The Writers Workbench: Portable Drives

Apr 20, 2011 | Updated Jun 20, 2011

As the world gets ever more portable, it's important to find ways to store and transport your data and files. For the most part, this is broken down into two areas. External hard drives and USB Flash drives.

Once upon a time, the advantage of external hard drives was their storage capacity, since their size, while small enough to be portable, was a bit bulky. They of course remain much bigger and heavier than Flash drives, but they've come down impressively in size. Conversely, USB Flash drives had the advantage of being small enough to carry around on a keychain, but their capacity was limited. Today, however, though of course much less than a hard drive, you can get serious storage. To be clear, these are two completely different solutions for different needs, but they're cousins.

One note: I looked at these drives in terms of storage, not back-up. There's a slight difference: I consider backup when you have a scheduled process to handle all your important files, generally on a regular basis. Storage can be as simple as wanting to transfer a large presentation file to a meeting. (The column here has previously reviewed ease-of-use back-up solutions.)

My manner of testing was incredibly low-tech, but highly "real world." I copied over my large Users directory, as well as the smaller My Documents folder. This is particularly apt since one of the prime usages of these devices is as a backup for your most important files. The numbers aren't important compared to high-tech tests, their value is in being comparative.

•Verbatim Titan XS
•Iomega Compact Edition eGo
•Clickfree C2 Portable Backup
•Verbatim Tuff-'n'-Tiny
•OCZ Rally 2


When looking at the miniaturization of external hard drives, you have to start at the Verbatim Titan XS which (at the time of writing) is the smallest around. In fact, it will easily fit in your shirt pocket. It would be a little heavy to keep there, but you certainly could. But it could easily be kept in your pants pocket, jacket or purse.

The Titan XS measures only 4.25" tall, just 3.1" wide and .5" deep. It weighs slightly under 5.5 ounces. What's also nice is that the drive is very well-protected and solidly-covered in a shock-resistant rubber casing. The included USB plug is very short, which is okay, but could be a problem for some system set-ups. The positive is that this you don't have to carry around a bulky cord, so it's even more portable. (Of course, you could always buy a longer cord if that best fits your needs.)

In my non-high-tech tests, the drive did the full Users Folder backup in 60 minutes. The smaller My Documents folder took one minute and 45 seconds.

Norton Online Back Up is included for 5 GB of data. The Titan XS comes with a healthy seven-year warranty. A 320 GB drive can be bought (at the time of writing) for $64.


Though the Titan XS leads as the smallest external drive, the Iomega Compact Edition eGo isn't far behind. It's only slightly taller, at 4.75", and a touch wider at 3.4", and.7 deep. It too could slip into your shirt pocket, but would be a tighter fit - weighing in at 5.75 ounces.


Most impressively, the eGo is particularly zippy. It handled the full Users folder backup in only 43 minutes, and sped through My Documents in just 48 seconds.

The eGo has a glossy, stylish covering, but it's tough, as well, using what Iomega calls Drop Guard, which they say protects the drive up to 51" if dropped (40% above the industry average). For reasons that should be clear, this is something I chose not to test. An optional, highly-protective case is available for $20 that provides extra safety, though it's extremely bulky which largely defeats the purpose of having such a small, portable device.

The drive comes with Iomega's Protection Suite which includes a 1-year subscription to Trend Micro Internet Security (an anti-virus product), Iomega QuikProtect (for simple file backup), EMC Retrospect (more heavy-duty backup, including applications), and MozyHome Online Backup service, with 2 GB free. Its warranty is three years. The 320 GB model (at the time of writing) could be found online for $47.

Clickfree products have been here reviewed earlier in a column about backup, a slightly different issue that storage, as mentioned. The C2 is very impressive for its brain-dead easy backup software that starts up automatically the moment you plug in the device and runs without any user involvement. I've included it here because, of course, you can use it for storage only, though that doesn't take full advantage of the product's capabilities.

To run a normal backup of your system, you'd simply use the installed Clickfree backup software, and everything would be backed up automatically. But if you wanted to copy over individual storage files manually, it handled the full User folder in 45 minutes, and My Documents in a minute.


The C2 fits in impressively among the other small storage drives here - a mere 4.6" tall, 3.1" wide and .75" deep, and weighing 6.1 ounces. It also has an extremely convenient built-in USB plug which adds greatly to the device's portability, though it's extremely short. However a $15 docking station is available for separate purchase, if you need one. The 320 GB model can be found at the time of writing for $90. It comes with a 3-year warranty.


Verbatim is clearly on a "small is good" kick, because in addition to the Titan XS external hard drive above, it clearly has the smallest Flash drive around, the Tuff-'n'-Tiny line. These are so small that it's either shocking or laughable when you see them. They are - this is no exaggeration - about the size of your thumbnail. Not "thumb" (which is why such drives used to be called "thumb drives") but the nail only. If you know those miniscule SD storage cards that cameras and cell phones use, the Tuff-'n'-Tiny is half that size. And yet the capacity goes as high as an amazing 64 GB. I tested the 16 GB model.


The speed of the drive, alas, isn't up to the technology breakthrough of its size. It's not problematically sluggish, but it's definitely slow, and slower than you wish when you see its other attributes. The full User backup took a long 2 hour, 33 min. And the My Document folder required six minutes.

In addition to being Tiny, the drive is very rugged, built to be resistant to dust, water, static and even getting driven over by a car. The 16 GB model retails at writing for $37.


OCZ makes one of my favorite USB Flash drives, the similarly-named Rally 2 Turbo. Alas, that only comes in a capacity up to 8 GB, and it's being phased out as the new, much faster USB 3.0 protocol is coming in. (The Flash drives tested here are the USB 2.0 standard.) Since capacity is now becoming more critical with Flash drives, as consumers prefer to carry photos and MP3 files around along with their data, I decided to look at the standard Rally 2 Flash drive, since it's available up to 32 GB. (I reviewed the 16 GB model.)

The Rally 2 does a solid job, transferring files reasonably quickly for a Flash drive, though alas it pales compared to its lightning fast sibling (the Turbo). It handled the User folder in around 1 hour, 45 minutes. (I say "around," because I got wildly varying results, some as much as 30 minutes longer, some up to 35 minutes shorter. The My Documents folder took about three minutes, 30 seconds. Again, there was some difference but the range differential was small.

What I like about OCZ Flash drives is that they're very well-made, extremely sturdy. They're also thin and light, about the size of your index finger. (It's 2-5/8"h x 5/8"w.) The other Turbo version had a problem with a loose cap, but that's not an issue with this standard Rally 2 - the cap snaps on tightly and stays secure. It has an extremely bright, orange light that flashes when accessing the drive - this can be a bit of a distraction, but generally it's out of your sightline. The only real quibble is that it can only be attached to a keychain with an enclosed lanyard...and it is bizarrely difficult to get the lanyard to slide through the tiny slot. Eventually, goodness prevailed, and it got attached.

This was tested with the 32 GB model, but for purposes of price comparison the 16 GB model was available at the time of writing for $36.


All models tested here have some strong attribute that could be to one's benefit, depending on your needs. The Titan XS, for instance, is ideal for someone whose main requirement is size. The Clickfree is of most use to someone who not only wants storage, but also built-in, automatic backup. But since the topic here this month is storage, not backup, I'd say that the Iomega Compact Edition eGo does the best job combining small size and speed.

In the realm of Flash drives, the Tuff-'n'-Tiny is unfortunately too slow if you do a lot of big backups regularly. But if you want something as small as could be, it's a gem. And if you only copy occasional files, the speed wouldn't be an issue. The OCZ Rally 2 isn't as zippy as one would hope for, but it does its job quickly enough, and is extremely well-made and reasonably small. By a tiny margin (no pun intended), it's my preference here.

"The Writers Workbench" appears monthly on the website for the Writers Guild of America. To see this entire column, with complete product graphics and additional "TWW Notes," please click here