Seagate unveils USB-based hard drives

Seagate's DiskStor 20 has 20GB of storage, and the DiskStor 40 has a capacity of 40GB. Both use a standard USB 1.1 connection and are scheduled to ship in the US within a month. List price is $US269 for the 20GB drive, and $US349 for the 40GB unit. Seagate targets the DiskStor products at users who want more space to store data such as digital images but who'd rather not open their PC to add a new drive.

"This is an extremely easy installation, a real plug-and-store product," says Bob Hawkins, director of product line management at Seagate removable storage solutions.

In addition to people seeking extra storage for their home PCs, the DiskStor products should appeal to notebook users, as well as corporate users who move from one PC to another, Hawkins says.

Bundled software helps manage storage

Seagate ships each DiskStor product with two applications intended to make it even easier to use the drive. The Datakeeper data management software from PowerQuest gives you more control over how you save your data, Hawkins says. For example, you can set the software to save multiple versions of the same file, which lets you go back in time to restore old versions of a file.

The second program is for users who store digital photos on their new drive. ACDSee is a popular image viewer from ACD Systems that lets you easily and quickly see images you've stored on your DiskStor drive, he says. The software supports up to 40 different image formats, and it offers tools for editing your photos, too.

Seagate: USB is fast enough

Seagate chose to use USB 1.1 with its DiskStor products because "USB is everywhere--it's the connection of choice," Hawkins says. The USB connection limits the 5400-revolutions-per-minute drive to a 1.5MB per second sustained transfer rate, but that's plenty fast for most users, he says.

Today's internal 5400-rpm drives offer sustained transfer rates upward of 14MB per second, roughly ten (or more) times faster than the USB-connected DiskStor drives. The fastest desktop drives can provide sustained transfers in the neighbourhood of 30 times faster than the new USB-limited DiskStore drives.

Seagate chose not to implement the much faster 1394 interface (also called FireWire) on DiskStor because the company didn't see a large market for that interface, Hawkins says. The 1394 interface allows for transfer speeds of up to 400 megabits per second (50MB per second).

Seagate competitor Maxtor offers 1394-based external hard drives, and LaCie recently launched a fast external drive that also uses 1394 technology.

While Seagate has opted to skip the 1394 interface, it plans to sometime release drives that use the upcoming USB 2.0 standard. The speedy new standard--long rumoured to be "just around the corner"--has yet to make an industry-wide appearance. When it does appear, it is expected to offer transfer speeds of up to 480 megabits per second (60MB per second).

Seagate plans to wait until there's an established market for USB 2.0 drives before making a move, though. "When the market moves to USB 2.0, we'll be there," Hawkins says.

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