WiebeTech ToughTech Mini external hard drive
Review

On November 21, 2006, in Hard Drive, Review, by David Weeks


WiebeTech ToughTech Mini external hard drive
Company: WiebeTech

Price as tested for 80 GB drive $228.95
http://www.wiebetech.com

The Weeks Division of MyMac Labs just wrapped up a couple of road trips with WiebeTech’s new ToughTech Mini external drive. After flogging it mercilessly on the road, we ran it at home as well.

While specs aren’t everything, this enclosure leaves few needs unfulfilled. A few ToughTech highlights are:

Small size 5.12 x 3.15 x .79 inches (13 x 8 x 2 cm)

Four Ports: Dual daisy-chainable FireWire 800, 400 and Single FireWire 400 and USB 2.0. ports

Oxford 924 FireWire chipset

A nice touch is that the price includes a FireWire 800 Cable, a FireWire 400 Cable, USB2 Cable, and an AC Adapter (not needed for Mac use with FireWire).

The unit is touted as being tough, and the case certainly is tough. No cheap plastic here; the thick aluminum shell stoutly resisted bending or flexing when I tried to squeeze or flex it with either one or two hands. Unfortunately, the case has neither external rubber bumpers on its edges, nor internal rubber shock-mounting doughnuts.

The drive is compact. It’s not much bigger than a pack of cards, and it fitted easily in the back pocket of my Levi’s.

The four ports are located on the back of the drive, along with the socket for the AC adapter. Interestingly, Wiebe provides two FireWire 800 ports, enabling a daisy-chain, but only a single FireWire 400 port. FireWire 400 users will need to place this drive at the end of the chain.

I asked Bill Head, WiebeTech Support Manager about this. He quickly replied via email.

“We found that the outer FireWire 800 port and the FireWire 400 port could be used for daisy-chaining. That is, if you use one for the connection to the computer, you can use the other to connect a second FireWire device. The FireWire 800 ports are backwards compatible with FireWire 400 ports if you use a converter cable (such as WiebeTech’s Cable-11). However, you cannot use all three FireWire ports at the same time. That means you can only daisy-chain one extra device to the TTM.”

While few people in the market for a portable external drive would make their buy decision on drive performance, we ran a few quick benchmarks, with XBench and Apple Activity Monitor. Be advised these were not clean-room type tests;  I wanted to simulate a real-world experience, so I had Safari, Entourage, iChat and Preview open and in use.

Xbench testing with the ToughTech hooked up to my Mac Pro via FireWire 400 gave the following results:

Results    29.31
System Info
Xbench Version        1.3
System Version        10.4.8 (8L2127)
Physical RAM          4096 MB
Model                 MacPro1,1
Drive Type            HTS54108 0G9SA00

Disk Test    29.31
Sequential    37.65
Uncached Write    35.13    21.57 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write    39.78    22.51 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read    28.47    8.33 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read    57.08    28.69 MB/sec [256K blocks]

Random    24.00
Uncached Write    8.25    0.87 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write    59.66    19.10 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read    63.78    0.45 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read    77.25    14.33 MB/sec [256K blocks]

I then hooked up the FireWire 800 connection, and this is what I found:

Results    30.75
System Info
Xbench Version 1.3
System Version  10.4.8 (8L2127)
Physical RAM 4096 MB
Model  MacPro1,1
Drive Type  HTS54108 0G9SA00

Disk Test    30.75
Sequential    42.28
Uncached Write    35.88    22.03 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write    39.94    22.60 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read    37.33    10.92 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read    67.04    33.69 MB/sec [256K blocks]

Random    24.17
Uncached Write    8.28    0.88 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write    58.29    18.66 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read    63.79    0.45 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read    84.34    15.65 MB/sec [256K blocks]

Surprisingly, XBench shows the FireWire 800 interface is not much faster than FireWire 400. While it’s common knowledge that FireWire 800 is nowhere near twice as fast as FireWire 400, I was surprised to see so little speed increase between the two. I suspect that the 2.5″ just can’t crank out the bits as fast as FireWire 800 can accept it.

I fired off another question to Bill Head about my findings. Again, I received a rapid reply.

“I agree that the speed of the drive is the limiting factor in your FireWire 800 benchmarks. The drive in your unit is probably 5400 rpm, which is typical for notebook drives. We do carry a 7200 model as well, which should have significantly faster speeds—especially when transferring small files. The benefit of FireWire 800 would be more apparent with this drive.

As for FireWire 800 speeds, we did see a greater difference when using a 7200 rpm drive, but still not as fast as a 3.5” 7200 rpm drive. The 7200 drive had read/write speeds between 5% and 20% higher than the 5400. However, the test was performed by writing and then reading a single 2GB file (on several different computers). Using many small files would probably give better results, because access time is largely dependent on RPMs.”

Lastly, I copied a folder containing 8 GB of various applications and data files from the Mac Pro to the ToughTech, and watched the transfer rate with Activity Monitor. This little application comes with OS X, and gets nowhere near the respect it deserves. Activity Monitor’s great for watching CPU utilization, disk transfer rates, network transfer rates, and is an easy way to watch for stalled processes.

With the copy underway, I saw an average 20 MB/second read and write rate, which roughly corresponds with the Xbench results.

So, you won’t set any FireWire read/write speed records with a 2.5″ drive, but that’s par for the course.

We did not test the USB interface, as I doubt any Macintosh user would need it.

You’ve got plenty of choices when it comes to the size of the drive you buy; you can choose from 80 GB to 160GB drives. The 80GB ToughTech sells for $228.95, and the 160GB sells for $399.95. If you already own a 2.5″ drive, you can buy a bare ToughTech enclosure for $119.95.

WiebeTech includes a CD with manuals for the unit. I was quite impressed at the clarity and

readability of the PDF manual. Have no fear if you you buy a ToughTech with no drive, and plan to install the drive yourself. The manual makes the quick and easy process (virtually) impossible to screw up. If you still have trouble, the CD includes FAQ’s and help files for each model they sell.

Conclusion.
Pros: The ToughTech Mini is a well-built, sturdy unit. You can get it sans-drive, or choose from a number of sizes. It has loads of connection options. Excellent tech support, manuals and help files.

Cons: Don’t expect great FireWire 800 performance from any 2.5″ hard drive. While two FireWire 800 ports are nice, most users would benefit more from one 800 port, and two 400 ports, to allow FireWire 400 daisy-chaining. Somewhat expensive.

MyMac rating 4.5

 

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