Review: Imation Apollo Expert desktop drive is sleek and fast

The 500GB drive is USB-powered and painlessly easy to use

If you're like most people, getting enough storage capacity on an external drive is getting more difficult every day, what with all the videos, photos and applications we're downloading, editing, posting and using. And if decent capacity, diminutive size and high I/O is a compelling combo, the Apollo Expert from Imation Corp. fits the bill.

This USB-powered drive comes in 250GB, 320GB and 500GB capacities, with less than 1GB of that space taken up by the automated backup software installed on the drive. Imation also sells the Apollo Pro, a 3.5-in. external drive available in capacities up to 1TB.

The Apollo Expert has a sleek, simple and elegant design. The 2.5-in. drive is housed in a thin, rectangular, black case.

The Apollo Expert sports a simple, yet elegant, design.

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If looks count for anything in an external hard drive, the Apollo Expert 500GB I tested has them -- or to put it more accurately, the Expert lacks any embellishment, offering a sleek, simple, elegant design. The 2.5-in. drive is housed in a thin, rectangular case done up in basic black. On the back end, an Imation logo, the I/O indicator and power light are illuminated once the drive is plugged into a USB port. I found the drive's chrome, flip-out stand, which is oval shaped, to be a cool touch -- especially since the oval is illuminated when open by an overhead, pin-LED light. The integrated stand allows for a vertical or horizontal orientation depending on how you plan to sit the drive on your desk.

The Expert also comes with a nonslick, thin rubber sleeve that presumably helps protect the metal casing.

At just 5.63 inches by 2.91 inches -- and .59 inches thick -- the drive is small enough to fit in a pant's pocket. (It'll fit in a shirt pocket, but it is a bit too heavy for that and will likely protrude from the top.)

The Imation Apollo Expert isn't even a quarter of the size of my old Seagate desktop drive, even though both have 500GB capacity.

The Imation Apollo Expert next to my older Seagate 500GB drive.

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The drive, which is compatible with Windows XP and Vista as well as Mac OS X 10.4 and above, comes with One Touch Imation Live backup software, which I found simple to use. After plugging the drive in, a box will appear asking whether you want a shortcut on your desktop to the One Touch Live backup manager edition, and whether you want to copy all your files to the external drive. It also gives you the option to dismiss the message and never see it again.

I chose the quick LiveBackup install, a process that took all of about five minutes. Once you open the LiveBackup menu, you'll be asked whether you want to make a complete backup of your system or choose specific files. The tool also offers a list of file types that are automatically selected for backup that you can deselect, including text documents, spreadsheets, photos, presentations, videos and music files.

An advanced settings icon also allow you to choose up to four other drives apart from your C: drive that you might want to back up, such as an F: drive. After that, click "next" and LiveBackup copies whatever files you've chosen. I chose my entire system, representing about 35GB of data. To my surprise, seven minutes later all my data had been backed up.

If you're using a Mac, your best bet may be to use the built-in Time Machine backup software for backups, but that call is yours.

The drive is exceedingly quiet. I couldn't even detect any disk spin until I held it up to my ear. The only indication that data is being transferred is the small I/O indicator lights up on the back of the drive box.

Speed test

I tested the Expert's speed using HD Tach. My testing showed an average read time of 31MB/sec., a sequential read speed of 38MB/sec. and burst speed of about 90MB/sec. The drive had a random access time of 17.1 milliseconds, with a CPU utilization of 7%. Subsequent tests showed CPU utilization rates as low as 4%. While some users might not consider CPU utilization important, I find that external drives with more than 20% utilization levels tend to slow the operation of my other applications. During the process of backing up my system, the drive felt like it was operating in the background with no discernible effect on the other apps running on my laptop.

After the initial backup is done, you'll be asked to choose future backup options, data restores or pick from an archive menu that offers up to 10 versions of backups. The default is three. You can also filter files out of the backup process by choose to exclude files ranging in size from 1KB to 1GB using a simple slide icon. And you can also choose to back up files by date, from one day to three months old.

The backup archive menu allows you to create a permanent copy of a previous archive, which might be useful for legal or business purposes.

Future backups of all selected files can also be done with a single touch of the drive's small, chromed "sync" button, located on the rear panel.

Pricing for the Apollo Expert starts at $109.99 for the 250GB model; $134.99 for the 320GB version; and $174.99 for the 500GB drive I tested.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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