Maxtor OneTouch External Hard Drive

"It's so big I'll never fill it up!"

Those are my famous last words anytime I get a new hard drive. It's what I said with my first 32 MB hard drive back in 1988; it's what I said when I bought a computer with a 640 MB hard drive; it's what I said with my first 4 GB hard drive; it's what I said when I bought my present computer with a 40 GB hard drive in 2001.

You would think that after all those times of being wrong, I'd learn not to say that. Those drives filled up, and my 40 GB drive is approaching the 15 percent free mark. So it was time to go shopping. Since the rest of my computer is sufficient, I just needed more storage. Instead of adding another internal hard drive, I decided to get an external hard drive.

It's something I wouldn't have considered a couple years ago, since the access speed would have been so slow. But today's drives come with fast USB 2.0 and/or Firewire connections, which are plenty fast enough (Firewire connnections, which I planned to use, should transfer data at speeds of 100 to 400 Mbps. That means even at its slowest, it will perform as good as Fast Ethernet.) After some shopping around, I picked the Maxtor OneTouch 250 GB Drive. It comes with both USB 2.0 and Firewire connections and includes the Dantz Retrospect Backup Software, which can be activated by a button on the front of the drive, hence the name OneTouch. It's price came out to just a shade over $1 per gigabyte, and is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh.

The setup should be fairly easy for an experienced-to-expert computer user, although beginners may get a little confused. After loading the software first, my Windows XP computer smoothly integrated it via Plug-n-Play. It comes with both FireWire and USB 2.0 cables. Its default configuration is as one 250 MB partition, formatted with Microsoft's FAT32 file system. That's probably not the best choice for a file system for a drive of this size; it was probably selected because it would be compatible with Windows 98SE and ME computers. So the first thing I did was reconfigure this to Microsoft's NTFS file system, and after that I split it into two partitions, so that it looks like two separate drives. (You can do both these tasks in Windows XP by going to the Computer Management applet in the Control Panel, and then go to Drive Management. There are instructions on how to do this in the Maxtor manual that comes with the drive.) One partition would be devoted to backups, and one partition of 100 GB would be devoted to media files.

The product gets its name OneTouch from a button on the front of the drive. Press it and it activates the Dantz Retrospect backup software. (It can also be configured to start some other software.) I was already a fan and user of Retrospect - you can read a review of that I did a little while ago for the C Net/ZD Net sites. Once you do your initial configuration of what you want regularly backed up, all you have to do is hit the button, make a couple of mouse clicks, and your backup can run while you are at lunch. Before, I was using Retrospect to write to CD-Rs or CD-RWs, and I had enough data that I had to hang around and swap disks.

I've already started to use it as a regular drive, too. While I've only had it for a week, I can tell you that it is fast and quiet. In fact, given the crowded and somewhat fragmented state of my regular internal hard drive, I can say that from regular usage I can't tell the difference in access times, although I'm sure they would show up if you tried to do some real benchmarking. Given all the space, I'm finally able to start playing around with the video-editing software that I bought but hardly used. (Before, I didn't have enough space to hold more than a small amount of the raw video files imported from my digital camcorder.)

Its portability is also a factor. I can move it over to my laptop easily, and when I finally do get a new desktop computer it will be very easy to move -- in fact, it will come in very handy in moving files.

It actually looks pretty good, too, with an aluminum body, blue end plates and a pulsating blue drive light -- not that anyone would buy a hard drive for its looks when you are probably hooking it up to a beige or black box.

This review also runs at Blogcritics. com