Mercury Rising 鳯女

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File This Under “Unspeakably Cool”

Posted by Phoenix Woman on August 1, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, the Fabrik SimpleTech [re]Drive:

$200, 500 gigs, Turbo USB 2.0 interface (compatible with USB 2.0 and 1.1), and a bamboo and recyclable aluminum case and frame.

Dang, I want one right now.

7 Responses to “File This Under “Unspeakably Cool””

  1. Stormcrow said

    PW, this is unspeakably pricey. The idea of spending $200 for 500GB of USB storage makes my hair stand on end. Jeeze, it’s not even a redundant RAID?

    Hard drives are fairly light consumers of power. Seagate Barracuda 10s use between 9 and 12.6 watts each.

    Your power hogs are your motherboard, CPU, and graphics processor. Modern GPUs are one big reason most modern PCs ship with power supplies in the 400 watt range and above. But anything that runs at upwards of 1 Ghz burns enough electricity to make ventilation a serious concern. And that’s been a problem for most of the last decade.

    500 GB of disk presently goes for less than half that much. Check out prices for 500GB SATA drives on http://www.pricegrabber.com/. Just enter “500gb sata” and hit the search button. Retail boxed Seagate 500 GB SATA drives are running at about $95 to $96 shipped. WD Caviars are less.

    But the real price/capacity “sweet spot” right now is at the 750GB mark. Boxed Seagate 750GB SATA drives can be had for about $120, which is right at $0.16/GB (that’s the “offical” price at one vendor whose “unofficial” price is noticeably less :) ).

    I’m presently getting a re-education, myself, in just how much slower USB drives are than those directly attached to the host system by PATA or SATA links.

    Another question you should ask is: “Who made the drive in that external case?” Samsung is back in the market these days. They’re a vendor whose recent track record I still don’t know. But if I’m being careful, I buy Seagate. Don’t get me started about Maxtor.

    But whatever you buy, in-chassis is much better than USB. Not only faster, but you can use NTFS format for the disk. USB drives are FAT32, which isn’t nearly so tolerant of “dirty” halts.

    NTFS is a journaled file system, something I didn’t know myself until less than two years ago. FAT32 is not journaled. That’s why it’s more prone to filesystem corruption when the power goes out without warning.

  2. Heck, 500GB for $200 sounds good to me, being that the last time I bought a backup unit I paid $120 for a measly 80GB. Then again, with flash drives dropping in price, spinning drives have got to keep up.

    They might actually make their own drives, being that they apparently make their own memory, per the Simpletech.com website.

  3. Stormcrow said

    Drives are a lot harder to build than memory. And nearly all memory manufacturers use somebody else’s silicon.

    I only know of four originators of physical hard drive units: Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate, and WD. I’m not saying I haven’t missed any, but the ones I’ve left out are small fry indeed.

    IBM screwed up so badly that they gave it up and quit (a classic case of suicide by reputational damage), and sold what was left to Hitachi. Maxtor hung themselves (high failure rate, no warning before failure) and Seagate snapped up what was left.

    And Fujitsu seems to have stopped making hard drive units some years ago. Which sucks, because 10 years ago, they were an excellent HD vendor. Fujitsu had a 5 year no-questions asked warranty on all their hard drives. I know they honored it because I made use of it.

    Manufacture of physical hard drive units isn’t very easy to do well. Not when you’re expected to cram so much aboard them. 12 years ago, 4GB drives were 1.625″ thick. Today, 1000 GB drives cram 250 times the data into just over half that width.

    That’s why, if you want to “nuke” a hard drive’s data beyond the capability of non-clean-room forensics, all you need do, today, is make three passes over the entire platter, re-recording with random data. The redundancy that was there a dozen years ago is all gone.

    Flash drives are on their way to the mainstream, but it’ll be a while. Right now, flash drives max out at around 64 GB total capacity, and the price per GB is somewhere around $3/GB. That’s still about 20 times the price/capacity ratio of rotating disk technology.

  4. TMiss said

    Listen to Stormcrow, PW. I just paid $120 for a 500GB Firewire drive. And, as I’ve blogged, I’m now up to five external hard drives, none of which were as pricey as this decorator model, although two of them are very attractive Porsche-designed firewire drives from LaCie.

  5. I am a technopeasant, TMiss. Why, I don’t even own my own cell phone.

  6. Stormcrow said

    PW, this just in. Really. As of about 5 minutes ago. I just inspected the “smoking gun”, and it wasn’t pretty.

    Another reason why you should not buy an outboard drive without the most careful appraisal of ventilation just got driven home to me with considerable force.

    I resuscitated a “dead” 250 GB outboard drive about six months ago by replacing the PCB (printed circuit board) attached to the bottom of the drive.

    I then installed it in a cheap outboard case. Made of “recycleable” and “thermally conductive” aluminum. Right?

    Yeah. Sure. You bet.

    This drive failed a few hours ago. Precise time of failure indeterminate, because it was being shuttled between several machines. I spent about two hours verifying that it was the drive and its PCB that had failed, not the USB drivers or the outboard case power supply.

    I took off the PCB about an hour ago. The foam padding between the physical drive case and/or the attached PCB had literally melted onto and through the PCB’s solder connections.

    I dug out the “failed” PCB, checked it, and Lo and Behold! What did I find? More melted foam!!

    Just a trifle on the older card, but I guess it was enough to bridge a couple of solder joins. I chipped it off carefully. The drive seems readable when I put the “failed” card back on, with some shielding between the “melted” part of the foam and the PCB, and checked it on a breadboard USB outboard connection.

    I’m going to treat this drive as “pre-fail”, becuase I really don’t know ho long this latest Great Improvisation is going to last. There’s about 40 GB of data left on this drive, and it’s going to get copied off pronto. Then I retire the drive.

    Moral of this story? Two of them, really.

    (1) DO NOT use an outboard drive when you have better ventilation for an internal drive inside your PC case.

    (2) If the ventilation provisions built into the outboard drive are nonexistent, as they usually are, just don’t buy it. Period.

  7. Stormcrow said

    I’ve tentatively identified three cases that seem to be designed properly, from the heat dissipation standpoint.

    (1) Thermaltake Max-4 N0012US

    (2) Antec MX-1

    (3) Xtrastor ED-35-SU2S2

    I have copies of the first two in service.

    They all have two things in common:

    (1) Big honking internal fans to keep the drives cool.

    (2) Separate air intake and exhaust vents.

    The Thermaltake and the XtraStor feature 80x80x15 mm fans that are industry standard parts. The Thermaltake certainly does, because I’ve taken one apart and verified this for myself. This means that a failed fan can be changed out for a third-party replacement, if and when.

    The Antec design appears to have a proprietary fan design. But in their defense, I have to say that the MX-1 airflow is laid out in a way that prohibits a standard front-to-back fan from being used. Antec uses a “paddle wheel” style blower instead.

    In any event, if you want to minimize energy used, you’ll have to do this by choice of drive. The case isn’t going to buy you much energy savings one way or the other, unless it fries your hard drive for you.

    Western Digital seems to be experimenting with variable speeds for it’s “Green” 1 TB drives. “Variable”, as in, 5400 RPM to 7200 RPM. How much this is going to help remains to be seen. But it stands to reason that lower rotational velocity means lower power consumption and lower heat generation, all other things being equal. Win/win. Assuming it’ll push data at acceptable speeds.

    That’s another thing about lower rotational velocities. I’ve measured data transfer rates with an old Samsung 5400 RPM 30 GB disk of 1999 vintage. Samsung’s quoted spec of 25 MB/second transfer speed was actually truthful. :shock: And that’s probably as much as you’re going to practically get out of even USB 2.0. The theoretical USB 2.0 top speed of 480 Mbits/second (or 48 MB/second) is nearly twice that, but I’ve never seen this in practice even with Seagate’s latest 7200 RPM dives. The USB line maxes out at about 25 MB/second. So higher rotational velocities don’t seem to buy you much on a USB 2.0 connection.

    Another fact I’ve recently learned. You don’t have to format an external drive to FAT32. NTFS seems to work fine for an outboard drive with Windows XP. Of course, it’ll lose if you try to read with Windows 98 or earlier.

    But the real good news is that about an hour or two ago, I ironed out the last wrinkles in getting an NTFS outboard drive to mount sensibly on an OpenSUSE 10.3 Linux system. It takes some fiddling, but it’s eminently doable.

    NTFS is an enormously better choice than FAT32, just on the merits of the filesystem alone. NTFS is a journaling filesystem, which means it’s more crash-resistant than FAT32. It can also handle files very much larger than 4GB, which FAT32 can’t be expected to do.

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