Mercury Elite-AL Pro Dual-Drive USB 2.0 + USB 2.0 Powered Hub
Company: Other World Computing

Price: $299.99
Macsales.com

Hardware Requirements: Any Mac with a USB port

Who doesn’t love REALLY BIG hard drives? More space for all our stuff. I remember buying a hard drive for my first computer which happened to be a Mac Plus with a SCSi port. It was a 40Mb (yes, I said 40Mb) external drive that set me back $700 and at the time I thought there was no way I was EVER going to fill this monster! I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing and then we’ll continue with the review…are you done? Good.

Of course I’ve bought countless internal and external drives since then and the same thought used cross my mind all the time; “Can I justify buying a drive this big?” Circumstances of course have made such questions silly in this day and age of digital content. There IS no such thing any longer as too much storage space. We need it for audio, for video, for editing webpages, operas, yodeling dog tracks, and immeasurable other things that were mostly just dreams to use computers for back in the day of my old Mac Plus. Naturally whenever a gap is created in technology between what we have and what we need there is someone there to fill it. You can get external drives from almost anywhere these days, but buying from Harry’s Fish supplies and computer sales can be an iffy thing when it comes to support after the sale and that’s where some makers really shine.

A quick story. I received this unit for review from http://macsales.com#mce_temp_url# and upon powering it up I discovered it was dead. I put a call in (without saying who I was or that this was for a review) to OWC and was quickly whisked to tech support who approved me to open the case (do not do so unless they say it’s OK because it can void your warranty) where we soon discovered that one of the two drives were dead. They sent me an email with an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization including shipping charges) and also assured me that a new unit was on the way even before they got back the problematic piece. Nice. This is why OWC has remained in business long after many of their rivals bit the dust.

Getting back to the Mercury Elite-AL, the one sent to me is the 2Tb 7200 RPM drive (other sizes are available from 500MB to 3TB). There’s a lot to like about this unit beyond just the mega-storage in a small package. It’s also comes equipped with a USB 2.0 powered hub. Why is this important? Chances are you got this hooked up to something like an iMac and if you have any other peripherals (like printers, scanners, sonic death rays, etc), USB ports are at a bit of a premium. The Mercury Elite-AL has you covered with not just one, but two USB 2.0 ports for any other devices you own.

Inside the enclosure is two SATA hard drives that are striped together (more or less like a RAID 0 array). The good news is that the two drives working in tandem gives you a lot of space and a little better speed. The bad news is if one drive fails, you will probably lose all the data on both drives. The drive comes pre-configured in this way with no external method for separating the drives. I found out when the first drive did not work (didn’t even mount), when taken apart there is a jumper on the drive’s controller board that links them together. Taking the drive apart and removing this jumper will probably void your warranty and any data you have will disappear when remounted on your desktop though it will separate the drives if that’s what you want.. Always, always, ALWAYS, have alternate backup plans for ANY critical data! I can’t stress this enough. That’s not to say that this isn’t a great enclosure and that your data won’t be safe. It IS a great enclosure. It’s quiet, unobtrusive and offers a lot of value for the money. Are there more secure ways to keep your data? Sure there is, but not at this price.

Also included with the drive is some nice utility software. For Windows users, OWC has included NovaStor’s NovaBACKUP which works for Windows 2000 users as well as other Windows operating systems created since then. Mac users get ProSoft Engineering’s Data Backup and an OEM version of Intech’s SpeedTools with disk defragmentation and QuickBack. As with most reviews concerning hard drives, there really was enough time and I didn’t have enough data stored to try out this software, but both Intech and ProTools have a great reputation with their individual products.

Besides just using this drive for day to day storage, there are a number of other uses for it as well. You can use this with Apple’s Time Machine backup utility in Leopard and it will perform flawlessly. Remember that you always want at the very least the same size drive for back-ups as you have within the machine you’re backing up. The Mercury Elite-AL will do the trick with ease.

Something else you might use a drive this size for is entertainment. Set up iTunes to use this drive (go to iTunes preferences and select it) and it will probably be some time before you need to worry about running out of room. Don’t forget that you also need to back up any and all purchased content from iTunes (or Amazon.com) and the Mercury Elite-AL will take care of that nicely as well even if you don’t use it to store all your other content.

Another thing a drive like this is great for is to do complete system backups. Use SuperDuper, Carbon Copy Cloner, or ProSoft’s Data Backup (included as said before with the drive which is a nice touch) and unless you have a Mac Pro you won’t fill this bad boy up with any drive currently available for consumer Mac products.

There are plenty of dual drive enclosures on the market. Some even have multiple ways to connect (OWC has some with USB, FireWire, and eSATA), but for the most bang for the buck, the OWC Mercury Elite-AL is a good bet. I took off one point for not being able to separate the drives without opening the enclosure. OWC should put a switch on the enclosure to separate the drives if that’s what the customer would like.

MyMac rating: 4 out of 5

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