Taking it with you: removable storage

 Removable storage   USB memory keys Flash memory cards Micro hard disk drives Portable HDD units Magnetic memory Optical memory Final words About RMITThere's a confusing array of portable, removable, and mobile memory products out there -- how do you pick one that suits your business requirements?With the recent leaps in portable memory products now on the market it seemed appropriate to have a look at this field to try and sort the wheat from the chaff or the VHS from the BetaMax.

 Removable storage

 
USB memory keys
 
Flash memory cards
 
Micro hard disk drives
 
Portable HDD units
 
Magnetic memory
 
Optical memory

 Final words
 About RMIT
Removable storage
There's a confusing array of portable, removable, and mobile memory products out there -- how do you pick one that suits your business requirements?

With the recent leaps in portable memory products now on the market it seemed appropriate to have a look at this field to try and sort the wheat from the chaff or the VHS from the BetaMax.

So what exactly is removable storage and how can it be used for revenue generating business, not just taking photos and listening to digital music?

Removable storage is as its name logically suggests any data storage medium that can be removed from the host system and used in a similar port or device on another system or indeed on the original host system. There are many different types of removable data storage types from the common flash memory cards (SD, MMC, Compact Flash, Memory Stick) through to disk-based media such as Zip, CDR/W, and DVDR/W.

As far as ROI goes one just needs to look at the time these devices can save, either through getting work done more quickly or efficiently to saving precious data from disaster and/or recovery time once the pending disaster has occurred.

In this review we have been sent several devices that show what a wide range of applications and areas these products cover. Each device has its own pros and cons, be it small form factor that can limit the physical size of the media, to a proprietary termination that means the storage medium itself needs a specific device to read/write to it.

USB memory keys

 Removable storage

 
USB memory keys
 
Flash memory cards
 
Micro hard disk drives
 
Portable HDD units
 
Magnetic memory
 
Optical memory

 Final words
 About RMIT
Possibly the fastest up-and-coming device over the past few years has been the USB "memory key". Consisting of flash memory ranging in sizes from 8MB through to 1GB, these devices plug straight into a PC's USB port and on any machine running Windows ME or later show up as a new drive without any device drivers needing to be installed. Most keys ship with pre-ME and other OS device drivers on a disk which needs to be installed before the keys can be used on those machines. Due to their physical size many of these can be carried in a pocket or attached to the users keyring, hence the moniker "memory key".

The speed of data transfer, particularly USB 2.0 devices, is astounding and the cost of these devices is very small, hence their quick uptake. Data security pundits' hackles were raised when these devices started being commonly used in offices as data security could easily be compromised by anyone wanting to obtain sensitive company data simply wandering up to a open PC, plugging in the memory key, and copying off all the data they needed. This can be circumvented by disabling the USB ports in the BIOS of the PC or operating system. Or as we have seen in the lab before, and this is certainly a permanent solution, filling the PC or server's USB port with Araldite.

There is also the risk of a memory key falling into the wrong hands; due to their diminutive size they can easily fall out of pockets or be misplaced. To aid with this data protection, some of these devices include the option for password protection and some even have inbuilt biometric fingerprint scanners. But at the end of the day, the IT security department needs to work out whether or not these keys could be beneficial to the enterprise and if so work out a policy to ensure the utmost security practices are implemented to ensure that the company data does not go wandering.

Another consideration is the use of these keys to transfer data from the home computer to the work computer and thereby bypassing the network perimeter defences. It is conceivable that inappropriate material, worms, and virii could still pop up on the inside of the network with no good explanation. Naturally all good companies would have active AV scanners on each desktop so the nasties should be picked up quickly... with strong emphasis on the "should".

Medium USB Keys
Capacity/cost
Portability
Transfer speed
(with USB 2.0)
Durability
Compatibility
Capacity 16MB-1GB
Pros/cons
  • Small USB keys are handy to keep in your pocket
  • Can be lost easily, not a good thing for confidential data
  • Most PCs these days have USB
  • Iomega Mini 128MB USB 2.0 Drive

    Product Iomega Mini 128MB USB 2.0 Drive
    Price AU$99
    Vendor Iomega
    Phone 02 8875 7851
    Web www.iomega-asia.com
    Iomega Mini 128MB USB 2.0 Drive

    With so many USB memory keys on the market at the moment many vendors are looking for a competitive advantage, or in marketing speak some "value adding" that will entice consumers to select their product over the competition.

    The spin Iomega has introduced is the ability to personalise it with a small transparent plastic sleeve, which allows the owner to insert a small long image or text into it. There is no manual data protection lock on the key itself as found on some other keys. The device is USB 2.0 so it should perform quite a bit more snappily on compatible machines.

    This a relatively large USB key lacking some features of other memory keys on the market. This key performed better than the similar Sony product; in some tests the Iomega key was twice as fast as the Sony key.

    Sony Micro Vault 128MB and Memory Stick Reader

    Product Sony Micro Vault USM128B
    Price AU$149.95
    Vendor Sony
    Phone 1300 720 071
    Web www.sony.com.au
    Sony Micro Vault 128MB and Memory Stick Reader
    Very similar in size, weight and concept to the Iomega memory key, Sony has added the extra twist of a Memory Stick PRO slot integrated into this device. Something which is distinctly lacking is any place to attach either a keyring or lanyard. The only means of transporting the device is in a pocket with very rounded ends, it could very easily slip out. There is also no switch for locking the device to protect data, the included Memory Stick does however have such a switch.

    Flash memory cards

     Removable storage

     
    USB memory keys
     
    Flash memory cards
     
    Micro hard disk drives
     
    Portable HDD units
     
    Magnetic memory
     
    Optical memory

     Final words
     About RMIT
    A very confusing market has developed in the flash memory module market, with several older form factors and a few new ones emerging. This is certainly where the VHS/Beta wars will be fought over the coming years. The main flash memory formats have been traditionally been PCMICA memory modules, Secure Digital (SD), Multimedia Card (MMC), Compact Flash (CF), Memory Stick (MS), and SmartMedia (SM). Relatively newcomers have been XD and Memory Stick Duo.

    SD and MMC are an identical format and almost always work in devices created for one or the other, the main difference being that the SD cards have a small lock switch similar to that found on floppy diskettes that allow the user to flick the switch and physically prevent writing to the memory card, whereas the MMC cards have no switch.

    CF has been around since the very beginning with SM, and their form factors are significantly larger than SD/MMC cards. The physically thicker CF is definitely winning the race over the thinner SM cards.

    PCMCIA flash memory has been around since the time of the Ark, primarily used initially in routers and other devices for storing the nonvolatile RAM requirements of the device. It was then also used in the very early digital cameras (read $50K+), projectors, and PDAs. There are not many portable corporate devices around these days that use PCMCIA flash memory exclusively; most have made the move to using other form factors of removable flash memory.

    Memory Stick is basically a proprietary format devised by Sony and is mainly seen in Sony branded devices.

    The newer formats of flash memory include the XD format for Olympus cameras and the Memory Stick Duo -- a smaller-format Memory Stick developed by Sony, which again is proprietary to Sony's devices.

    MediumFlash memory cards
    Capacity/cost
    Portability
    Transfer speed
    Durability
    Compatibility
    Capacity16MB-1GB
    Pros/cons
  • Many notebooks, digital media devices, PDAs, etc, have readers
  • Variety of incompatible standards
  • Can be lost easily, not a good thing for confidential data
  • Toshiba 512MB SD Memory Card

    Product Toshiba 5GB Type II PC Card HDD
    Price AU$499
    Vendor Toshiba
    Phone 133 070
    Web www.isd.toshiba.com.au
    Toshiba 512MB SD Memory Card
    Where do we start with a SD card review? Let's just say it's small, blue, and has a switch on its side that allows the user to lock the unit to protect the data. All these features are the same on every SD card from all manufacturers.

    This Toshiba SD card is a whopping 512MB; to cram that much capacity into a object that's about the same size as a 10-cent coin and weighs less than a gram is fairly impressive.

    Micro hard disk drives

     Removable storage

     
    USB memory keys
     
    Flash memory cards
     
    Micro hard disk drives
     
    Portable HDD units
     
    Magnetic memory
     
    Optical memory

     Final words
     About RMIT
    Micro hard disks have taken off in the last few years; one manufacturer developed a 1GB drive which was embedded into a CF device several years ago. This has only been followed up recently by some other drive manufacturers developing similar micro hard disk drives with larger capacities. These range in form factor for the smaller devices in CF through to the larger drives in PCMCIA format. As one would imagine, these consume more power than a static memory card and could be more susceptible to damage due to their mechanical nature.

    However, they are developed to be portable and used in mobile devices, therefore we would imagine one would be hard pressed to cause physical damage to one of these units. Their key benefit is breaking the 1GB barrier which seems to be the limit of static flash memory cards at the moment.

    MediumMicro hard disks
    Capacity/cost
    Portability
    Transfer speed
    Durability
    Compatibility
    Capacity Up to 5GB
    Pros/cons
  • High cost per MB
  • Speed and capacityv for size are excellent
  • Drives are not as common as CD/DVD drives
  • PCMCIA or CF slots are common
  • Toshiba Mobile Disk 5GB

    Product Toshiba SD flash memory card
    Price 64MB AU$70, 128MB AU$109, 256MB AU$189, 512MB AU$495
    Vendor Toshiba
    Phone 133 070
    Web www.isd.toshiba.com.au
    Toshiba Mobile Disk 5GB

    This is a neat product, particularly for those power notebook users who want a convenient way to back up data. The 5GB Toshiba PCMCIA micro hard disk drive unit is possibly the largest capacity in a truly mobile device on the market today.

    While drives such as this are mechanical and can be prone to physical damage by sudden/sharp shocks, the Toshiba ships with a very well engineered and neat translucent plastic carry case with rubber corners and internal rubber supports for the drive to ensure the utmost protection possible.

    Portable external or removable hard disk drive units

     Removable storage

     
    USB memory keys
     
    Flash memory cards
     
    Micro hard disk drives
     
    Portable HDD units
     
    Magnetic memory
     
    Optical memory

     Final words
     About RMIT
    Depending on the capacity, speed, and type of data format the user may require sometimes the solution can be very obvious, such as portable external or removable hard disk drive units. The external of these types of devices generally house a normal 3.5in hard disk drive such as those found in most desktop PCs. This housing has some "smarts" in that it converts the data from the traditional IDE or SATA device connection to one or more external connectors of either FireWire, USB, or even SCSI, enabling the user to plug the device with the appropriate cable into their PC.

    The more complex removable drives consist of a cartridge that fits into a proprietary drive unit. These were popular in the early '90s with the Syquest drive, in the late '90s with the Orb drive, and Iomega is hoping to revive the form factor with its new REV drive.

    The last removable HDD scenario is that of the smaller "notebook" size 2.5in HDD units being built into a casing which has USB or Firewire interface. These are similar in concept to their larger 3.5in siblings but are generally a lot more pocket friendly.

    Removable drives are generally proprietary and have no interoperability with equipment other than their own.

    While the external hard disk solution generally makes for more interoperability through the use of USB/FireWire and has a low cost per GB, the size, weight, and power consumption of these units needs to be evaluated before taking that path especially if they are going to be used in a mobile situation.

    MediumRemovable hard disksPortable hard disks
    Capacity/cost
    Portability
    Transfer speed
    (with USB 2.0/FireWire)
    (with USB 2.0/FireWire)
    Durability
    Compatibility
    Capacity Up to 90GB Up to 250GB
    Pros/cons
  • Cost per MB is coming down
  • Media are relatively portable but drives are not
  • Excellent capacity for size
  • No interoperability between drives from different vendors
  • Very low cost per MB
  • Very bulky and heavy
  • USB or FireWire connections very common
  • Iomega REV

    Product Iomega REV 35GB/90GB USB 2.0 Drive
    Price AU$699 inc. 1 disk; media AU$99 each
    Vendor Iomega
    Phone 02 8875 7851
    Web www.iomega-asia.com
    Iomega REV

    Sitting somewhere between an average-sized backup tape drive and an impossibly large optical disc is the Iomega REV. It supports 35GB of data native, and up to 90GB when compressed. The drive cartridges are easily small enough to pocket, and cost $99 each. The cartridges houses a hard disk drive platter with the rest of the basic technology incorporated into the drive bay. So it is basically like replacing the platters on your hard disk drive without replacing the whole drive unit each time you switch media.

    The downside is that the device supplied for this review is designed to be installed into a PC system. To get the full benefit of this removable technology, one would need to equip every PC with a separate drive unit. They also require a free ATAPI/EIDE port inside the PC. Iomega also sells a external USB 2.0 REV drive that could be a far better alternative than one drive in every PC.

    LaCie d2 Triple Interface Hard Drive

    Product LaCie 250GB hard disk d2
    Price AU$549
    Vendor LaCie
    Phone 02 9669 6900
    Web www.lacie.com/au
    LaCie d2 Triple Interface Hard Drive

    The LaCie external hard disk drive, while technically removable from the system, could hardly be classed as mobile weighing in at a hefty 1.7kg, which is heavier than some notebooks we reviewed recently. The unit ships with a separate external power pack similar to that used with most notebooks, and supports USB 2.0, Firewire 400, and Firewire 800. In our data transfer tests, it absolutely flew.

    At 250GB, there are no truly mobile devices with this capacity yet, not even notebooks. Overall a prodigious capacity in a device that can be plugged from one PC to another to another, however the physical size, weight, and power pack rule the truly mobile option out.

    Magnetic memory

     Removable storage

     
    USB memory keys
     
    Flash memory cards
     
    Micro hard disk drives
     
    Portable HDD units
     
    Magnetic memory
     
    Optical memory

     Final words
     About RMIT
    Magnetic removable storage mediums have been available since the beginning of time with the old 5 ¼" 360k floppy diskettes and their larger counterparts. The magnetic category covers everything from diskettes through to ZIP disks, backup tapes, and everything in between. Data is stored via physical mechanical device drives magnetically with read/write heads onto the storage medium. This medium includes everything from the now almost defunct floppy disk -- slow, small capacity, unreliable -- by way of faster, bigger, more reliable Zip disks, all the way to fast, reliable, enormous-capacity tapes.

    MediumTapes
    Capacity/cost
    Portability
    Transfer speed
    (with SCSI/Fibre Channel)
    Durability
    Compatibility
    Capacity Up to 300GB
    Pros/cons
  • Very good cost per MB for media, some tape drives are very expensive
  • Media are relatively portable but drives are not
  • Capacity is second to none
  • Variety of incompatible formats
  • Most drives require SCSI or Fibre Channel connection
  • Sony StorStation SDX-D400C

    Product Sony SDXD400C External SCSI AIT Drive
    Price AU$1890; media AU$115
    Vendor Sony
    Phone 02 9887 6674
    Web www.sony.com.au
    Sony StorStation SDX-D400C
    There's nothing particularly new or exciting about this tape drive from Sony, just a dependable unit for backup. This particular unit uses AIT tapes with 35GB native capacity and 91GB compressed. Currently the largest capacity on a single tape is around 300GB uncompressed, but this is expected to jump up to 600GB within a year or two.

    Providing the system you're going to use for backup has a SCSI adaptor, the Sony StorStation is a worthwhile consideration.

    Optical Memory

     Removable storage

     
    USB memory keys
     
    Flash memory cards
     
    Micro hard disk drives
     
    Portable HDD units
     
    Magnetic memory
     
    Optical memory

     Final words
     About RMIT
    The optical category covers devices such as CDR/W and DVDR/W mediums. Data is stored via lasers onto the storage medium. The format is relatively slow when compared to flash memory devices, however the discs are generally cheap, can certainly store a lot more data, and can last longer than floppy diskettes providing they are not scratched.




    MediumCD-R/RWDVD-R/RW
    Capacity/cost
    Portability
    Transfer speed
    Durability
    Compatibility
    Capacity 700MB Up to 5GB
    Pros/cons
  • Very low cost media
  • Media are relatively portable but drives are not
  • Easily damaged
  • Reasonably low cost media; prices are coming down
  • Media are relatively portable but drives are not
  • Easily damaged
  • Variety of incompatible standards
  • Iomega CD-RW 52x/DVD-ROM plus 7-in-1 Card Reader

    Product Iomega CD-RW/DVD-ROM plus 7-in-1 Card Reader
    Price AU$599; media <AU$0.50
    Vendor Iomega
    Phone 02 8875 7851
    Web www.iomega-asia.com
    Iomega CD-RW 52x/DVD-ROM plus 7-in-1 Card Reader

    We all have CD/RW burners, most of us have DVD-ROM drives, and most notebooks these days ship with CD/RW combo DVD-ROM drive units. What sets this unit apart from the crowd is that it also incorporates a flash memory card reader. It supports a good range of flash memory, namely Memory Stick, SD/MMC, Compact Flash and SmartMedia. If you're wondering how this adds up to seven, Iomega counts some formats twice, eg, counting CF micro drives as a separate format to CF flash memory.

    Overall a neat design and a brilliant concept, however it would have been much better to see a DVD-RW unit. Another gripe we found is that the device requires two USB connections back to your PC: one for the optical drive and one for the flash memory reader. Also, and this was not mentioned anywhere in the documentation, the optical drive uses USB 2.0, but the flash memory reader is only a USB 1.1 connection.

    Final Words

     Removable storage

     
    USB memory keys
     
    Flash memory cards
     
    Micro hard disk drives
     
    Portable HDD units
     
    Magnetic memory
     
    Optical memory

     Final words
     About RMIT
    The amazing variety of devices we received goes to show that in this busy world where "mobility" is the new catch cry, there is a portable data solution pretty much tailor made to suit everyone's individual needs. Everything from the small and easy to use "I need to get those documents home to work on over the weekend" 128MB USB keys, through to the "I'm going to need to move that corporate AVI movie around between the production department and the notebook for that boardroom client presentation" LaCie 250GB USB/Firewire portable HDD unit.

    On a final note, one thing we noticed that was a little disappointing was the number of products in this category that only carried a one-year warranty. Certainly these devices that are designed to be portable should be manufactured rugged enough to be covered by longer warranty periods.

    About RMIT IT Test Labs

     Removable storage

     
    USB memory keys
     
    Flash memory cards
     
    Micro hard disk drives
     
    Portable HDD units
     
    Magnetic memory
     
    Optical memory

     Final words
     About RMIT
    RMIT IT Test Labs
    RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own--only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.

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