Review: Top four external drives

Stark differences separate these leading vendor drives

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Installation is simple, though you must first connect the drive using the USB cable so you can install the FireWire drivers if you want to use that interface. When you plug in the drive for the first time, utilities are installed automatically. The software utilities are also on the drive, which makes it easy to install on any other machine with which you share the My Book Pro.

Included in the box are three cables (one per interface), a quick install guide and a CD with EMC's Retrospect Express 7.5 software. For extra security, the My Book Pro Edition is equipped with a Kensington Security Slot for use with a Kensington cable.

Like the Iomega drive, the Western Digital drive includes a copy of Retrospect Express 7.5, robust backup and recovery software that isn't user-friendly for novices and occasional users.

The Western Digital My Book's performance was a mixed bag. In HD Tach tests with the USB 2.0 interface, the My Book was on a par with the other three drives, while FireWire tests were mixed (see chart). The drive's copy speed with USB 2.0 was similar to the Iomega's but trailed the Seagate (2:21 slower) and LaCie (3:59 slower) drives. It was the same story for the FireWire 400 copy test (3:08 behind the Seagate and 3:19 slower than the LaCie). In FireWire 800 tests, it was squarely in the middle between the Iomega and LaCie.

Recommendations

In the end, we find that our favorite drive wins over the runner-up based on price and a couple of nice-to-have but by no means critical features.

LaCie's d2 Quadra has excellent copy performance and good HD Tach results, but those aren't enough to make up for its quirks and features that don't work as advertised.

If, and only if, you'll always connect the drive to systems with the same interface (either all USB or all FireWire 400), the Seagate FreeAgent Pro is a good choice, despite its lousy power switch. The AutoBackup software is the best of the group, the drive's copy speed is quite good, and its cost per gigabyte (at list prices) ties for second place with the Western Digital My Book.

The Iomega Desktop Hard Drive and the Western Digital My Book Pro are very close in overall performance, and while not as impressive as the LaCie drive, both behaved exactly as expected -- with plug-and-play ease that had us up and running in just a couple of minutes. There's a lot to be said of this "no surprises" out-of-the-box experience. Furthermore, unlike the Seagate drive, both the Iomega and Western Digital drives offer all three (well-marked) interfaces, and both include the same strong-on-features, weak-on-user-interface Retrospect Express 7.5 backup software. We found no flaws in the performance of either drive; everything we tested worked exactly as expected.

In the end, we were surprised that the Iomega's FireWire 800 copy test didn't run shorter. The lack of an automatic on/off feature may also be a deciding factor.

From the automatic power up/down to the visual display of the drive's capacity, the Western Digital's nice extras, plus its lower cost per gigabyte (at list prices), tipped the scale in its favor.

Western Digital

Iomega

Seagate

LaCie

Western Digital My Book Pro
Iomega Desktop Hard Drive
Seagate FreeAgent Pro
LaCie d2 Quadra

HD Tach results

USB FW400 FW800 USB FW400 FW800 USB FW400 USB FW400 FW800

Random read
(ms, lower is better)

14.1 13.6 13.7 15.0 14.7 14.6 21.7 21.5 13.6 13.2 13.2

Burst read
(MB/sec., higher is better)

31.3 41.4 79.7 32.9 42.3 85.0 32.8 41.9 32.3 64.5 64.5

Sequential read
(Mbps, higher is better)

30.3 37.7 58.2 32.3 40.6 65.5 28.9 34.0 33.2 87.0 87.0

Copy time
(mm:ss, lower is better)

8:26 7:46 5:21 8:46 7:50 6:49 6:05 4:38 4:27 4:27 3:10

Features

Western Digital Iomega Seagate LaCie

Capacity of model tested (GB)

500 750 750 500

Preformatted as

FAT32 FAT32 NTFS Not formatted; see review for details

RPM

7200 7200 7200 7200

Memory cache/buffer (MB)

16 8 16 16

USB 2.0

Yes Yes Yes Yes

FireWire 400

Yes Yes Yes Yes

FireWire 800

Yes Yes No Yes

Backup software included

EMC Retrospect Express 7.5 EMC Retrospect Express 7.5 AutoBackup LaCie 1-click; EMC Retrospect Express HD

Power control

Automatic and manual Manual only Automatic and manual Automatic and manual

PC/Mac-supported

Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes/yes

Standard warranty (years)

3 1 5 2

List price

$279.00 $449.95 $419.99 $259.99

Cost per GB

$0.56 $0.60 $0.56 $0.52

URL

www.westerndigital.com www.iomega.com www.seagate.com www.lacie.com

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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