Mercury On-the-Go 500GB portable hard drive

Matthew JC. Powell
17 June, 2008
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The two predominant trends in personal computing over the past few years are the need for enormous amounts of storage space and the need to take it with you everywhere. Desktop hard drives of 500GB or even 1TB and more are becoming commonplace, but for Mac users on the go — digital photographers, musicians, video producers especially — there has always been a compromise between capacity and portability. Not anymore.

A number of vendors have recently begun offering portable drives with capacities finally reaching the half-terabyte mark. So if you’re wondering how you’ll ever squeeze everything into that 80GB drive on your MacBook Air, you need worry no longer. What’s more, some of these drives are bus powered, so you don’t even need to carry about an extra power adapter — the bane of the truly portable computing experience.

The first such drive on the market was the Mercury On-the-Go 500GB from Other World Computing. It’s available from OWC’s web site starting at $US310 for the USB2/eSATA version, going up to $US338 for triple-interface USB2/FireWire 400/800 version, plus $US92 shipping by FedEx International Priority (cheaper shipping is available by standard US Mail but seriously for something like this you want to be able to track it). OWC will also ship you the bare enclosure if you want to install a drive yourself — the mechanism included with the review unit was a 5400-rpm Hitachi that ran quieter than a churchmouse and was plenty fast enough to capture video in iMovie, though it probably wouldn’t do for too much performance-intensive work. Smaller capacity 7200-rpm drives are readily available though.

Also included in the box are all the cables you’d need and a stylish leather-look carrying case. There’s also a power adapter in the box but a) it’s American and b) it’s unnecessary anyway since the drive runs very nicely thank you very much on bus power. I’d argue that OWC might be able to shave a little off the shipping cost if it stopped including these for overseas orders.

UPDATE: OWC says it does indeed leave out the adapter on international orders to reduce shipping costs, but only on models it has tested to run 100 percent reliably on bus power alone. The 500GB model, according to OWC, experienced occasional shutdowns due to insufficient power in its testing, thus the adapter is included. I experienced no such shutdowns in my testing of the product, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. The included power supply can be used in Australia in conjunction with easily-available plug adapters.

Another criticism — and it’s a minor one — is that the blue activity light is perhaps a little too bright and piercing for my eyes. Especially when it’s flashing it’s quite a distraction and even, in conjunction with the red power light, put me in mind of American cop shows. Such aesthetic concerns might seem picky, but consider the smoothly undulating activity light on the Western Digital MyBook enclosure (which lacks portability), or the pulsating orange glow of Seagate’s FreeAgent Go (which doesn’t come in 500GB).

That said the Mercury is no slouch in the design department. Its rounded clear plastic case incorporates an aluminium heatsink in the bottom and cooling vents at the front — a clever fusion of form and function.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. OWC’s first-on-the-block claim to fame was never going to last very long and now, only weeks after the drive’s appearance, a number of competitors offer similar packages. With the current strength of the Australian dollar against the greenback, though, it’s hard to beat the Mercury for price. Even with FedEx shipping it comes in around $A460 — $A40 less than LaCie’s 500GB bus-powered drive. If you need a high-capacity external drive for when you’re out and about and you don’t want to fuss about with extra bits and pieces, the Mercury On-the-Go is a pretty good option.

Mercury On-the-Go 500GB

Cons Must be ordered from overseas; activity light can be a bit distracting
Pros Bus-powered; all cables included in the box; inexpensive thanks to favourable exchange rate
Rating 4
Type Portable hard drive
Manufacturer Other World Computing
Distributor Available online

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