Sexy Portable Storage

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The subject of portable data storage for mobile professionals is hardly exciting. But in recent years, makers of portable hard drives, including Iomega and Seagate, have made a concerted effort to make storage sexy. They've added capacity (a LaCie drive now holds 250GB), color (such as bright red), and convenient backup/synchronization features.

Why should you care? Two reasons: First, internal laptop hard drives are usually much smaller in capacity than those in desktop PCs, so you could probably use the additional storage space that a portable drive offers. Second, notebook hard drives--at least in my experience--can be more likely to fail than desktop PC drives, which makes backing up to an external drive (or online backup service) essential.

Here's a look at some of the latest, sleekest portable hard drives.

Seagate's FreeAgent Go

FreeAgent Go "data movers" don't look like your typical hard drive. They're brown and orange, or rather, according to Seagate's marketing department, "espresso brown" and "molten amber." The amber is "molten" because it glows to indicate activity on the drive. Take a peek at my video on Traveler 2.0 to see the glow in action.

Nor do FreeAgent Go drives act like typical portable hard drives. The drives ship preloaded with software that synchronizes selected files on your PC to the drive. You can also store some applications, as well as browser favorites, passwords, cookies, and other settings. You can then access your files, settings, and applications on any borrowed PC by connecting the drive via the USB port.

In my informal tests of a 120GB FreeAgent Go, the drive and its software worked as advertised. One nit: Every time I boot my Windows Vista PC, Vista's User Account Control asks permission to load the installed FreeAgent Go software. (Vista doesn't make a similar request with any other software installed on my computer.) A Seagate spokesperson says this is not a bug: It's caused by Vista's heightened security procedures.

Worth noting: The drive's cable has two USB connectors. But the Seagate spokesperson says you don't have to plug both cables into your laptop unless your notebook's USB port doesn't provide sufficient power. When a single USB connection isn't providing the necessary power, you hear a beep and an amber warning light flickers.

FreeAgent Go drives come in 80GB, 120GB, and 160GB capacities, ranging in prices from about $90 to $161. I've seen the 160GB drive for as little as $115.

Iomega's eGo

Iomega's new 160GB eGo portable drive is candy-apple red, with rounded corners. It's less than an inch thick, and its DropGuard technology can help protect data if the eGo is dropped. (I didn't test the product.) You'll get EMC Retrospect Express HD software for backup (Windows only). I've found eGo online for as little as $125.

LaCie's Mobile Hard Drive

If you're looking for style and substance, the LaCie Mobile Hard Drive, Design by F.A. Porsche is for you. It offers up to a whopping 250GB--that's a lot for a portable hard drive. The drive is available in a USB 2.0 model, or one that lets you connect via USB 2.0 or FireWire 400--a nice option if your laptop's USB ports are all taken. (I haven't tested the product.) The sleek, silver drives are available online for about $70 and up.

For Further Information

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Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
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