USB devices are appearing thick and fast after several years of slow build-up. Most of these devices are peripherals such as scanners, mice, speakers and so on, but LaCie has introduced something a bit different; an external USB hard drive. Available in capacities ranging from 2GB to 10GB, this drive features a distinctive, shock-proof case design that is unique to LaCie. Despite its considerable capacity, the LaCie USB hard disk is only marginally larger than an external Iomega Zip drive. Since it has a built-in power supply and requires very simple installation via the USB port, it has great potential for users needing to transfer large volumes of data from one machine to another.
At the heart of this drive is a new USB mass storage controller, which LaCie calls the Ultra USB Controller. This is effectively a USB-to-SCSI adapter, which means that standard SCSI utilities can be used to format and partition the external drive; a suite of such tools is provided in the box. The Ultra USB Controller is likely to appear in several new drives later this year, but for now it means that when this USB hard disk is plugged in, it behaves exactly as any other hard drive on the system. LaCie recommends against using the drive for running applications, suggesting instead that it should be used for backup and file transfer. But we found that the performance was quite reasonable across the USB port, and if you aren’t looking for the ultimate in performance, there’s no problem at all with running applications straight from the drive.
Since virtually all computers sold in the last 18 months or so have USB ports as standard, LaCie’s decision to use this interface for its external storage products makes a lot of sense. We used the drive under Windows 98, but it could also be connected to a Mac running MacOs 8.x, although data exchange between the two different operating systems would be difficult. Aside from archiving and backup, the USB hard disk could potentially be useful for sales-people delivering presentations and other information to clients, as well as for IT managers doing clone installations.
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