- Durable, metal outside finish; not cheap plastic
- No powercord
- Totally silent
- Includes capable backup software
- Good price; prices continue to fall
Deciding between Big or Portable
The original plan was to buy a new 500G external USB ("bookshelf") drive. These are about the size of a thick, hardback book and they have a power-brick -- making them a pain to move from computer to computer. There is no doubt, these larger drives are cheaper and have larger capacities than the portable drives, often selling for $30 to $50 less than their portable USB counterparts.
However, after talking with several friends, the convenience of the portable drives was worth the sacrifice -- not having a powercord makes it easy to hop from laptop to desktop and to visit other people's computers. Look at this size... and it only needs a thin USB cable:
The drive itself has a brushed metal top that is professional and understated and it is also utilitarian, acting as a heat-sink. The bottom has a softer, slip-resistant pad. Other brands typically have a hard outside plastic shell, while colorful, scratch easily.
It took longer to open the packaging than it did to install. Literally, plug the USB cable in and the drive appears. I am always pleased when this happens.
The supplied USB cable is odd because it is a Y-adapter with three USB connectors, two for the computer-side and one for the drive. It took several minutes of research to find out why. Apparently some older laptops do not provide enough juice to power the drive and plugging in both USB connectors gives added power. However, with the equipment I've tested, I've only needed one USB port. It is not obvious, but when plugging in the USB cable, use the thicker of the two as the primary or the drive will not work.
If you are planning to use the drive just as a drag-and-drop backup, you are done. But if you want a more sophisticated approach, the drive ships with Maxtor's optional Backup Manager.
Although the program can be configured to watch specific folders (C:\Data, Documents and Settings, etc), and automatically backup changed files, you should use the "Safety Drill" feature and backup the entire hard disk as a bootable image. Backups run about a minute per gigabyte.
Maxtor's software is easy to use, with no real complaints, although I prefer using a different commercial package, see this Acronis True Image article. Maxtor's software, while serviceable, only writes to the external USB drive; it can not write to DVD's (you need both types of backups). When comparing this disk with other brands, note what software comes with the drive. A friend bought a less-expensive drive and it did not come with disk-imaging software.
I do not advise carrying the backup drive with the laptop because the laptop could be stolen, along with the backup.
Any regrets? Of course. For an extra $50 I could have bought the larger 500G portable disk.
[Update: January, 2009]
Several months ago I made a "Golden Backup" of my home computers using Maxtor's software. I had the opportunity to restore the backup after the laptop crashed with a "NT-LDR" error. The restore was flawless and twenty minutes later I was back online as-if nothing happened.
Although the backup was several months old, current data is always stored on a server and the only thing lost were operating-system and other software updates, all of which were easily re-created. When the laptop booted, it connected to Microsoft Update and brought itself up-to-date.
Once again, I feel sorry for those people who do not have a full-system backup; it would have been a lot more painful to recover. See this older, related article: Trashing Home Computers.
[Update: May, 2011] The Disk continues to perform well and runs backups for a half-dozen computers. Wished I had bought the 500G version. In May, 2011, I bought a 750GB replacement drive from HP; reviewed here.
The Maxtor comes with a 5-year warranty.