FireWire data to go

Western Digital 1394 external hard drive

Review Western Digital's new external FireWire hard disks are ideal for carrying lots of data around, but WD says they're not intended as mobile devices. Missing a marketing trick here, methinks.

Coming in 10, 20 and 30Gb flavours, the 1394 drives are suitable for both Mac and PC use (a 1394 PCI card will be needed unless you have one of those Sony notebooks with FireWire built in). Inside the housing, which looks like an oversized Zip drive, nestles a 5,400 rpm disk with an average 9.5msec seek time and a 2Mb buffer.

An external power supply is required, despite FireWire's supposed ability to provide the requisite voltage down the 1394 cable. Connection is very simple as 1394 doesn't need terminators - simply plug in the FireWire cable and switch the drive on.

We had a slight hiccup in that the supplied setup CD insisted that the retail build of Windows ME (4.90.3000) didn't support 1394 devices and suggested we upgrade to Win98, despite ME's plug 'n' play setting the thing up on its own. A slight tweak needed here, chaps. The drive also installed with no problems under Win2K Professional.

The drive returned a SiSoft Sandra Drive Index of 8475, slightly ahead of the reference rating for a UDMA33 10GB Drive of 8000. Sequential read was 8Mb/s, while the 2Mb buffer upped this to 205 Mb/s.

In short: the FireWire drive was easy to set up, performed well, didn't make much noise and we reckon it would be ideal for carrying large amounts of data around with you. We're a little surprised that Western Digital state that the drive isn't intended for portable use - it's solidly constructed and certainly didn't exhibit any signs of fragility.

We'd certainly prefer it to the time-consuming pain of burning CDs or using Zip drives (for portability you need one drive on each machine, or carry the drive around with you - if you're going to do that, why not buy a proper external hard disk in the first place?)

As expansion to existing disk capacity, it's a toss up between going for the FireWire drive or an internal IDE job. Both will entail opening the case, so it probably comes down to how happy you are fiddling about inside - if you feel confident about inserting a PCI card but are unsure of your masters and slaves or which way round ribbon cables go, then you won't be disappointed with WD's FireWire offering.

The 30Gb drive we tried will set you back around $330, while the 1394 PCI adapter comes in at $69. ®

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