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USB thumb-drives are a good thing, putting up to a gigabyte of storage into a device the size of your pinky. In a case of too much of a good thing can be wonderful, small USB 2.0 hard-drives that can easily slip into your pocket have now come to market, offering 5, 10, 20, and even 40GB of storage in a very compact form-factor. Today we pit Seagate’s 5GB Pocket Hard Drive versus Iomega’s 20GB Mini Hard Drive.

Want to know how these mighty mites perform? USB 2.0 removes the system interface bottleneck, but if you’re moving a couple of gigabytes of media files onto one of these drives, which one will get the job done faster? Continued…

Seagate 5GB Pocket Hard Drive Iomega 20GB Mini Hard Drive
Capacity: 5GB 20GB and 40GB (we tested 20GB)
Drive technology: Seagate 1-inch drive Hitachi 1.5-inch
Dimensions: 3.4" L x 2.9" W x 0.5" H 0.71″ H x 3.03″ Diameter
Weight: 3.5 ounces 2.2 ounces
Street price: $160.00 (check prices) $160.00 (check prices)

Iomega clearly has the larger capacity by as much as a factor of eight. We tested Iomega’s 20GB model so the size advantage was “only” 4X. Given that the two units are equally priced, this contest might be over before it starts. But the Seagate is more compact, and its casing includes a four-inch USB 2.0 cable that connects directly to your PC. The Iomega drive arrives with a six-inch USB 2.0 cable and a protective carrying case. However, the case doesn’t have a pouch for the USB cable, which could get lost.

The Seagate unit is based on the company’s 1-inch, 3600RPM drive, and has a 2MB onboard cache. The front-center of the unit has an activity light that indicates if the device is attached to your system, and when it’s being accessed.

The Iomega drive uses Hitachi’s DK14FA 20GB 1-inch drive, a 4200RPM spindle that also has a 2MB onboard cache. In some ways, this matchup is a bit lopsided, since we’re pitting a 1-inch drive meant for small portable applications against a full-fledged laptop hard-drive that has a 17% spin-rate advantage, but given the price parity, a comparison still makes sense.

Each drive arrives formatted using the FAT32 file system, and both come with a little bit of software installed. Seagate has a copy of FreeDOS, so the drive is bootable so long as your BIOS supports booting from USB-based devices. It’s useful to retain the FAT32 file system, since it enables you to read and write to the drive if you ever plug it into a Mac. The Mac OS X file system can read NTFS volumes, but cannot write to them. Seagate also includes HTML-based documentation, as well as Seagate’s Pocket DriveToolkit utility, which lets you create a boot disc, manage the partition, format the drive, and restore factory defaults. It also lets you write-protect the drive, where you can create a password to disable the write protection. Iomega includes only a copy of Macromedia Projector, which is a Flash playback application. Continued…

To prep both drives for testing, we copied the contents of bundled software off of them, and formatted both using the FAT32 file system. We tried using several disk benchmarks, including HDSpeed, PCMark04, and HDTach, but encountered issues with each one. HDSpeed gave us wildly inflated scores. PCMark04 would only run on the Iomega drive, not the Seagate. We checked PCMark04’s documentation, and its disk tests only require about 160MB of free disk space, but we didn’t get the Seagate’s drive as an available drive letter when we ran PCMark04 with it attached to our test system. HDTach RW 3.0 ran on both systems, but its destructive write tests (deletes whatever data is on the disk) were grayed out for the Iomega drive, even after we formatted it and there was no data on it. So after all that, we report read performance test scores from HDTach, as well as burst read test scores for both spindles.

We also copied a 1GB VOB file both to and from each of the drives and report the copy times and effective throughput rates. We rebooted our test PC between test runs to clear the disk cache and virtual memory.

Finally, we copied a WMV-HD video clip with a playback bit-rate of around 6Mbits/sec onto each drive, and played it back to verify that each could deliver this content smoothly. We also jumped around during the playback to see if there was any noticeable difference in the latency to jump to the next spot in the clip.

Our test system had the following components:

  • Intel 3.47GHz Pentium 4 CPU
  • Intel D925XECV2 motherboard with the Intel 925 chipset (1066MHz FSB)
  • 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM system memory
  • GeForce 6200 3D card
  • Audigy 2 ZS sound card
  • 2 Western Digital 100GB S-ATA hard-drives running RAID 0
  • Plextor PX-708A DVD+/-RW drive
  • Windows XP with SP2 (DirectX 9.0c) Continued…

HDTach 3.0

From the get-go, Iomega pretty much trounces the Seagate drive, and here on our first test has already opened up a pretty huge performance lead, finishing twice as fast as the Seagate drive on both average read throughput and burst speed.

File Copy – Copy Time

Here again, Iomega is way out in front, completing the 1GB file copy in less than half the time of the Seagate on both the read and write tests.

File Copy – Copy Time

This test just shows the above file-copy test put in terms of throughput rather than time to complete. The file-copy test data on the read test can map pretty well to the data we got from HDTach, and what’s interesting to note is that both drives do noticeably better on the read test than the write test.

WMV HD Inspection Test

Both drives were able to smoothly play back the WMV-HD test file (The Magic of Flight). We did notice that the Seagate had longer access latency when we jumped around from point to point in the file playback, but neither drive exhibited any stuttering of either video or audio. Continued…

If taken on the merits of performance alone, the Iomega 20GB Mini Hard Drive pretty much mops the floor with Seagate’s 5GB Pocket Hard Drive. The stark difference in performance is due to the fact that Iomega is using a laptop hard-drive with a faster spin-rate, which gives it a decided advantage. But in its favor, the Seagate unit is a bit more compact, and has a USB cable built into it, whereas the Iomega drive requires you to cart around a cable and doesn’t give you anywhere to stow it in the drive’s carrying case. Those conveniences aside, Iomega gives you twice the performance and four times the capacity in a slightly larger form factor. And so, Iomega leaves the Slap-Down Cage victorious, while the Seagate drive can only lick its wounds.

Product: Iomega 20GB Mini Hard Drive
Company: Iomega
Pro: 20GB (a 40GB unit goes for $250) of very portable storage; solid performance; can pull power from the USB port; includes protective carrying case.
Con: Carrying case doesn’t include anywhere to stow a needed USB cable.
Summary: A fast little 20GB of storage that you can carry in your shirt’s breast pocket
Price: $160 (check prices)

Product: Segate 5GB Pocket Hard Drive
Pro: Fits very easily in a shirt or pants pocket; includes a USB cable that stows easily when the drive isn’t being used.
Con: Performance is underwhelming; expensive for the capacity it provides, especially considering that units with 4X the capacity can be found for about as much money.
Summary: Very compact 5GB hard-drive whose performance and capacity don’t stack up well versus other available solutions.
Price: $160 (check prices)

If you want to learn more, check out our storage devices section.