TechRevu : MicroSolutions 80GB USB2.0 Backpack 155015 External Hard Drive

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MicroSolutions Model 155015 80GB USB2.0 Backpack External Hard Drive
Daniel P. Dern 05/19/03

MicroSolutions' 80GB External Hard Drive works perfectly with both USB 2.0 and parallel port connections, including in DOS mode for use creating/restoring Ghost images, and via MicroSolutions' BackPack PC Card.

Model: MicroSolutions 155015 Product Website / Spec/PR MSRP: $229.00

For reliable backups of data and of system images, external hard drives like MicroSolutions' 80 GB USB 2.0 Backpack offer a compelling alternative -- or, better, complement -- to CD/DVD burners.

With system images now starting in the gigabyte and better range (e.g., my new Windows XP/Home system, with close to nothing added yet since I brought it home, already yields a Ghost image of close to 2 GB uncompressed, or 1.3GBytes with full compression enabled), that's multiple CDs for even a single full save.

An external hard drive, like the name implies, is a outboard hard drive, with power supply, and one or more cables and port types. Although more expensive than a removable hard drive, it's more flexible -- you can use it with more than the one system -- and, I'm discovering, more reliable. (It seems the pins on my removable, or on what it slides into, are gronked, resulting in transfer errors, sigh... back to the shop for maintenance.)

I've been using a MicroSolutions 20GB USB 1.0 external drive for a little over a year, quite happily; more recently, I've been trying out this newer, bigger, faster one: 80GB, supporting USB 2.0 rather than USB 1. (Both also come with and support parallel connections, including printer pass through, and can also be used with MicroSolutions' $29.00 BackPack PC Card, to connect to notebook computers that don't have USB ports.

Like all the other MicroSolutions external drives I've used to date, their new 80 GB USB 2.0 Backpack External Hard Drive, in the words of Byte.com Chaos Manor columnist Jerry Pournelle, "It simply works."

Once I installed the driver, Win XP/Home found the drive quickly and easily.

In taking the drive out for a, cough, spin, compared to USB 2.0, parallel-port transfers are slower, to be sure -- similar to USB 1 speeds.

For example, from my XP/Home desktop (Athlon 2000, 1GB RAM), using USB 2.0, an already-created 1.3GBbyte Ghost image (fully compressed) transferred from my desktop to the Backup in a minute and a half; via the parallel cable, it took twenty and a half minutes, from XP. Using Ghost (i.e., from the DOS boot disk), creating a partition image directly to an image on the MicroSolutions drive took close to thirty minutes.

PARALLEL PORTS AND DOS-MODE (E.G., FOR "GHOSTING"):

The parallel port option makes it possible to use on older desktop and notebook computers (Win95OSR2 or later) that don't have USB ports. (See below re DOS.)

This makes the Backpack a great "sneakernet" option for saving or moving bigger-than-floppy-or-CF-card stuff from your older machines.

Equally or more important, since MicroSolutions doesn't yet have DOS-mode USB drivers available (they're working on it) for this model, the parallel-port option makes it possible to do Norton Ghost saves and restores. MicroSolutions also provides a DOS driver (BPHDDRV.SYS); you'll need to copy it to your Ghost boot disk, and add the line

DEVICE=BPHDDRV.SYS

to the config.sys file. (See MicroSolutions' Knowledge Base Document 2352 for slightly fuller instructions.

Warning/note: You need to use a "Win95B or later" version of DOS, in order to support the device's FAT32, with partition size of more than 8GB. The boot disk generated by Ghost 2003, for example, includes PC-DOS 6.0, which worked fine.

MicroSolutions' external hard drives are hardly the largest or least-expensive ones on the market -- but if you want to use Ghost, or need to use parallel-port connections, they may be your best, perhaps only choice currently. (Norton has device compatibility lists on its site, and so should other potential external hard drive vendors.) I can't vouch for other possible differentiators, e.g., drive quality or ruggedness.

(If you plan to use one of the other disk cloning/restore products, e.g. PartitionQuest, or Acronis TrueImage, be sure to check both MicroSolutions and their sites for compatibility.)

Tech support for Norton Ghost reports that the USB 2.0 drivers included on the boot disk should work fine with the MicroSolutions Backpack, for some disk image creation/restore procedures, but not others. (See Norton's knowledge base entries on these topics for more details.) However, I haven't (so far) gotten the Norton USB drivers to work, in DOS mode; fortunately, per above, this isn't an obstacle.

Note, kudos to MicroSolutions phone tech support for quick availability, and for providing clear answers.

Conclusion: if I had to choose between an external hard drive and a CD burner, I'd choose the external drive, although ideally both. If you plan to use Ghost, this is the vendor you currently need to choose.

(Daniel P. Dern <ddern@world.std.com> is a free-lance technology writer. Most recently he was Executive Editor of Byte.com. His web site is <www.dern.com>.)