ttm_product_shot_757k.jpgAs I get older my views on technology have changed, I used to really enjoy exotic gizmos, a watch that had a calculator (which I never used, because the buttons were small) was a prized possession in the 70’s. In the 80’s I traveled a lot by air, I bought a watch with an altimeter in it, of course pressurized cabins made this a worthless feature, but it was a great ice breaker at parties.

From watches it was a natural progression to calculators, particularly ones that were programmable and graphing. I have no idea how many of these I have bought over the years, and I can honestly say that I never used a single one for any sensible purpose, other than adding numbers up.

I can truthfully say that today, I don’t even own a cell phone, I don’t want all of the bells and whistles, I just want a telephone, I don’t need a media player, or a camera, just a phone with nice big buttons for my fat fingers, such a device does not seem to exist.

OK, there is a point to this lead in, I like products that do one thing, and do it well. The ToughTech External Drive is one that meets my standards. It is small and simple.

Of course the techy types love to hear the gory details, so here they are. The hardest part of using this drive was removing it from the shipping box! When you consider the bad spots that packages find themselves in, I think some good protection is well advised. And indeed this was packed to withstand everything that a courier service could throw at it!

After a brief fight involving an exacto knife the package gave in. Inside was a power supply, the unit itself, cables, and two CD’s, one of which struck fear in my heart, it contained the dreaded words ‘and Drivers’. Drivers in my many years of happily computer geeking are an invention of the devil, a sure fire way to annoy the average user. Plug in hardware, insert disk and wait for something bad to happen! Actually while you are waiting you should probably be checking through your CD collection for the Windows Disk, as this will be required at some point!

My solution to seeing this CD was to pretend it did not exist, and hum a happy tune. I plugged in the power cord, plugged in the USB cable and Windows XP had absolutely no problems recognizing the new drive. Suddenly I had a new 320 gig drive! Unfortunately my experimentation was cut short, my wife wanted her computer back!

The drive also worked flawlessly on a Windows vista system. By now I am feeling pretty confident about this unit. It was time to take it to new exotic places. My wife has an old IBM Thinkpad that she uses to play music on, it runs Windows 2000, so it is pretty damn ancient. She asked me if I would move some media files to it. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for, I hooked the ToughTech up to her XP system and moved a gig of mp3 files to it via USB, it was pretty snappy, but there again I had guessed it would be. The acid test would be the Thinkpad, with its USB 1.0 interface. Win 2k recognized the drive, no software was required, and actually the data transfer rate was really very good. This is one well designed unit!

The only hiccup I found was when I tried it on my Linux box, but I think the problem is mine rather than the ToughTech. About a year ago I was so frustrated with Windows, it seemed that the majority of my time using my computer was to reload XP, rather than productive work. My needs are minimal, I use the internet, and I write! So when a company offered me a copy of ‘The worlds simplest Linux’ I went for it. Of course I have not bothered to actually read any books, and my knowledge is limited to the word processor and the web browser, but at least I don’t have to reload the operating system every week. I am sure that if I had a greater knowledge the unit would have performed flawlessly.

Of course being a reviewer I am always looking for new angles for reviews. Most tech reviews are just boring lists of technical specifications and coma inducing benchmark results. Today’s technology is almost always reliable, and almost always well designed. So what makes one product more attractive than another to a buyer? Well my answer to that question is ‘customer care’. Some companies care a great deal about the end user, while other companies view the customer as the enemy, the pest that clogs up the tech support lines with stupid questions.

I decided that if their was a crack to be found in WiebeTech’s product it would be in their customer support. I called in to tell them about my Linux problem. I knew full well that my problem lay in the fact that I did not know Linux very well. In the Tech Support world this is often referred to as “Problem between brain and keyboard”.

I spoke with Jeff at WiebeTech support and explained my plight. He was courteous and professional, that is always a good start. Although he was not familiar with my particular version of Linux, Linspire, he was familiar with a very close cousin Ubunto. He had the problem diagnosed within a couple of minutes, the unit I was running was formatted for the Windows world, not the Linux world. A few minutes of Linux command line Voodoo and we were in business.

I give very high marks to WiebeTech in the support area. This is a company I can recommend.

OK, so I suppose I should get to the boring techy stuff. In size it is very slightly larger the 5 x 3 x ¾ inches. This thing will fit in your shirt pocket. When it comes to connecting it, there are a variety of options, eSATA port, Firewire 400, Firewire 800, and USB 2 (Incidentally I did try it on USB 1 and although performance was degraded it still worked just fine). Better still, all the cables are included. In fact the review unit I received also included a handy carrying case, which was a nice touch.

As far as compatibility goes, it works on all versions of Windows that I tried, and no drivers had to be installed. It also works with Linux (some assembly required) and Mac OS X.

WiebeTech offers several models, depending on requirements. At the low end, you can purchase the enclosure itself and RYO (Roll Your Own) simply install the SATA drive of your choice. Installation is actually a pretty simple process, and the unit even ships with a screwdriver! I know this because inadvertently the first unit that WiebeTech supplied me was ‘sans drive’, and after plugging it into various computers and getting nowhere decided to open the unit up! There was no drive in it! However it did give me the opportunity to see the quality of construction and design. Installation of a drive would be a snap. The other interesting technology inside the box are the inclusion of shock absorbers. A great idea for a device that likely will get banged, bashed and generally abused. The only downside that I found was that the screws were really really small and easy to lose. For $80 you are in business.

At the high end you can purchase a 1000 gig unit, configured and ready to plug in for $274. Yes folks a one terrabyte portable drive.

WiebeTech scores very high in my book. Great product, great support, great value, what more could anyone ask for?

Simon Barrett

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