Channel version 2.5 for Mac). When you launch it, it displays all the mounted drives (IDE, SCSI, FireWire). Select the drive you want to test (one click). Then go to the Utilities menu and select Benchmark Volume. A test window will appear. Set Max Transfer Size to 8MB. Then press start. On my graphs I display sustained rate, not peak rate. Peak rate is skewed by the drive cache and doesn't reflect real world performance.



LINKS to SPEED tests on other web sites


DOWNLOADS that add more SPEED




© 2001 Rob Art Morgan.
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