500 McCarthy Blvd.
Milpitas, CA 95035
Remember when $600 was a good price on a 13GB Seagate Barracuda A/V hard disk? Analog MJPEG capture rates needed 10,000 rpm drives that sounded like Everglades fan boats and were hot enough that the kids could use your PC as an Easy Bake oven when you captured video. Well, those days are long gone. In-camera digital compression has lowered the data rate necessary for acquisition, drive technology has improved and drive sizes have increased 20 fold. Best of all, the price-per-gig is a fraction of what it once was, with some video-capable drives falling well below $1/GB after rebates. Maxtor’s latest OneTouch external drive offers an incremental improvement over the previous version, but the price/performance/features are remarkable as a whole.
The 250GB OneTouch drive we reviewed was housed in an attractive brushed aluminum case that can lay flat or stand vertically on the included plastic stand. The front panel sports a pair of bright blue LEDs under the OneTouch button that you may find either annoying or really cool. The AC/DC transformer is quite small. When we powered up the drive (using the power switch), we were quite astonished with how quiet it was. There were no fans and we could scarcely hear the crackle of the heads madly transferring data to the platters without pressing our ear to the drive housing.
After the connecting the drive to the USB 2.0 port, we checked out the drive and found that it was formatted using the FAT32 file system. We understand that Maxtor used the FAT32 because it is more universal, but it is not the best for video on a PC, since this older file system forces videographers to split their video files into separate chunks. Fortunately, it was a simple matter to reformat the drive to the NTFS file system. In WinXP, a Quick Format did the trick and only took a few seconds.
We began our tests capturing to the drive using the USB 2.0 connection, with our camcorder going into the FireWire port on a Creative Labs Audigy sound card. The specs for USB 2.0 clearly show that the standard has the bandwidth to flawlessly capture 25Mbps DV video, by more than a magnitude. Initial tests were flawless and we captured three consecutive hours of video with breaks only to change the tapes. The aluminum housing became very hot to the touch, which made us glad that the drive was not cooped up in our already stuffy and warm computer case.
Our next test was to unplug the drive from the USB port and connect the FireWire for testing. We tried to do this hot, meaning that we did not power down the computer. When the FireWire was plugged in, Windows detected the drive after about ten seconds and then ran the New Hardware Installation Wizard. After installing the drivers, we were prompted to reboot the computer, which we did.
Since our first test machine only had a single FireWire port, we chained our camcorder to the back of the hard disk. FireWire laptop owners will especially appreciate that the results of these tests were also flawless, with no dropped frames. We did get a minor error message from Windows at one point while the drive was connected to the FireWire port, but we were not actually using the drive at the time, so we aren’t sure what it meant.
Mac, USB 1.1 and USB 2.0
We hot-swapped the drive back to a USB 1.1 port and were pleased to see a warning pop up, cautioning that this type of USB connection was not fast enough for the drive, even though the drive still worked. Again, we hot-swapped the drive back to a USB 2.0 port and tried to capture again. This time, we experienced lots of dropped frames. A reboot immediately solved this problem. Our haphazard, hot and frequent swaps were certainly to blame for the dropped frames and in more than 20 hours of hard use, the drive did not drop any other frames at all.
We also tested the drive on a Mac G4 through the FireWire port. No additional software drivers were required. Our capture tests were just as reliable on the Mac as they were on our Wintel box. G4 Macs do not have USB 2.0 ports, although new PowerBook G4s do (in addition to two FireWire ports), as do the G5s.
One of the main marketing pushes for this drive is the OneTouch button, which is intended to automatically run the included backup software (but could be programmed to run Solitaire or any other program you want). We cursorily tested this feature and it worked as advertised.
External drives from Maxtor cost about 25% more than the equivalent internal version, which is about what you’d pay for an external enclosure kit to convert an internal drive. External drives tend to have slower peak burst transfer rates, which means that the drives are slower overall. For video capture, however, burst transfer is meaningless, and the OneTouch drive is more than capable of handling the task, by a factor of 20. Besides the ease with which you can transfer huge amounts of data between computers, bringing this 7,200 rpm heat-generator outside of the computer case is a good idea. Convenient, portable, silent and attractive; this is a no-hassle drive with massive capacity.
Platform: PC or Mac
Operating System: Win 98SE/2000/Me/XP; Mac OS 9.1 or later
Processor: PII or Mac G3
Interface: USB 2.0 (and 1.1) and FireWire
Cache Buffer: 8MB
Speed: 7,200 rpm
A no-hassle drive with massive capacity.