I can honestly say that I have a love/hate relationship with the CRU-Dataport/Wiebetech corporation. I absolutely love their products, but I hate reviewing them! Generally when doing a review of a piece of technology you want to give a balanced assessment, the good aspects versus the bad aspects. Unit is badly designed, hard to operate, non intuitive, etc.

I never get to say that about these folks, I have tried long and hard to find fault with them. I was firmly convinced I had them on one particular occasion, I plugged one of their external hard drives into one of my Linux based boxes and it was not recognized! Ah-Ha Eureka I thought! Now I have you! I have some dirt I can write about, I have found something that does not work.

Most companies are sadly lacking when it comes to customer service so I decided that this would be a golden opportunity to score another direct hit! I called and explained my dilemma, not only was the person on the end of the phone helpful, they were also truthful. They admitted that Linux was not their forte. But someone would call me right back. They did! I hate to say it, but the problem was not in the device, rather it was my ineptitude! The tech talked me through the process of connecting it to my system.

A couple of weeks ago the dreaded ‘Fed Ex’ man dropped off another box from Wiebetech. Inside was a ToughTech Secure Mini-Q. This particular one has an astounding 320 Gig capacity hard drive inside a portable enclosure that is a scant 5.12 x 3.14 x .79 inches. However it will accept any really tiny SATA drive, and a 500 gig version is available off the shelf.

I had reviewed an earlier version of the ToughTech drive so I skipped the one page instruction manual, instruction books are for wimps. I just plugged it in. A red light came on, and I just assumed that Wiebetech were bucking the trend of using green lights to show that a device was working properly. My computer did not recognize the drive. My next thought was that maybe it had been designed for Windows 7. So I pulled rank on my wife and plugged it into her computer, the same red light came on and the device was not recognized.

“They screwed up dear, they have sent me a broken device”. I was ecstatic! Now I have something to write about. Jan however is a very logical person, she suggested that I RTFB (Read The Fine Book) before I make any claims.

I looked in the box and made an amazing discovery, there were three lanyards, and in another baggy three innocuous pieces of plastic about 1 x .25 x .25 inches. They seemed solid, but I noticed that at one end there was a plastic loop. Clearly the lanyards and the pieces of plastic had some connection.

I discovered that if I took one of these strange pieces of plastic and pulled on it, one end came off to reveal what looked like a very small USB connection, in fact to my eye it seemed like the sort of connection used in many digital cameras. I had also noticed that the ToughTech drive had a receptacle that this might plug into. Voila, the red light went out and a green light came on, we have a working, screaming fast external hard drive. (And no instructions were read).

The little plastic thing is the encryption device, without it, the drive is useless. To some people that might sound a pointless addition to a drive. But, it actually makes a huge amount of sense. External hard drives are now smaller than the old Sony Walkman, You can carry them in your pocket, and they can be easily lost or stolen.

Many people use their computer to store pictures of their grand kids, but many also use them as a repository of important data, both personal, and work related. We hear much about hackers stealing information from ‘supposedly’ secure Internet web sites, yet most of the information has been procured by stealing or finding USB thumb drives, cell phones or laptop computers.

The Wiebetech Secure Mini-Q is the way to go. Safe, secure and if someone does steal or find it, it is useless. The entire disk is hardware encrypted, without the magic key the Mini-Q is just an ornament, too small to be a Book End, steal one and you just have a device that has $zero resale value.

The encryption level is 128-bit, the maximum permitted by current legislation.

It should also be noted that while it goes under the name ToughTech, it really is. I have seen the ‘insides’ of these critters, and they are designed to take punishment. The Mini-Q took a couple of trips to the ground. They were not planned, just a clumsy user. Nothing seems to phase this great device.

Much of what Wiebetech specialize in is aimed at investigators, mainly Law Enforcement, but also private ones. Armed with the USB Write Blocker and the Mini-Q they have created a great product for data forensics. Plug these devices into a computer and you can collect a hard drive image without compromising the integrity of the original drive.

The Mini-Q though, has a much larger audience, it should appeal to everyone that wants a secure way to keep their data safe.

I did loan my Mini-Q out, just to see what would happen. I made no mention of the encryption issue and did not offer the ‘unlock’ key. My ‘expert’ admitted defeat after fighting with the drive for a couple of hours!

OK, I suppose you techy types want the boring techy stuff, so here it is:

Interface

Quadruple interface: FireWire 800, 400, combo eSATA/USB2 utilizing an Oxford 934 chipset.

Throughput

FireWire 800: up to 800 Mbps
FireWire 400: up to 400 Mbps
USB2: up to 480Mbps
eSATA: up to 1.5 Gbps

I have to admit that my favorite interface is the USB2, using the cable that is supplied you do not require the external power supply (also included).

So once again the folks at Wiebetech have bested me. I can find no fault with this product. The Mini-Q is available in several configurations, you can buy just the enclosure and install whichever Sata drive meets your needs (Screwdriver and screws included in the package) , or choose a model with drive included for either a PC or Mac application.

The Wiebetech folks build equipment with a single purpose and they do it with elegant simplicity. There are no tedious drivers to install, no configuration, no switches, and just a couple of status lights to tell you what is going on. Other ‘gizmo’ manufacturers could learn lots by following in the footsteps of this company.

The ToughTech Secure Mini-Q is not the cheapest external drive on the market, but it is unquestionably the best I have come across.

I don’t give ratings to products, but if I did, this one would get 5 stars, actually on a scale of 1 to 5, I would give it a 6!

You can get more information from the Wiebetech Web Site. Tell them Simon sent you 🙂

Simon Barrett

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