Q. USB Hard Drive

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SUMMARY: A very neat application of compact flash technology – a portable “drive” that fits on your key chain.

Crazy PC was nice enough to send over a “Q.” USB Hard Drive to test out. I have a digital camera which I use and have grown vary familiar with compact flash cards. This technology features a small footprint and non-volatile storage. Taking it a step further, we now have this:

Q Drive

It comes with a little plastic boot to keep the USB clean and a driver floppy.

The Q. was developed by Agaté Technologies, a company which has a products built around the USB port. One thing about the Q.; it is small. It comes in sizes ranging from 16 MB to 256 MB (according to its package). The sample I have is a 16 MB version. It has a “micro-switch” to write protect the drive; now, when they say “micro”, they’re not kidding:

Q Lock

You have to use something like a paper clip to actuate the switch; it’s about as big as one of the letters on the US Quarter pictured above. I think some attention to human factors engineering is in order.

Setting it up is a piece of cake – boot the PC and stick the Q. in a USB slot. Windows will ask for drivers – insert the floppy it comes with, follow the usual directions, and it’s installed; took all of 2 minutes. Then you access and use the Q. just like any other drive. You can plug it in and remove it with the PC running, so hot-swapping between machines is no problem.

OK – it’s cute, it’s unique, it’s a real conversation piece (expect lots of “No! A hard drive?”) but how well does it do its job?

I decided to compare it to the compact flash cards I use for my digital camera. I have a Lexar USB enabled reader hooked up to the same machine, so I benchmarked a 16 MB Lexar card against the Q., using SiSoft’s drive benchmarking utility, with the following results:

Q vs Lexar

Looks like the Q. is somewhat slower than a 100 MB Zip drive, while the Lexar does better. Either one is not a threat to 10,000 rpm hard drives by any means – but that’s not what they compete against – you don’t buy these for speed. So, who might buy something like this?

I would think if you regularly work at home and use floppies or Zips to transport files back and forth to the office, the Q. would certainly be a more compact solution. When I’m running tests on motherboards, I routinely need to download test programs etc; I have been using a CDR for this (moving a Zip around is a pain) but I can easily see using the Q. as well (although something like 64 MB or more would be better).

However, portability is not cheap – the 16 MB version lists for $70 and the 64 MB version for a whopping $200 – this is expensive storage.

I bought two 16 MB Lexars, with readers, on sale at COMP USA (thanks Ed!) for $30. While not as flexible (you need the USB card reader in each machine) or as small as the Q., it is a cheaper, faster solution – for about the same price as the Q., I bought two 16 MB cards and two readers.

CONCLUSION

The Q. is designed for mobility, not as a permanent storage device. I can’t see this as a Zip substitute.

As expensive as the Q. is, it’s still a very neat package. I expect you’ll see prices come down very quickly as competition brings out competing products. Even though right now a compact flash might be a cheaper solution, the extremely simple, totally portable and ubiquitous (all you need is a USB port) Q. is a neat solution for someone tired of lugging floppies or Zips around.

The downside I see is the Q. is so small that misplacing one is very easy; best to keep it on your key chain.

Thanks again to Crazy PC for sending one over to try out – an interesting product!

Email Joe


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