back to article Ten Essential... 500GB Portable Hard Drives

Portable hard drives may not offer the capacity or speed of their desktop siblings, but for laptop owners looking for handy back-up space or extra storage capacity, they're a must. Users of desktop computers too like their bus-powered plug-and-go convenience, especially if raw storage capacity isn't of paramount importance. …


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  1. Danny 14 Silver badge


    no mention of spin down. do any of the drives spin down? Either through their utilities or native?

  2. CT

    Power supplies?

    You didn't tell us which of these are bus-powered and which need a power brick. Makes a big difference to portability

  3. CT


    unless the sentence "Users of desktop computers too like their bus-powered plug-and-go convenience" means they are all bus-powered. Doh.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Bus powered

      I have a 'bus-powered' 2.5" HDD and depending on the PC it may be bus powered or not.

      On one PC (Dell), I can only transfer about 5 files at a time, with a nice break between to prevent the USB port from switching it off! Iomega put an external power socket on it to overcome this problem, but can I get a power supply or lead for it? No chance!

    2. Shades
      Thumb Up

      Spin down

      I have a Freecom Mobile Drive XXS (250Gb version) and I'm pretty sure that spins down, it even produces a click which I assume is the heads being parked. Futhermore, it also takes a few seconds to spin back up if it hasn't been used for a bit, more evidence I guess that it does indeed spin down. I presume it also does this natively as I took all the included software off of it (and have never used any of it) as soon as I got it.

      In fact, while I'm at it, I thoroughly recommend the Freecom Mobile Drive XXS. While they only have a thin(ish) rubber sheath to protect the drive mine has survived a few waist height falls undamaged. Also, with the entire case being rubber, and not just four tiny little feet like some other drives, it helps ro prevent the drive from being pulled off of surfaces accidentally, by the USB cable; the USB connector will let go LONG before the rubber case slips. Surfaces also have to be tilted to some crazy angle before the drive will slip off too, which helps if having to transport a connected drive on top of a closed laptop lid (not recommended I know, but I guess we have all done it at some point!)

      I may be tempting fate now but I've also never had problems with the drive itself either (which in my case is a Samsung part). That may be down to the fact I try to treat drives carefully (I've got a 14y/o 17Gb drive that still works with NO errors!) but this drive in particular gets chucked in a bag and transported everywhere!

      Long story short... My next portable HD will be a 500Gb Mobile Drive XXS!

      (p.s. I know it may sound like I work for Freecom but I don't. I just think this little drive is great!)

  4. RichyS


    So, are all these drives USB only? It was sort of implied, but not stated specifically.

    I have an Iomega eGo (though not the one in this review). I chose it not due to my fantastic experience of ZIP drives (I'm being sarcastic); but because it was one of the few bus powered portable drives on the market that offers Firewire 400 and 800 along side plain old USB 2.

    Now, for most people, this may not be that important, but for anyone shifting large files around (DSLR photos and high bandwidth HD video in my case), then the sustained speed that Firewire can offer over USB (which is rather bursty) -- particularly in FW800 guise (nearly double the peak speed, and much higher sustained speed).

    For those of us with higher end laptops (thus with FW400/800) with a need for high performance, you really can't beat Firewire. Well, until USB 3 becomes commonplace. Then we'll probably have FW3200 anyway...

  5. Ian McNee
    Thumb Up

    Drive replacement?

    Good round-up, two small points though Tony: with the large percentage of geeks in the audience it would have been nice to see you get busy with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to see how easy it is to replace the drive in these units.

    Also a price/performance/robustness comparison with a bare external caddy with A.N.Other 500GB 2.5" drive would be useful next time.

  6. Nick Fisher


    Do any of these drives have a Firewire port? (I'm guessing you would have mentioned this in the review if so)

  7. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    What I don't get

    Is why, when you can buy a 500GB SATA 2.5" drive for under £50, and an enclosure with a SATA to USB bridge for a few pounds, these things all cost close to £100. I understand that you're paying for design, and for the software that comes with them (which you probably won't actually use if you're using the drive to swap files around between computers), but event aking that into account, and assuming that those things are worth £25 (which I'm almost certain tehy're not), we're still talking at least a 50% mark-up here!

  8. Popup

    Noise / power supply

    There are two important parameters for hdds, how much noise they make, and how much power they consume.

    Presumably all these drives are bus-powered, through a single USB cable (or do they come with Y-cables?), but it would still be interesting to see exactly how much power they draw, and what voltage they require. As you no doubt know not all USB ports are born equal, and the voltage / current available varies considerably.

    Especially as the power will invariably end up as heat, and some of those devices will get warm to the touch.

    And as Danny14 points out, any spin-down would be a great boon.

    Finally, noise is generally not a big issue with 2.5-inchers, but some kind of vibration dampening is always welcome. And even though it's difficult to measure it ought to be possible to establish some kind of objective metric.

  9. Thom Brown


    These are all "essential"? Essential to what? I'm sure I don't need any of them.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Micro USB FTW

    Whilst you might have many Mini USB capable Devices the standard has been dropped! so Micro is the way to go. I already have as many Micro as Mini Devices! ok thats 2 each, and one of the micros is now redundant, its on my old phone and my new phone is device #2. As for the Mini's its one $12 drive caddy (always has been the cheapest way to do this!) and a digital camera, so as far as I am concerned, the faster the drives move to micro the faster I can put the mini cable into storage! I dislike companies who are reluctant to change to an obviously better standard because they feel nostalgic about the old. (I hate companies who do not provide the cables more though!!!!!)

  11. Lon Bailey

    er... what does the performance results mean?

    Sorry- but what does the CrystalDiskMark 3 Performance Results mean? is a higher value better than a lower one, or is it the other way around?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    I'm never buying a WD drive again....

    As a satisfied WD customer for many years, I was very disappointed to find my last WD external drive came with self-installing backup software on an un-deletable partition. With no way to stop it auto-installing*, no way to stop it changing drive letters, and no way to repartition the drive to reclaim the space. What were you thinking WD???

    From now on, it's Samsung for me...

    * WD later offered a patch that I think turned off the drive's auto-installation on just the computer the patch was installed on. It didn't actually fix the drive. Double fail!!

  13. Jamie Kitson


    There is really not point putting lines between discrete values, there is no midpoint for example, between read and write speeds.

    1. ratfox Silver badge


      Comparing the article reveals that higher is better, but this was far from obvious looking at the graph.

    2. Shades

      RE: Noise/power supply

      Speaking from personal experience, my Freecom Mobile Drive XXS (admittedly the 250Gb version, though I can't imagine this making much difference) will happily run, on a single USB cable, from a Samsung Netbook... thats ALSO with a USB bus powered Hercules DJ Mix Hardware controller (4 channel audio in and out soundcard, and midi controller) >AND< an el-cheapo USB bus powered scan convertor. So I imagine even the limpest of USB ports would have no problem with the drive. Actually, I've just checked and according to the USB Root Hub Properties, it consumes 96mA.

      The drive, even in a quiet room, is, as near as makes no difference, silent. The only noise being what I presume is a slight click when the head(s?) are parked after a period of activity. I've no idea if the rubber is a good conductor of heat but the drive never gets even warm to the touch, even after being used for hours on end.

      As for vibration, if you pick it up you can tell something whirring away in there but I certainly wouldn't call it a vibration.

      Hope that helps :)

    3. Shades

      No tools necessary...

      With the Freecom there is no screwdriver or pliers necessary... Just fold one end of the rubber sheath back and the drives slips out (well, not quite slips, the rubber gives a bit of resistance, but you get the idea!)

    4. AndyS
      Thumb Down

      letters and/or digits

      Further, I'm fairly sure nobody needs all of them.

    5. Martin Huizing

      @ Thom

      Essential to those looking for large portable storage devices. Now I'll let you go on and comment on all products you have no interest in. WTF indeed...

    6. Bruce MacDonald

      All ten are essential?

      So evidently they're recommending we carry 5TB of portable storage in our pockets.

      The usual story, evidently: started with a good idea (10 essential free PC apps etc) and spoiled it.

      Not to el Reg: If you're going to list 10 essential things, they need to all perform different functions.

  14. Jamie Kitson

    Ten Essential 500GB Hard Drives?

    Surely that would be 50 Terabytes.

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      re: 50 Tbytes?

      You sir, fail at math.

      500 GB = .5 Terabyte, times ten = 5 Terabytes. You would need 100 drives to get to 50 Terabytes.

      And that's raw, non-formatted capacity anyhow- the actual capacity various a bit by driver maker, but averages around 90 to 95% of the 'advertised' capacity.

  15. Nick Ryan Silver badge


    More space, average same-same performance (most users won't care beyond a certain threshold) and junk tools to "backup"...

    Now where are the encryption (preferably hardware based) options?

  16. Piloti

    Another worth considering.....

    I was in Germany recently, and went to a Saturn store. Think Dixons but bigger and less of them.

    Bought myself an INTENSO, German brand Tiawanese thing. Looks exactly like the LaCie.

    €40. About £30.

    No software, has a double headed USB cable, bus powered [see comment above] and is more than ok.

    No clue about speeds or anything like that, as there is minimal documentation, but, when I shove it into my Linux machine, I can watch dvd'd [vob files] directly from the external with zero lag and frame loss.

    Does the job and does not look too bad when sat on the desk top.


  17. Gulfie
    Thumb Up


    While the individual reviews were interesting I found the graphs really difficult to get my head around. Bar graphs are easier to assimilate - and clearer.

    At risk of being rejected for reviewing the review rather than commenting on the drives... the key things for a portable drive aren't so much speed (if speed were king then presumably you'd start by using FireWire not USB) as the aspects of portability: size, weight, power draw, drop protection, noise level, power save features (some of which you do include, but others not).

    I particularly like my LaCie Little Disk that has both USB and FireWire, but they've actually built the short USB cable into the drive so there is no need to carry a cable at all unless you want to use FireWire.

    Thumbs up overall though!

    1. Kevin Whitefoot


      I hope it's better than the Intenso 16GB usb flash drive I have. It draws so much current that prevents my USB keyboard working. And on my Acer netbook if I leave it plugged in at boot time the machoine won't boot.

  18. Simon Ward
    Thumb Down

    No mention of ...

    ... drive make either, as far as I could tel, other than the obvious exceptions of the units from Seagate and WD (and possibly Samsung). This info is a constant omission from a lot of hard drive reviews, and it's not as if it's difficult to find either.

    For a lot of folk, myself included, anything containing a Seagate drive will be disregarded completely because of their (mis)handling of the Barracuda firmware debacle.

    A reluctant thumbs down, since the article was otherwise excellent.

  19. Mayhem

    Are they useable outside of Windows?

    I went shopping for a couple of 2.5" drives a few months back for storing backup tib images of workstations and servers.

    Only LaCie did a drive that is just a drive in a box.

    Everyone else - Seagate, WD et al, all now use custom drivers to facilitate their backup solutions but those drivers are only available for Windows XP/Vista/7 and MacOS.

    None of them are certified for 64bit, or for Windows 2000/2003, and more importantly none of them could be accessed from a boot CD as a USB storage device.

    Really annoying, especially since we have three old WD passport drives that worked superbly, but the new passports simply don't work outside windows.

    Took me half a day of hunting around Tottenham Ct Rd reading the small print and testing in the shops to find the LaCies that didn't use custom drivers. Buyer beware...

  20. vincent himpe

    meanwhile back in 2010..

    people buy 640Gbyte , 750 and 1Tbyte external harddisks...

  21. DangerousQ

    Poor Value for money

    As already mentioned all priced around £100, a better and much d=faster option is a separate HDD and drive caddy, there are a few caddys that have USB2 and eSATA, this is my route of choice significantly faster than anything firewire has to offer.

    You could also add a seagate momentus 7200 rpm drive and get superb performance

  22. Michael Kean

    Cheap Upgrade...

    Another handy thing with some of these drives is that sometimes they're cheaper than buying a raw drive; depending on the price of the local retailers. It's relatively simple to extract most of these drives from their shells, swapping them with the one in the laptop and then cloning the swapped drive. You end up with a faster laptop drive, and a spare case for the original drive.

    This isn't true of all however. The 160GB WD drive is a funny one where the USB socket is actually part of the drive, and not a separate interface board.

  23. andy gibson

    XBOX connected drive

    I'm looking for a USB drive to house my Divx and music collection for my XBOX360 (FAT32 formatted of course). Anyone already using one and can make a recommendation?

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Portable Hard Drives

    Why the Windows focus? Do all (or any) of these drive mount when plugged into a Linux box? Do any (or all) of these drives mount when plugged into the USB port of a Samsung LCD TV? I need a USB external hard drive to do both of these things, and the review does not help me at all.

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Portable Hard Drives

      Of course they will. If the drive is NTFS-formatted, just re-format to FAT32. Most are already FAT32. Only the Hitachi and WD were not (HFS+ and NTFS, respectively)

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        @Re: Portable Hard Drives

        "Of course they will" is NOT the same as "I tried them and they did", as we all know only too well!

        Also missing from the review is details like the actual power consumption, and do they support SMART reporting. If you have them as a backup drive it kind of nice to have a health check, even though it is of limited ability in predicting catastrophic failures.

        Also do any of the backup software have checksums on the archives, etc, so you can test the file's integrity without uncompressing/restoring the set?

        1. Mayhem


          I completely agree - this is what came back to bite us as I mentioned above.

          Maxtor, Seagate and Western Digital all failed to work with a linux boot disk & acronis, or with any OS outside of Windows XP/Vista/7/MacOS

  25. gannett

    Check the guarantee

    Do not buy any disk drive product that does not include at least a 3 year guarantee. If the maker is not confident that the drive will last that long why should you be ? With external drives make sure that includes the power supply brick as those are prone to failure as well.

    Do some math .. Divide cost by length of guarantee and see what cost per year you will paying. If it comes out to be more than on-line storage think again.


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