How refreshing to review a product whose name nicely sums up its major properties. The FireWire 120 from Western Digital is a 120GB external hard drive that connects… wait for it… via the FireWire port. We’ve reviewed other external drives in the past, some of which sport USB and FireWire connections. The fact that this one only has a FireWire port – no USB connection – raises an important question; what do you do if your machine doesn’t support FireWire?
The answer is to get hold of a plug-in FireWire expansion card of some kind. These are available from a range of hardware retailers and are usually in the shape of a PCI card, which makes them suitable for PC or Macintosh systems. They’re pretty inexpensive too, although if you have a notebook without FireWire, a PC Card solution is a little more costly.
But back to the drive itself. It’s quite a chunky package, encased in transparent plastic that looks like it’ll take a few knocks, although perhaps not quite rubberised enough to survive a drop to the floor. There’s no easy way to gain access to the hard drive itself. Not that you’d need to, but we were curious to know what was inside. Never mind. Suffice to say there’s 120GB of 3.5-inch platters in there (80GB and 200GB versions are also available), with a 7,200rpm spin speed and an ATA/66 connection to the FireWire port.
The FireWire (or IEEE1394) connection in this drive is touted by Western Digital as being some 30 times faster than the old USB 1.1 standard, although USB 2.0 is much closer in terms of performance, and having a dual connection would have increased the potential market for this drive. But it certainly has all the performance you’re likely to need. It may not be quite as fast as some of the newest EIDE interfaces, but this drive is certainly quick enough for running disk-hungry applications, editing video or pretty much anything else you might desire.
And it’s effectively hot-pluggable, once you’ve loaded the necessary drivers. Obviously you shouldn’t unplug it while files are still open, but the drive seems to be intelligent enough to sort itself out if you plug it in after the PC has booted. There’s no power switch, though, so you’d have to physically unplug it from the mains cable to switch it off. A couple of LEDs on the front of the box tell you what’s going on inside.
Western Digital includes the necessary FireWire cable, which is a good thing. Most operating systems have their own disk utilities (for formatting and partitioning, etc.) and these will work with the drive once its drivers have been loaded. There’s also a selection of disk utilities supplied by Western Digital, but some of these aren’t optimised for Mac OS X. It’s not a big problem, though, and there’s a warning note in the box to prevent you getting confused.
Company: Western Digital
Contact: 01372 360055