Imagine confronting a disaster in your home. A house fire. A flood. Or even something as common as a leaky roof. When surveying the damage, you notice your external hard drive. Normally, a hard drive would be ruined by fire or water. No matter the encryption or how shock-resistant the drive, a typical hard drive is not designed to withstand that kind of abuse.
That's where the ioSafe Solo comes in. The ioSafe Solo is the black box of storage options, providing disaster protection and peace of mind by surviving situations other drives can't.
The ioSafe Solo's security features for your data don't involve encryption, but are of the physical variety. To withstand moisture, the drive is sealed in what the company calls a HydroSafe waterproof package that can handle up to 10 feet of water for three days. The ioSafe Solo also has a ceramic block that is part of the drive's DataCast fireproof insulation. When reaching temperatures over 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the ceramic block releases water vapor to cool the unit.
The drive includes ioSafe's Data Recovery Service that is activated with product registration. The service includes a telephone hotline and e-mail address to contact the ioSafe Disaster Response Team. The service also comes with a Data Extraction Guarantee of up to $20,000 and a free replacement ioSafe unit with the recovered data. The Data Recovery Service and the Disaster Response Team are available with the original warranty and can be extended for up to five years.
Trial by water and fire
The company's press materials claim that the ioSafe Solo can withstand being submerged in ten feet of water. To simulate this, we threw the drive into a large fountain at Marathon Plaza in San Francisco.
Granted, our test did not involve true flood conditions. We submerged the iSafe solo in water for a fraction of the time that a flood would likely submit the drive to. While examining the ioSafe Solo's water-tight bag, which covers the hard drive mechanism while inside the iSafe solo,I believed that it would withstand being submerged in water for hours, maybe even days.
In order to test the drive in our labs and confirm its waterproof abilities, we had to unscrew the exterior, remove the ceramic interior, and finally cut open the bag itself. This voided the warranty as it made the unit no longer water safe. But when we plugged the exposed Hitachi drive into a WiebeTech SATADock adapter, the drive worked.
To test the ioSafe Solo's ability to withstand fire, we performed a few tests at The Crucible using a flame cannon. Since we performed the fire test after the water test, we taped the watertight bag closed as best we could. The bagged Hitachi drive was placed inside the ceramic enclosure and metal exterior.
The Crucible's flame cannon did not achieve the sustained high temperatures that are associated with house fires, but it did exceed over 300 degrees, enough to melt the fan in the back of the drive as well as much of the mounting. The ceramic interior was singed and smelled something awful, but the drive mechanism, despite the compromise of its watertight bag, was intact. I removed the drive mechanism from the case, and attached it to the SATADock, and it worked on our Mac without a hitch.
The ioSafe Solo's waterproof and fireproof abilities are exceptional, but there is always room for improvement. The ioSafe Solo is not designed to withstand more than normal drops, bruises, and kicks, though when I dropped the ioSafe several times from heights of three to four feet, and the drive mechanism continued to work. It would be nice to see the ioSafe Solo modified to withstand more disastrous rumble tests that would simulate what you might experience in an earthquake or building collapse.
The video below shows how we tested the ioSafe Solo's waterproof and fireproof capabilities.
The ioSafe Solo is available in 500GB (tested), 1TB, and 1.5TB capacities. The drive has a Hitachi 7200 rotations-per-minute mechanism, but is sadly limited to only USB connectivity. Its USB speed is sluggish compared to drives that use FireWire or eSATA, but the drive's USB times show that its performance is similar to other USB drives we've tested.
The ioSafe finished our 1GB copy test in 52 seconds, only slightly off the USB times of other desktop drives we've reviewed. Western Digital's My Book Mac Edition ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ),
In our 1GB duplication test, the ioSafe Solo finished at a slightly slower pace that the My Book Mac Edition, completing the test in 1 minute, 20 seconds, a full 6 seconds behind the My Book Mac Edition.
However, the ioSafe Solo had surprisingly fast times in our low memory Photoshop test. On average, the ioSafe solo finished the test in 1 minute, 27 seconds, actually besting the My Book for Mac by 4 seconds.
Obviously, the ioSafe Solo isn't built for speed, but it's nice to see it has competitive times for its chosen connectivity. Since USB is so universal, virtually anyone can use the ioSafe's storage capabilities and security features.
The price of the ioSafe solo depends on both the capacity and the warranty associated with it. The 500GB model, which comes with a three-year warranty and a one-year data recovery system, will set you back $150. That works out to about $.30 per gigabyte. Two additional years of the data recovery service plan costs and additional $50, while a full five-year warranty and five years of the data recovery service will cost an additional $100.
Macworld's buying advice
Like an airplane's black box, the ioSafe solo ensures your data will be kept safe even when confronted with disastrous conditions. Perhaps more compelling still, the drive is at a price that makes it affordable to the average consumer. Just as the family safe is designed to keep important paper documents intact no matter what, a family ioSafe Solo will preserve the data you want to keep, come hellfire or high water.
[Chris Holt is a Macworld assistant editor.]