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Test drive: Pocket-sized hard drive
I have the future sitting on my desk.
It's a tiny black box, a little smaller than my Palm computer, so it can fit quite easily in my shirt pocket. This device is an external hard drive offering enormous amounts of storage at a relatively low price -- $250 for six gigabytes -- that works on Windows computers or Apple boxes equipped with a Universal Serial Bus port.
This is really cool stuff all by itself, but it's the potential to fundamentally alter computers that's really exciting.
Portable storage isn't a new idea. But until now, removable hard drives with lots of space were pretty expensive and generally designed only to work on the computer you bought it with. Other
types of removable media -- such as the popular Zip drive by Iomega -- were reasonably priced but didn't offer a whole lot of storage space. Standard Zip discs hold 100 megabytes; I've got e-mail that wouldn't fit on there.
The hard drive I've been playing with has 60 times as much space. In fact, at six GB, it's about as big as most fixed hard drives. That's because it's essentially a standard hard drive that you can move around.
Developed by Flotec Engineering in South Korea, the Pockey hard drive comes in a variety of formats and requires no external power supply; it pulls juice in from the USB port, something nearly every computer sold over the last two years is equipped with.
The 10-GB Pockey model costs about $300 and the 20-GB package is $400. That's a lot more than you'd pay for traditional storage -- you can find 40-GB hard drives now for less than $150 -- but the removable aspect of this drive offers some wonderful options for computer users.
For one thing, it's far more secure. If you've got files you don't want anybody nosing around, you can keep them on a removable hard drive. Most people today store income tax returns, Palm databases and medical and banking information on their computers. If that computer is connected to a network, an outsider can vacuum up lots of sensitive information. Storing such data on removable media makes it easier to keep safe.
I know we're all supposed to be using the Net for big storage, but that's still too unreliable, insecure and time-consuming for me.
I was a little worried that the Pockey would work too slowly because it's tied to the USB port, but I was able to run two hours of video off the drive with no hiccups at all. Second-generation USB ports, which soon will become standard on new computers, will move data even faster and more reliably than the current technology.
Users need to install a driver on the computer the Pockey is plugged into, but that process is automated; insert the CD or the floppy disk with the needed software on it, and presto, your computer thinks it has another big, fat hard drive attached to it.
Although the glitches I encountered were very minor, the manufacturer has released a new set of drivers -- and a slightly improved device -- for 2001 aimed at addressing those issues.
The instructions that come with the Pockey repeatedly advise that sudden shocks can turn the device into a doorstop. My drive fell off my desk onto the carpeted floor -- a distance of more than three feet -- with no permanent damage, although the data being stored at that moment was corrupted and had to be copied again.
The Pockey seems as rugged as any other laptop-size hard drive, which is essentially what it is. Even so, I'd make sure material on the Pockey was also backed up on other media, because its tiny footprint suggests there isn't any room for shock protection in the case.
We'll be seeing a lot more devices like this very soon, including an entire mobile drive system from Iomega called Peerless. The Peerless system uses a kind of cradle that sits on your desk and accepts the external drive. A 20-GB disk -- which is still a large hard drive even for a desktop computer -- will sell for about $200, but you'll have to pay $100 or so more for every cradle you need.
The Iomega guys plan to introduce a cradle that's designed for the car, so you can just slap in the hard drive with your MP3 music and listen to your digitized tunes on the road.
Development of stuff like this means we can rethink the entire concept of a computer. I'd guess that within five years, instead of devoting an entire briefcase to my laptop and its supporting cast, I'll be able to just carry around a 100-GB hard drive -- I figure the Windows operating system will take up about 82 GB by that time -- with everything I need on it, confident that whatever computer I'm seated in front of can be instantly converted into my personal box.
I just hope my back lasts five more years.