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Other World Computing’s new hard drives.

Other World Computing is a supplier of innovative peripherals, catering primarily to the Mac community. Among their many offerings is a broad range of internal, external, and removable hard drives, running the gamut from IDE to UltraSCSI, in sizes up to 200GB. The company recently introduced two lines of external hard drives aimed at heavy consumers of gigabytes like digital videographers; I tested two. Both drives come with Intech SpeedTools 3.5, a Mac-only driver/utility suite that OWC claims boosts speeds by 9 percent over stock (pre-Mac OS X) Apple drivers. SpeedTools doesn’t work under OS X, but both drives mounted fine with no additional drivers and were available to Apple’s Disk Utility.

First up was a 60 GB OWC Mercury On-The-Go ($380), a FireWire drive whose small size belies its large performance. Other models are available from 20GB to 60GB (now including FireWire/USB 2.0 versions), priced from $176 to $400. Not much bigger than a deck of cards, the On-The-Go is housed in clear acrylic, weighs only 11 ounces, and comes with a leather carrying case that holds both the drive and the included 16-inch FireWire cable. As is plainly visible from the outside, it uses a 2.5-inch IBM 5,400 RPM TravelStar laptop mechanism. The On-The-Go operates very quietly from either AC–with an included wall wart–or FireWire bus power. A three-position slider switches between off and either power source.

Performance of any hard drive is highly dependent on file size. In general, the larger the file, the faster the drive can read or write it. With the drive mounted on my Mac PowerBook G4/667, I ran QuickBench 1.5, a test suite included with the Intech software (in both Classic and Mac OS X versions). Results for the On-The-Go under Mac OS 9.2.2 ranged from a low of about 37Kbps (for a 1KB file size) to over 24Mbps (for a 4MB file size). Performance under Mac OS X 10.1 was similar. I also copied a 1GB folder of mixed-size files between the On-The-Go and the Mercury Elite described below. This yielded an average of about 8Mbps–still plenty fast. I used it to move a bunch of image files between several Macs and save and edit 20GB worth of wedding video; it performed flawlessly.

Even speedier and more capacious than the On-The-Go is OWC’s Mercury Elite Combo FireWire/USB 2.0 drive (three-foot FireWire and USB 2.0 cables are included). I tested a 120GB version ($300), which sports 3.5-inch IBM DeskStar 7,200-RPM innards–also housed in clear acrylic. Other Elite models range from 20GB to 200GB and $158 to $500. About the size of the case for one of my Disney VHS tapes, the Elite can sit either horizontally or vertically. It uses an external AC power supply (required) to eliminate a cooling fan, and emits only a muted hum.

On my Mac G4/500MP, QuickBench reported a low of around 242Kbps (again, for 1KB files) and a high of over 27.5Mbps (for 7MB files). Because of the lack of an equally fast second drive (none of my Macs has a drive as fast as either of these), I was unable to fully test real-world transfer speeds with this drive, nor was I able to evaluate its USB 2.0 capability. However, I expect average rates between comparable drives would be proportionately higher than those for the On-The-Go–probably in the 10Mbps to 12Mbps range for my 1GB folder copy. The Elite also can operate on USB 1.1, but I measured less than 500Kbps on average–like shackling a Ferrari to a plow. I did a simple desktop backup to the Elite of three drives on two Macs, totaling about 60GB. The process went off without a hitch in less than three hours; had all the drives been equal to the Elite, I’d expect to halve that time. Mounted on a central server, it would thus make a nice backup drive for a small network.

In summary, if you’re looking for a portable, fast, high-capacity FireWire and/or USB 2.0 hard drive, OWC offers some excellent choices.

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