With USB, portable storage is a snap

With USB, portable storage is a snap<@VM>These USB 1.0 products will be compatible with the emerging standard for 2.0 devices

New standard will boost throughput to 480 Mbps


You don't have to be a power user to know that valuable data, including digitized pictures of your kids or your '65 Mustang, should be stored somewhere other than on a hard drive. Hard drives crash, and when they do all the information on them can be lost in a blink of a monitor screen.

Onstream Data's
Echo30 USB digital tape drive has 30G of storage and is priced at $288.
Proper storage for your data is the first reason to buy one of the portable, plug-and-play Universal Serial Bus storage devices in this guide. They are also relatively inexpensive, and their compliance with USB standards makes them easy to install.

Here's a brief rundown of what's available in plug-and-play USB storage systems:

Zip drives and hard-disk drives. The Iomega Zip drive with 100M or 250M of storage has been popular for years among users who want safe, dependable and portable data backup at reasonable prices. Portable hard drives such as Archos Technology Inc.'s $199 MiniHD 6GB-USB drive use magnetic 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch disks that generally can't be removed from the case, but they put removable storage capacities into the gigabyte range.

CD-ROM drives. USB CD-ROM drives such as Addonics Technologies' $179 32X Pocket CD are an excellent and inexpensive way to store up to 650M of data, the equivalent of 250,000 pages of text or 20,000 medium-resolution images. CD-ROM disks are the media of choice for installing large software programs. The main limit of CD-ROM technology is that you can't use it for writing information to disk.

CD-R and CD-RW drives. If you want write or rewrite capability, move up to a portable CD-recordable drive or investigate the even more popular and versatile rewritable CD-RW drives.

The big difference between CD-R and CD-RW is that you can read, write and erase data up to 1,000 times with CD-RW. With CD-R, you can write data only once and never erase it. The newest CD-RW disks play for 80 minutes and hold up to 700M of data. Because CD-RW drives can also read CD-ROM disks, they can play CD-ROM software and music.

TapeStor Travan and Backpack
Seagate Technology's TapeStor Travan, left, is a 20G external tape drive priced at $405.

Micro Solutions' Backpack external hard drive, right, comes in 20G and 30G versions, priced at $229 and $249.
Because of their versatility, sales of USB CD-RW drives such as APS Tech's $200 CD-RW USB Pro2 and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s $180 CD writer 8220e are rapidly eclipsing those of CD-R drives. Manufacturers that used to specialize in serial-port, parallel-port or SCSI CD-RW products now include USB devices in their product lines.

DVD drives. Digital video disk drives are more expensive than CD drives, but they hold a huge edge in capacity'2.6G for a single-sided DVD and 5.2G for a double-sided disk, compared with a 700M CD-RW. A DVD can store 133 minutes of a movie.

DVD storage systems come in various flavors; the best known are DVD-ROM and DVD-RAM. A DVD-ROM drive can play back information written to a DVD, CD-ROM or CD-RW disk, but it can't write anything. A DVD-RAM drive can read almost any type of CD, but it writes only to DVDs.

The jury is still out on whether CD-RW or DVD-RAM will take over the small storage system market, but CD-RW still has an edge over DVD for most computer users because it is so versatile and costs less.

Floppy and tape drives. A handful of companies, including Teac America Inc. and Vision Software Technologies Inc., still produce 1.44M USB floppy drives for less than $100, but they're useful mainly in legacy PC systems that still have floppy drives.

USB tape drives offer huge storage capacities of 20G and 30G, but have much slower data retrieval times than the hard magnetic or optical drive systems listed in the chart.

Of the companies I polled, only Onstream Data B.V. and Seagate Technology still make them.
USB came along and solved problems many users had when trying to install new peripherals on legacy PCs or Macs.

The Lowdown

' What is it? A plug-and-play USB storage system is a portable drive that connects through USB ports on desktop and notebook PCs. Depending on base technology, they offer varying storage capacities and data transfer rates, but all are suitable for portable short-term storage needs.

' How does USB work? USB makes possible easy installation of peripherals. Most USB devices support the USB 1.0 standard, with throughput speeds of 12 Mbps. The new USB 2.0 standard permits throughput speeds up to 480 Mbps and is backward-compatible with 1.0 devices.

' When do I need one? You need one to duplicate and protect data on your PC or Mac, or to easily transfer data from one computer to another.

' Must-know info? The new USB 2.0 standard will gain popularity as more bandwidth-hungry peripherals such as storage systems, digital and video cameras, and high-end scanners come to market. By the end of the year most notebooks and many PCs will support the new standard, and there will be many more USB 2.0-compliant devices available.

Even with serial and parallel port connections, nonprofessional users had to wrestle with setup complexities that seemed beyond them'removing the host backplane, installing proprietary software, even fiddling with manual setting and dip switches. Even then, getting a printer or scanner running was a hit-or-miss proposition.

Setting up a SCSI or SCSI-2 device was even worse. Who can forget weekends spent trying to make sense of poorly written manuals and the series of telephone calls to tech support the following Monday?

The USB 1.0 standard, established five years ago, provided any-to-any connectivity at speeds up to 12 Mbps between USB-compliant peripherals and host computers.

It supported multiple devices, meaning that any USB-compliant device could be hooked up to the USB port on a PC or Mac and be up and running instantly, often without the need for a proprietary software driver.

USB 1.0 devices also can be attached, detached and reattached without the need to reboot a host system. Theoretically, a single USB port on a host computer can support up to 127 daisychained devices.

USB 1.0 is the de facto connection standard for mice, keyboards, scanners, printers and other low-end to midrange PC peripherals, including plug-and-play removable storage drives.

The USB 1.0 standard isn't perfect, though. It got off to a shaky start because early versions of Microsoft Windows 95 and NT 4.0 didn't support it, and PC manufacturers were reluctant to include USB ports until Windows 98 made room for them.

The 12-Mbps speed of USB 1.0 isn't nearly as fast as SCSI-2 or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 1394 FireWire standard. Bandwidth-hungry devices such as high-end scanners, digital cameras, video cameras and high-capacity removable storage devices have to fight for bandwidth on the same USB line.

To compensate, some storage device manufacturers have built drives that combine USB connections with serial and parallel ports. Some new combo drives also bundle USB with fast SCSI-2 and FireWire ports.

But users needn't fret about choosing among competing connectivity options such as SCSI-2, FireWire or Bluetooth. The emerging USB 2.0 standard pushes the USB speed limit from 12 Mbps to 480 Mbps, making it faster than either SCSI-2 or FireWire. It will allow multiple peripherals with rates up to 50 Mbps on the same wire. It can daisychain hundreds of devices.

User investments in legacy USB equipment will be protected because products compliant with the USB 2.0 standard will be backward-compatible with USB 1.0. Chip vendors are hustling to launch USB 2.0 interfaces and controllers to move the standard along.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at [email protected].

Company Product Technology Data capacity, data transfer rate per second Price
Addonics Technologies Inc.

Fremont, Calif.


24X PocketCD CD-ROM 650M, 3.6M $149
32X PocketCD CD-ROM 650M, 4.8M $179
4X4X24 Pocket CD-RW CD-RW 700M, 3M $349
8X4X24 Pocket CD-RW CD-RW 700M, 3.6M $399
8X8X4X32 Mobile DVD/CDRW All in One Drive DVD/CD-RW 700M, 4.8M $389
8X12X10X32 Mobile DVD/CDRW All in One Drive DVD/CD-RW 700M, 4.8M $439
PocketDVD DVD-ROM 8.5G, 1.8G $303
Mobile CD-RW CD-RW 700M, 4.8M $229
PocketExDrive Hard drive 10M, 6M $99
Pocket Floppy Drive Floppy drive 1.44M, 400K $85
Apricorn Inc.

Poway, Calif.


EZ Storage Hard drive 6/10/20G, 1.2M $288 to
APS Tech Inc.

Hillsboro, Ore.


20GB USB Hard Drive Pro2 Hard drive 20G, 1.2M $180
CD-RW 4X4X32 USB Pro2 CD-RW 700M, 600K $200
Archos Technology Inc.

Irvine, Calif.


MiniCDRW 8X4X24
for PC and Mac
CD-RW 700M, 3.6M $279 to
MiniCDRW 8X4X24
PC Card and USB
CD-RW 700M, 3.6M $299
DExPortable CDRW CD-RW 700M, 9.5M $169
MiniHD 6GB-USB Hard drive 6G, 1M $199
and PC Card Combo
Hard drive 6G, 1M $229
and FireWire
Hard drive 6G, 1M $239
MiniZIP 100 PC USB Zip drive 100M, 1.2M $109
MiniZIP 100 PC Card & USB (PC) Zip drive 100M, 1.2M $139
MiniCD with USB Interface CD-ROM 650M, 3.6M $109
MiniCD-USB & PC Card Combo CD-ROM 650M, 3.6M $129
Castlewood Systems Inc.

Milpitas, Calif.


ORB 2.2GB External USB Drive Hard drive 2.2G, 12.2M $216
CD Cyclone USA

Tustin, Calif.


CD Revo USB CD-RW 4X4X32 CD-RW 690M, 1.65M $209
Hewlett-Packard Co.

Palo Alto, Calif.


CD-writer 8220e 4X4X6 Series CD-RW 700M, 900K $180
Imation Corp.

Oakdale, Minn.


CD-RW 4X4X6 USB Burn-R CD-RW 700M, 900K $150
Iomega Corp.

Roy, Utah


Peerless 10GB
USB Bundle
Hard drive 10G, N/A $360
External Zip 250MB
USB Drive
Zip drive 250M, N/A $170
External CD-RW 4X4X6 USB Drive CD-RW 700M, 900K $200

Hillsboro, Ore.


PocketDrive Series Hard drive 10/20/30G, 900K $229 to
USB CD-RW CD-RW 700M, 900K $399
Micro Solutions Inc.

DeKalb, Ill.


Backpack 20G and 30G
external hard drive
20/30G, 1M $229 to
4X4X24 backpack CD-RW 700M, 1M $229
Onstream Data B.V.

Longmont, Colo.


Echo30 15/30GB External USB Digital Tape Drive Tape 30G, 850K $288
Philips Consumer

Electronics Co.

New York


400 Series External Parallel USB 4X4X6 CD-RW 700M, 600K $330
Pockey Drives

Chatsworth, Calif.


The Pockey USB external
hard drive
10G and 20G,
up to 1.5M
$250 to
QPS Inc.

Anaheim, Calif.


USB Drive CD-RW 700M, 1.2M $250
Seagate Technology LLC

Scotts Valley, Calif.


TapeStor Travan
Travan tape 8G, 4.2M $329
TapeStor Travan
Portable USB 2.0
External 20G tape drive 20G, 4.2M $405
Sony Electronics Inc.

San Jose, Calif.


Spressa CRX1600L-A2 12X8X32X CD-RW 700M, 2.2M $267
Teac America Inc.

Montebello, Calif.


USB Floppy Drive External floppy drive 1.44M, 12M $80
Portable USB
CD-ROM Drive
CD-ROM 650M, 1.5M $180
4X4X6 External USB
CD-RW Drive
CD-RW 700M, 600K $180
Vistion Software
Technologies Inc.



Tri-Media Reader External floppy drive, SmartMedia and CompactFlash reader and writer 128M, 800K $130
SmartDisk USB Floppy Drive Series External floppy drive 1.44M, 500K $60 to
4X4X8 Portable CD-R/W Drive CD-RW 700M, 900K $180
6GB USB/FireWire Ultra-Thin Hard Drive External 6G hard drive 6G, 700K $330
3GB USB/FireWire Ultra-Thin Hard Drive External 3G hard drive 3G, 700K $300


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