|OWC Mercury On-The-Go (320GB)
December 11, 2008
By Joel Santo Domingo
Original Article Link: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2336722,00.asp
The OWC Mercury On-The-Go ($179.99 direct) is a Mac-oriented drive that can be used by a Windows PC with a little reformatting. The Mercury's claim to fame is a 7,200-rpm SATA notebook-class hard drive that powers up on a Mac's (or a PC's) USB or FireWire ports. As befits a portable drive, the drive can work without a power adapter—a boon for the frequent traveler. The drive works fine with Time Machine, built into Mac OS 10.5. A bunch of other utilities are available on the drive and on an included CD. This is a speedy hard drive for the power Mac user, though PC users can benefit from the speed as well.
The device is enclosed in a clear plastic case with an aluminum heat sink on the bottom to dissipate the drive's heat. It's attractive, if a bit larger than the competition (1 by 3.5 by 5.5 inches, HWD). This is because OWC sells several versions of this case for hard drive upgrade use, with different interfaces on each. This 320GB version comes with a USB 2.0 port (mini USB) and a pair of FireWire 800 ports. This way, the drive can be daisy-chained with another FireWire 800 or 400 device (like another drive or a camcorder). Included with the drive is a FW800-to-FW400 adapter, so you can use it with Macs lacking a FW800 port (like the older iMacs and MacBooks). Thanks to the clear case, I could see that the internal drive is a Hitachi TravelStar 7k320, a speedy 7,200-rpm mechanism. That's faster than most pocket-size drives, which use a 5,400-rpm mechanism.
Formatted in HFS+, the Mercury On-The-Go drive shows OWC's Mac-friendly orientation. You'll have to reformat the drive for FAT32 or NTFS if you want to use it with a Windows PC. (Keep in mind, however, that FAT32—which is also Mac-compatible—has an inherent 4GB file-size limit.) The included software is decidedly Mac-friendly. The drive comes with ProSoft Engineering backup for Mac for those Mac users still using Mac OS 10.4 or earlier. You can use the Mercury drive out of the box if you have Time Machine in OS 10.5 (Leopard). The installation CD contains Intech's SpeedTools Utilities for the Mac, among which are drive utilities (such as defrag, disk monitoring, drive benchmarking, and others) for gearheads or IT pros.
Along with the pack-ins on the CD, a couple of GB of Mac shareware and freeware reside on the hard drive itself. It's kind of superfluous, but at least you can ignore the shareware, or delete it to reclaim the space. On the PC side, only NovaStor's NovaBackup for Windows is included on the drive.
The drive is a speedy one, provided you use the FireWire 800 (on "professional" Macs like the MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro) or the FireWire 400 interface. You can, of course, put a FireWire 800 card into a PC, but it's rare to find an FW800 port on a Windows-based notebook. Since the drive is so Mac-oriented, I tested it on our MacBook Pro test bed. The drive transferred our 1.2GB test folder in only 32 seconds over FW800 and was just a smidge slower, at 36 seconds, with FW400. This is an improvement over our Editors' Choice, the Western Digital My Passport Studio (320GB), which transferred the same folder in 41 seconds. Not a huge difference in elapsed time, but that's still a 28 percent difference, which can add up if you back up or transfer files often. The WD and OWC drives both transferred the folder in 49 seconds over USB 2.0, so the USB interface nullifies the extra speed in the OWC drive. The takeaway: Buying a more expensive, faster hard drive makes sense for power users with FW800, but if you're using USB, go for other factors like price per GB or styling.
The Mercury On-The-Go costs a little more than the competition. The OWC drive is $0.56 per GB, while the Western Digital drive, which lists at $170, is $0.53 per GB. The price difference is more extreme when you go to PC-oriented drives like the Toshiba 320GB USB drive ($120 list, or $0.37 per GB). If you use only the USB interface, go for another cheaper drive.
The OWC Mercury On-The-Go comes highly recommended for the Mac power user who needs portable speed for backups and transfers. The drive makes sense for other users with FireWire 800 ports on their computers, but if you have only USB, you should choose another drive.
RATINGS: EDITOR GOOD 3.5/5
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