LaCie & Mandriva – Globetrotter 2.0 review

ingenious portable hard drive with Linux installed
Photo of LaCie & Mandriva – Globetrotter 2.0
€139 (40GB) or €199 (80GB)

At first glance the Globetrotter is nothing more than an external LaCie Mobile hard drive with Mandriva Linux pre-installed. Yet Mandriva (until recently known as Mandrake) really has a winning combination here, which becomes apparent when the system is put to work.

The Globetrotter is a bus-powered USB 2 device, not significantly larger than the 2.5-inch hard drive around which it’s based. It looks stylish too, although since Mandriva doesn’t ship it with a case, that look might not last long.

The drive is supplied with two cables: one USB cable to connect to a PC, which is all that’s normally required, and a second USB cable with a power connector on one end, which is used on some laptops that don’t provide sufficient power on a single port. In this case, both cables must be used, so the laptop would need two free USB ports.

These days many PCs are capable of booting from USB devices, and in fact are often configured to do so by default, so using the Globetrotter is usually a simple matter of plugging it in and turning on the PC.

In the event that booting from USB isn’t supported, a bootable CD is also provided which will mount the drive. Normally, we think that this drive will be transported between a handful of known machines, so once it’s known that the CD isn’t required it could be left at home.

The Mandriva installation on this drive is tweaked to allow for use on multiple systems interchangeably. What this means is that the drive can be used at home, then taken into work and used to boot a different PC with the same desktop, the same applications and files. It’s very clever, and worked seamlessly on the machines we tested it with. The first time the drive is powered up, a configuration wizard runs to set a root password, add users and choose other startup options such as the graphical environment (KDE or Gnome).

Possibly the hardest parts of the hardware detection are the graphics card and sound card, but the Globetrotter managed to detect all the cards we tried it with. As broadband is becoming commonplace at home, and DHCP in most workplaces, Internet connections are usually not going to be a problem either. Mandriva correctly established network settings that worked straight away, making it a joy to use.

The Mandriva version that the Globetrotter is based upon is Mandriva Linux Desktop 2005. The current version of Mandriva available from Mandriva’s store is the ’2006′ version, but most people won’t notice any difference. The 2006 version mostly offers new icons and other subtle improvements.

In use, we found the 2005 version to be what we’ve come to expect from Mandriva; great usability and hardware compatibility, a refined look and feel and all the usual software, like OpenOffice, Firefox, the Gimp for graphics, plus a whole load of utility software for burning CDs, DVDs, listening to music, connecting an iPod and more.

One of the nice things about the Globetrotter is that it can be used without any fear of altering the host machine’s operating system installation. And since it’s a hard drive, the read-only limitations of a ‘live-CD’ don’t apply, so extra software can be installed. Additionally, the drive has a partition that can be read by Windows and Apple machines, so it can be used for transporting data.

The Globetrotter comes in two capacities, 40 GB and 80 GB, with the former providing a Linux data partition of 12.4 GB and a DOS partition of 12.4 GB, and the latter providing a Linux data partition of 33.1 GB and a DOS partition of 33.1 GB.

If you share a PC at home, you’re probably obliged to run Windows on it so that your family can use a familiar system. So installing Linux could be a bit of a gamble unless you’re technically savvy. The same may be true at work, and many IT departments are unable to support Linux but recognise that some job functions require it. Because it doesn’t alter the host OS, the Globetrotter is an excellent solution to all these problems. Finally, if cost is no issue, the Globetrotter is a means of getting Linux onto any PC without any installation effort.

The Globetrotter comes with 30 days of support, plus 30 days of Mandriva Club membership.

Company: LaCie & Mandriva

We were impressed by the ease of use of the Globetrotter, and the fact that it lived up to its promise of portability. We reckon the price is about right too, but would have liked to see a case to protect the drive when it's being transported.