Review: Verbatim SmartDisk 120GB FireWire/USB Portable Hard Drive

David Braue
10 October, 2008
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How do you say something simple in 23 languages? Read the manual for Verbatim’s 120GB FireWire/USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive, which is an idiot-proof way to add a fair whack of backup or portable storage to your system — and maybe learn some Estonian along the way.

The manual for Verbatim’s FireWire/USB 2.0 Portable Hard drive weighs in at 59 pages – but only two of them are in English.

In fact, the substantial part of the manual – which tells you how to use it – spans just eight paragraphs. These instructions are then repeated in 22 other languages – including Czech, Serbian, and Polish but not Chinese to match that printed on the outside of the box. And, for some reason, the pages are out of order.

Such is the way of globalisation, and such is the way of today’s external hard drives: plug them in, they’ll mount on your desktop, and you’re ready to go with 120GB of online storage and nary a power cord in sight (there are also 160GB, 250GB and 320GB models).

Indeed, the 2.5-inch drive inside the Verbatim unit – which weighs next to nothing in your hand, and is basically a small plastic box with blue status lights on either side – is designed for unobtrusiveness. It takes all the power it needs from your computer’s bus (Firewire and USB2 jacks and cords are included with the unit) so you don’t have to worry about annoying power cables.

Unlike most external hard drives, this unit comes formatted using the Mac’s HFS+ file system, so you don’t have to bother using Disk Utility to reformat and repartition it from NTFS. And, at less than $100, this makes it ideal for use as a dedicated Time Machine backup drive; plug it in, fire up the app, and you’ve got your backup sorted – in a small enough package that you can toss it in your glovebox or pocket for business continuity purposes.

Surprising speed. Initially, I expected such a low-powered drive to turn in some pretty paltry performance figures, but testing showed quite the opposite was true.

To test its performance, I copied one of the larger files on my Mac – a 2.86GB VMware Fusion virtual machine that I use to run Ubuntu 8 – onto the Verbatim drive, using both USB and FireWire. For the sake of comparison, I copied the same file to a Network Attached Storage unit, connected to the Mac via Gigabit Ethernet LAN. I also copied it from the Documents folder onto my Mac OS X desktop, with some surprising results.

The Firewire connection was by far the fastest unit, moving the entire file from the test iMac – a 2.8GHz Intel Core2-based iMac with 2GB RAM and OS X 10.5.5 – to the Verbatim drive in 1:32.3; that’s a sustained transfer rate of 30.99MB/sec.

By comparison, the USB2 connection took 3:58.3 – a sustained transfer rate of 12MB/sec. The transfer to the NAS took 5:11.6, equal to an average data rate of 9.2MB/sec. And, most surprisingly, the copy onto the Mac OS X desktop took 1:51.7 – for an average transfer rate of 25.6MB/sec.

That’s right: copying to the Verbatim drive was actually faster than my own iMac hard drive, which may say more about the iMac’s drive than the Verbatim drive. It’s worth noting that this may be a somewhat spurious result because the iMac’s hard drive was doing double duty – reading the file from one part of the disk and writing it somewhere else.

Nonetheless, my point remains: the Verbatim disk’s performance is more than adequate. Setup is dead-easy, and the drive worked as advertised. I couldn’t even make setup harder when I tried to read the instructions in Russian, which must mean something.

Australian Macworld buying advice. With its preformatted HFS+ partition and bus-powered design, the Verbatim FireWire/USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive offers 120GB really is an idiot-proof way to quickly add storage to your system. Its reasonable price and ready availability in retail outlets makes it easy to recommend if you’re looking for a cost-effective Time Machine drive, or just need an easy way to carry your big files around.

Price as rated $99.95 (120GB), $139.95 (160GB), $219.95 (320GB)
Cons None
Product: Verbatim SmartDisk 120GB FireWire/USB Portable Hard Drive
Company Verbatim
Rating 4
Pros Easy to set up; preformatted for Macs; good performance.

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