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Portable storage has become a must in today’s information-centric world, as our high tech life leads us to more time spent working from hotel rooms, out of our cars, and from location to location.  Pen drives (USB Keys), SD cards, portable hard drives, and DVD RAM have all become staples of the office on the go.  Thus, any new item in the market has to do something to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack.  Whether it’s PNY’s free movie download or HP’s attempt at providing a drive bay specifically designed for their external hard drive–there are all kinds of ways that the manufacturers of these devices try to distance themselves from each other.  Enter Toshiba.  They aren’t even bothering with a catchy brand name for their device, it’s just “Toshiba Portable Hard Drive.”   With the advent of Apple’s iPad, maybe skipping on a catchy name is a good idea, but the question is does Toshiba separate it’s portable storage solution from the pack?

Review: Portable Edition

The Toshiba Portable drive is designed with the notebook / laptop user in mind.  The device does not require any additional power beyond that which is supplied from the USB bus.  While we would have preferred the device to have shipped with the optional “Y” cable to provide more power to the unit, the single USB cable does suffice.  The device is light-weight, rugged, small, and fast enough to trigger Window’s ReadyBoost.   With a price range of $79 to $119 covering sizes from 320GB to 640GB, the cost is in line with that of any other available drive on the market.  The unadvertised special feature is the unit’s quiet running, as the device makes very little noise while running.  The included software is lackluster at best, and will likely be visiting the recycle bin shortly after purchase.

Specs as Tested

  • Device Type: External Hard Drive
  • System: Mac or Windows
  • Storage Capacity: 640GB
  • Rotational Speed: 5400rpm
  • Disk Cache: 8MB
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0
  • Special Features:  Shock Sensor & Ramp Loading
  • Price as Tested:  $119.99 (ToshibaDirect.com)

It seems like every season we get a plethora of new storage devices with as many bells and whistles as anything out of Detroit.  With the deluge of personal storage devices on the market, we have to find out how the spiffy new Toshiba offering stacks up.  Those with Toshiba laptops have certain expectations  a device with Toshiba’s nameplate, so does the hardware live up to the name?  Naturally, the biggest concern is how reliable a device is, which seems to be well covered.  There are always drawbacks, but, you know, it just didn’t have to be the software bundle.  All said and done, we have been fairly impressed with this little device and feel it is a strong offering from Toshiba.

Hardware is hardware, and any device is only as capable as the specifications of the internal workings.  A fine example is the old Zip drive, a nice concept but so far ahead of it’s time that, even in their heyday, they were cost-restrictive.  The 2.5 inch hard-drives do not have that limitation, it seems that everyday even high quality drives are dropping in price.  Toshiba picked a good time to push their portable hard drive, they can be very competitive in this market considering their experience in the laptop industry.  As tested, the drive itself was the red 640GB model, which would suffice for most people, saving for those with a severe addiction to bit-torrent.  The drive is fast enough to trigger Windows Ready Boost, which, by Windows 7, is supposed to be capable of “knowing” when a storage device is fast enough to speed up a low-spec system.  The drive is equipped with an accelerometer, which detects when the unit is in motion, that will “park” the heads (hence ramp load technology).  This is a welcome feature for portable drives that have a knack for taking a quick dive off the side of a table.  All in all, the hardware is by all accounts on par with anything on the market and Toshiba’s shock sensor does bring a little extra to the game.

Any and all hard drives have the capacity to fail, it’s just part of the game.  The real question is when will it die?  Some will run for years, others will putter out in just a few months worth of usage.  We all remember the reliability, or lack thereof, of the old Maxtor single platter drives of the late nineties.  After doing a bit of research, we found something remarkable that had little to do with the reliability of this drive.  We learned that Toshiba, unlike most big companies, isn’t afraid to take it on the chin.  Never mind that we found less than 2% failure of new drives, when a customer blasts Toshiba for a failure–they do not try to moderate away the event–even on their own website.  We expected a certain level of failure, due to the nature of the beast, but, really, we were not expecting this much gumption on the part of Toshiba.  The failure rate of new units are within the expected range, and the ramp loading helps with accidents.  Sadly, these units have not been on the market quite long enough to give a detailed long-term survival rate; however, if history if any indicator, they should perform remarkably well in the long run.

Now for what everyone is waiting for, the drawbacks.  The complaints are in.  The stuff that will have the fan-boys bashing Gadgetnutz is ready to be served, piping hot.  When we open the oven, we have fresh, overcooked, software hockey-pucks.  You know the cookies your sister made: they look like mom’s, they smell like moms, but when you bite into one–it’s like biting into a skateboard.  This NTI stuff is bad, there is far better share-ware than “Backup Now EZ.”  Considering that Toshiba has been peddling their own online backup system for a yearly fee, one has to wonder why they even bothered.  The software was designed to be easy, but it comes out neutered, ineffective, and utterly useless on a Toshiba laptop.  Assuming you had the system the designer had in mind, the software, by default, tries to backup far too often: files every 15 minutes and a weekly full back up.  While keeping in mind that the frequency can be modified by the consumer, the default settings stresses not only the external hard drive that is limited to the USB bus for power but the internal drive as well.  It is suggested to take advantage of the settings available to the consumer.  That many read/writes is usually left to the laboratories for the testing of new designs, and would make the software the cause of your hard drive failure.  Furthermore, if you wanted native Windows7  compatibility,  a purchasable upgrade would be required, nice.  Finally, if a user needed to restore from this thing, they better not be restoring their Toshiba laptop.  This thing requires a PS/2 mouse or keyboard for input. Oops, Toshiba laptops have their touchpad on the USB bus and no PS/2 connectors.  Customers would have been better serviced by including the “Y” USB connector cable, or the nice carrying case,  rather than this lousy software.  With that said, most people will find the formatting issue an easy affair with the same software, that provides those that need it the option of formatting the drive using the FAT file system.

Considering the only real problem with this package can be cured by a quick trip to the Recycle Bin, we were fairly happy with the device.  It offers plenty of storage, quick reads and writes, and is remarkable light and compact.  The artistic outer case is attractive to look at, and should be familiar to Toshiba laptop users.  The shock sensor with ramp loading is a very nice hardware addition to the unit, that almost begs the question, “why didn’t they do this sooner?”  Our only complaint is that Toshiba should have taken the software matters into their own hands, as they’ve done a good job recently with “ReelTime” and “Bulletin Board” software included on their laptops, or included the carrying case or “Y” cable that is available separately from Toshiba directly.  Still, with everything considered, Toshiba, like a race car driver has hit all the marks on their qualifying lap, and only need good pit-stops to win their race.

Toshiba has upped the ante with this device by now offering a package with the carrying case included for about ten dollars more than the drive by itself.  Other notes of interest, the colors indicate the size of the hard drive included in the case:

  • White – 350GB
  • Blue – 500GB
  • Red – 640GB

Careful examination of ToshibaDirect.com reveals a fourth color, green.  Does this mean they intended to offer a 250GB model, or is there a 1TB model in the works?

The Canvio Line (released 3/29) adds further large sized external hard drives from Toshiba as well, and while not tested are also expected to perform well. They are also available in a rainbow of colors (Raven Black, Satin Silver, Liquid Blue, Rocket Red and Komodo Green).

  • $119.99 for the 500GB Canvio
  • $139.99 for the 640GB Canvio
  • $159.99 for the 750GB Canvio Plus
  • $199.99 for the 1TB Canvio Plus

Be sure to check out all of the nifty external storage solutions provided by Toshiba.

To wrap things up, the Toshiba portable hard drive is a strong entry in the portable hard drive market, but it still has a bit to go before it can be considered a best buy.  This is not to say it is a poor selection, on the contrary; the Toshiba drive is just ever so close to being an upper tier item.  Further, the cost is also competitive with most other drives in the same size-range.  It is neither too expensive or shockingly inexpensive, but it is what should be thought of as a fair price.  Even with the drawbacks, this little drive is of high enough mechanical quality that it should be on anyone’s radar that is looking for an external hard-drive, portable or not.  Chances are that most people aren’t really looking for backup software when buying a portable hard-drive, so it is very likely that the backup software is a non-issue.  If you really need the backup software, then this is not your answer.  If, however, you want a small portable drive that is as quiet as a kitten, this little drive should definitely fit in any top-5 list.