External Storage devices in UK market
by X Zhu (Ph.D.), Feb., 2003
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Many friends asked me what kind of data storage or file backup device they should buy, so maybe it is easier to give a review of the various file storage or data backup options available in the current market.
Before I come to the details, maybe it is useful to reminder every computer user the importance of backing their data up frequently. There are many potential enemies capable of damaging data stored in the computers, like virus attack, hard drive failure, and overheating etc., in some circumstances, the data may be fully recovered, but most likely the data are permanently lost or can only be partially recovered. One of my friend working as a IT technician was fired just because he forget to backup the data one day and in that very night the virus attacked.
The key factors in choosing a file storage / data backup device is the requirement (reliability, compatibility, capacity) and the budget, and one common misunderstanding must be removed first, you do not necessary need to spend huge money for a reliable large capacity data backup device.
1. Tap backup
Tape backup is a traditional way of data backup. A good quality tap drive cost around £ 400, and tap media cost around £ 40 each; Tap backup is very slow, the latest in the market will reach around 2Mbps , making search for a file a headache; and the tap degrades over time and from use; despite these shortages tap backup is still quite popular especially among small to medium business.
2. CD-R / CD-RW
CD-R is a very cheap way of backup data, the latest CD writer ( 52 x 24 x 52 CD-RW drive) cost around £50, and CD-R discs are available at 20 pence each only, but the capacity is limited ( ~ 700 MB) and not flexible, certainly not choice for those who require daily data backup. CD-RW on the other side, are much more flexible, so there exist no different version of the same file hence saving the future trouble to find the latest version. However both CD-R and CD-RW is not so easy to use ( special software link Nero burning rom required) and the speed is slow especially for large amount of data backup requirement.
3. Iomega ZIP / Jazz
Iomega have really done a hard job to promote their ZIP / JAZZ, they have almost designed almost all kind of interface to attract as many customer as possible, but the ZIP drive itself cost £ 40, and each 100 MB ZIP disk cost around £ 10, and the ZIP / JAZZ media itself is not so reliable, it is simply not economically to use ZIP / JAZZ as a main file backup solution. Maybe Iomega should have concentrated more on technology which can bring real benefit to their customer other than the market development.
4. USB (Firewire) hard drive
USB (Firewire) hard drive is breakthrough for money conscious people searching for high quality backup solutions. USB (Firewire) hard drives combine the large capacity of the normal IDE hard drives and the convenience, wide availability, and fast data speed of USB (Firewire) interface. The actually cost is lower than tap backup due to the fact that no additional device required for its' operation, while the data speed is much faster, the job which take tap backup a few hours will take USB (Firewire) hard drive only a few minutes.
4.1 Portable hard drive ( or Pocket hard drive)
Portable hard drive is quite compact in size, it is a good option for those who need to transfer a lot data between home and office, it is also good and easy for backup your data /files, but it might be more economic to use external hard drive ( see 4.2) if you only required it as a data storage.
Portable hard drive comes with different interfaces, generally USB, USB 2.0, or Firewire, USB 2.0 / Firewire combo type is also available. The main difference is the data speed, theoretical maximum speeds at 12, 480, and 400 Mbps for USB, USB 2.0 and Firewire respectively, but you also need to consider availability of the interface port: USB port is widely available in PCs & Macs, USB 2.0 is not so common but itself are downward compatible with USB, while the Firewire is quire rare.
The cost of portable hard drive appear to be expansive at the first look for general users, for example a 20GB USB 2.0 pocket hard drive from Archos cost around £150, but when you consider you do not need any extra device to be added to your computer to use it, it is really a worthwhile investment. For example if you buy a Iomega 2 GB Jazz disc, it is quite rare that you will be able to open the files inside in other places because very few computer will be equipped with Jazz drive. Fortunately there are companies now in UK who supply quality portable hard drives at very reasonable price, for example, Allcam's 10 GB USB portable hard drive cost only £75!
Portable hard drive basically uses a chip bridge USB (or Firewire) and IDE hard drives, so it basically the following three parts: a chip bridge between USB ( or Firewire) and IDE; a 2.5" IDE (laptop) hard drive; and a case to hold / protect the hard drive. The bridging chip & the holding case are generally supplied together called "USB ( or Firewire) pocket hard drive enclosure", they are quite cheap, making a very economic way of making Do-it-yourself portable hard drive. Allcam is the first company in UK to promote these enclosure, and a whole variety is available. Fore more information regarding how to assemble a portable hard drive, click here.
4.2 External hard drive
External hard drive is a good option for individuals or small to medium sized business who are seeking a economic way of file/ data storage.
Some companies also call them "portable hard drive". It is portable in some sense, but in my opinion you'd better not to use it as portable due to the delicacy of the actual hard drive inside and the preciousness of your data. So when you buy a portable hard drive, make sure you understand the size and weight difference between portable hard drive and external hard drive. Portable hard drive is only palm size and weight around 200 grams only, but external hard drive is much bigger and weight around 2 Kilograms.
External hard drive also comes with different interfaces: mainly USB, USB 2.0, and Firewire, just as portable hard drive. The main difference lies in that external hard drive use 3.5" hard drive while portable hard drive use 2.5" hard drive, hence the external hard drive is bigger, much heavier, but generally supplied in big capacities, a 120 GB external hard drive is quite common.
The cost per GB capacity of external hard drive is also considerably lower than portable hard drive, so please don't be fooled by cheap price of large capacity "portable hard drive", it is actually an external hard drive. Now the cost of 120GB USB 2.0 hard drive cost around £190, which comes to around only £1.6 / GB, compare to those tap backup products which cost at least £400, this is so much cheaper and better also! Again Allcam's external hard drive is again the best price on the market.
As external hard drive's capacity is generally big, so it is sensible to have a discussion on the data transfer speed. External hard drive with USB interface might not good enough any more for those people who have huge amount of data to backup daily, hence USB 2.0 or Firewire interface is the better choice. USB 2.0 have the advantage of being downward compatible with USB port, and a higher theoretical maximum data transfer speed, in reality, Firewire interface still works faster.
Just as portable hard drive, you can also Do-it-yourself an external hard drive using USB (Firewire) hard drive enclosures, for more information regarding how to assemble a external hard drive, click here.
4.3 Other USB storage products
In addition to USB (Firewire) hard drive, there are many other USB storage products available on the market now, such as USB CD-RW drive, USB ZIP drive, IBM microdrive and USB pendrive. The later two are based on flash memory technology which has no mechanical component, hence are much more vibration resistant than hard drive based USB storage devices. However the price is high and the capacity is limited.
Another interesting this is the multifunctional USB storage device, generally called "Jukebox", for example Perception Digital introduced "Hercules Jukebox II" which can burn audio CD and record and store music directly into the removable hard drive without connecting to computer. Creative and Archos also have a mini version of the "Jukebox" which are based on 2.5" hard drives which must be connected to computer to upload/download MP3 files, but unfortunately, even these mini Jukebox is still very expensive, a 20GB device will cost well above £200.
Soken recently introduced an even smaller "Jukebox" which is only the size of a match box, it is based on flash memory technology hence much more vibration resistant than hard drive based "Jukebox". It have even more functions than Acros and Creative's Jukebox, beside MP3 player, it is also a FM radio, digital voice recorder and A-B repeater, yet the price is much more reasonable. Soken even has designed a Smartmedia slot so that real music lovers can easily have GB of music in pocket just by carry smartmedia card. Click here to see more details about this products.
5. Other data storage products
There are other data products which suits for big multinational companies such as Storage Area Network (SAN) RAID systems and Network Attached Storage (NAS), these are not covered by this review.
There are many options for data storage, the best option for individuals and small to medium companies are external hard drives. But do consider your requirement before making purchase.