Firelight Xpress SmartDisk
Review

On July 12, 2006, in Review, by David Weeks


Firelight Xpress SmartDisk
60 GB Firelight Xpress $199.99
120GB Firelight Xpress $299.99.
Company: SmartDisk

http://www.smartdisk.com

SmartDisk’s new Firelight Xpress has new new feature that no other hard drive yet has. An LCD on the drive’s front panel allows you to see the most recent date information was saved to the drive, and the amount of free space remaining. Also, you can use a small included application to write notes that will display on the LCD; most users will display information about what’s on the drive. This means you don’t have to mount the drive to see what’s on it, and when the drive was last written to.

The Xpress is a small-but-not-tiny (palm-sized) USB 2.0 drive that can be bus-powered, or run from the included wall-wart power supply. SmartDisk supplies a two-foot long USB cable.

It ships with a CD containing FireLite XPress Notepad, the application that allows you to display text information on the LCD, as well as BBBackup Express, a backup application. The drive functions perfectly well without having textual data displayed. Even without custom text displayed, the LCD shows the amount of free space remaining and the last write date.

I first used a 60 GB 5400 RPM Firelight Xpress on my nearly-new MacBook Pro. The drive mounted right away. It’s formatted as an MS-DOS volume. I suppose SmartDisk does this to allow the drive to be used without requiring the new owner to format it. Since Macs can read MS-DOS volumes, and PCs cannot read Macintosh volumes, you can guess why the drive comes in MS-DOS format.

Standard Finder drag copies proceeded briskly, as the drive runs at USB 2.0 speeds. I did not measure drive throughput, but it is clearly slower than FireWire 400.

I then installed the FireLight Express Notepad software. While it’s not a Universal Binary, it ran just fine on the MacBook Pro. Vaguely reminiscent of the old Font/DA Mover application, Notepad allows you to write text for display on the LCD, and also choose a display font. You can also use the mouse to draw a bit-mapped graphic, and display that if you don’t want text. There are no drawing tools to speak of: you simply draw freehand shapes with the mouse. I doubt this feature will garner lots of sales. Most people will use the screen to display a list of information they’ve saved on the drive. The text display works very well.

BBBackup Express is written by CMS Software. It installed easily, but it requires an administrator password and a reboot before you can use it. Upon rebooting, you’re presented with BBBackup Express’s configuration screen. You can’t avoid this, even if you don’t want to.

Unfortunately, BBBackup Express was totally unable to see the already-mounted Xpress! Neither logging out or rebooting made a difference. Unmounting and remounting the drive proved futile as well.

An email exchange with Smartdisk informed me that, while Macs are happy reading and writing to FAT32 drives, BBBackup requires the Firelight to be formatted not for DOS/Windows, but in HFS+, the usual Macintosh format.

This crucial little tidbit was in the manual, but I overlooked it. Even reviewers have to RTFM.

After using Disk Utility to reformat the drive as HFS+, BBBackup worked fine. Of course, formatting erases any data you may already have placed on the disk with Finder copies.

SmartDisk should amend the Firelight user Guide to prominently tell Mac users they need to reformat the Xpress as HFS+ if they want to use BBBackup.

I didn’t test BBBackupExpress other than to see if it ran. A quick tour through the application showed it to be reasonably capable.

The 60 GB Firelight Xpress retails for $199.99, and a 120GB version lists for $299.99.

Given that SmartDisk’s FireWire FireLite 60GB, a traditional pocket drive with no LCD, sells for $149.95, you have to decide for yourself if the ability to display text and graphics on the front of the (larger) Xpress drive case is worth it.

For me, I’d say that 50 bucks buys a lot of Post-It notes.


MyMac rating 3.5 out of 5

 

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