Review: Top four external drives

Stark differences separate these leading vendor drives

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Iomega includes a minimal Quick Start Guide (in 17 languages), with a more comprehensive user guide (including directions for formatting or partitioning the drive, for example) on the accompanying CD. Unfortunately, the CD contains user manuals for several drive models, and ours didn't exactly match the picture of the drive with USB and FireWire support, which was a bit confusing.

No files for the backup or user guide are preinstalled on the drive, which is a smart move, we think, because you might accidentally erase them when you reformat the drive. Another plus: Operation was smooth and faultless. The drive performed exactly as expected using all three interfaces. Windows recognized the drive, the backup software worked as expected, and we didn't have to worry about whether the drive's automatic startup/shutdown feature would work -- it doesn't have one.

Though in our benchmark tests the Iomega turned in the slowest results in both the copy test and HD Tach tests, it wasn't far behind the Western Digital Corp. My Book. For example, the copy test took 7:50 with the FireWire 400 interface, while the Western Digital completed the job in 7:46, an insignificant difference.

Like the Western Digital My Book, backup and restore duties are handled by EMC's Retrospect Express 7.5. It's a full-featured utility, though its user interface isn't easy for novices and occasional users to understand.

LaCie d2 Quadra

LaCie d2 Quadra

Model tested: 500GB ($259.99)

Also available: 320GB ($189.99)

The LaCie d2 Quadra comes with the best set of performance benchmarks, especially the copy test. Unfortunately, it also came with the most headaches and nonfunctioning features of any of these four drives.

First, the good news. The drive's HD Tach and copy benchmarks gave the best numbers of the group -- copying with the FireWire 800 connection, which has a second pass-through port, sliced more than 40% off the time of than its closest competitor -- 3:10 versus 5:21 for the Western Digital MyBook. At list prices, it has the lowest per-gigabyte cost, and the Kensington security slot is a nice safety feature.

In addition to the USB and two FireWire connections (one acts as a pass-through), the d2 Quadra has a fourth connection (hence its name) -- eSATA (though no cable is provided). A removable stand lets you operate the drive vertically; it fits into a groove on the side of the drive. It's also the only drive of the four capable of being rack-mounted.

The drive's FireWire connections worked fine with all four of our test machines, but the USB 2.0 refused to be recognized in one of them. The warning message that the drive was malfunctioning was our first experience with the drive, leading us to be wary. It turned out that was just the beginning of our disappointment.

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