Personal Storage Tech Treasures [2011 Cool Yule Tools]

You gotta put all of that content somewhere, so why not put it on a cool device?

There’s a lot of shiny and flashy gadgets and home entertainment devices that will entice most of the population during the holidays – cameras, music players, camcorders and tablets are sure to be this season’s top sellers once again. But once gift recipients start to create content, listen to music, download apps or record videos, they will eventually need a good, safe and reliable digital place to store their stuff. That’s where storage comes in – it’s not always the sexiest product category, but there’s a lot of new innovations in storage that we think will make good gifts as well:

Watch a slideshow version of some of these products.

Products reviewed in this category

NUS2000 Network USB Storage Link+, by Cirago

CDD2000 Hard Drive Docking Station USB 3.0, by Cirago

ioSafe Rugged Portable hard drive, by ioSafe

My Passport Essential (500 GB) hard drive and Nomad rugged case, by Western Digital

1T Wireless External Hard drive designed by Neil Poulton, by LaCie

LaPlug, by LaCie

GoFlex Turbo, by Seagate

GoFlex Satellite mobile wireless storage, by Seagate

GoFlex Slim external hard drive, by Seagate

GoFlex Desk external hard drive (4TB), by Seagate

DataTraveler 109 with urDrive, by Kingston Technology

SuperHero Backup & Charger for iPhone, by Iomega

The reviews

NUS2000 Network USB Storage Link+, by CiragoNetwork-attached storage is the way to go for many enterprises – but the rest of us can also benefit from reliable storage provisioned on a network and thus available to multiple users, client PCs and other devices. One of my personal wishes for some time has been for a little box that can connect any USB storage device to a network, instantly adapting a USB drive to Ethernet, while in no way preventing it from easily shifting back to pure USB.

The Cirago NUS2000 achieves exactly that, providing a SAMBA server in a small box, coupling USB 2.0 and Gigabit Ethernet. While file system support is limited to NTFS, FAT32, and EXT2, that should be plenty for most applications.

Setup was a piece of cake – you just need to connect the NUS2000 to the network, access setup via HTPP or UPnP, and that’s about it. I tested the NUS2000 with a USB thumb drive, but any USB external storage device should work. Configuration options are plentiful, and NUS2000 can even function as an iTunes or media server, or even as a BitTorrent client. Remote access is supported, as is a WebDAV client. There’s also a print server – all in all, a lot of value beyond basic file serving.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been looking for something like this for a while, and I love the solution. Can I keep it, Keith? Can I? (Ed. Note: We’ll see). For your favorite techie, this is a great gift, whether or not begging is involved. Top marks!

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $79.99 (list)

Reviewed by C.J. Mathias

CDD2000 Hard Drive Docking Station USB 3.0, by CiragoIf you’re a techie like me, you’ve got a ton of hard drives in various states of disrepair lying around. Some of these need to be bulk erased before donating to a good cause (the local schools get mine), some need diagnostics and maybe just formatting, and some have lots of old data on them that just needs to be consolidated. Anyway, the usual problem is how to connect a raw drive to a computer to do all of this. My traditional method was to use the guts of a USB 2.0 drive housing, but this is clunky, with lots of exposed electronics and opportunities for, um, error.

Enter the Cirago CDD2000, and this is really cool. Basically, you just drop your 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch SATA I or II drive into the top-loading slot, connect to a USB 3.0 port (although it’s also backwards compatible, of course, to USB 2.0) on a PC, and there you go – a local drive should appear with very little effort. USB 3.0 is a big plus, obviously, in this application. The CDD2000 is a very elegant solution to a problem that all techies worthy of the name have, and it’s a simple, elegant solution that just works. It’s also, by the way, quite useful for testing initializing new drives before they get bolted into that latest cool but tight-fit custom build.

If there’s a computer hobbyist, computer technician, hard drive collector, PC fan, or similar person on your gift list, this will be most appreciated. It’s also a great value – even the required USB 3.0 cable is included.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $39.99 (Amazon)

Reviewed by C.J. Mathias

ioSafe Rugged Portable hard drive, by ioSafeThe ioSafe Rugged Portable was a shining star for the 2011 Holiday Gift Guide.  It’s a great little hard drive.  The external drive is beautifully crafted from solid aluminum (or titanium), is small, and it doesn’t require an external power source (it’s run off USB 2.0/3.0, or FireWire, if you have that version).

The Rugged Portable is designed to withstand extreme conditions which would cripple an ordinary hard drive. IoSafe bills it “like an aircraft black box for mobile data”, and offers the following guarantees: Crush protection up to 5,000 pounds; drop protection up to 20 feet; and immersion protection in up to 30 feet of water for three days. To back that up, they offer data recovery services up to $5,000, if your drive is somehow compromised. The drive is compatible with both PC and Mac computers (tested to verify), and I can vouch for the following: It will indeed survive being immersed in water, provided you allow it to dry before plugging back in. And it survived, data intact, on being dropped from five feet onto hard carpeted surfaces.

The device I tested was a 750GB drive version spinning at 7200 RPM; it offers HDDs ranging from 500GB to 1TB, which spin at 5400 or 7200 RPM. There are also SSD versions available, ranging in size from 256G to 512GB configurations. You can purchase them in aluminum or titanium configurations, but from what I can gather, the metal type doesn’t seem to affect the warranty or other operational specs (?).  I was unable to gather pricing specs from the company's website, which didn’t allow me to configure SSD options.

There are cheaper external hard drives available with higher capacity, but the ioSafe option is the most rugged I’ve tested to date. Coupled with its compact size, modern design and the fact the drive will run without an external power source, the Rugged Portable is an excellent option for travelers and home users prone to dropping things. Highly recommended.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $199 to $399, depending on capacity

Reviewed by Dan Hunt

My Passport Essential (500 GB) hard drive and Nomad rugged case, by Western DigitalI’m a fan of this little hard drive, but I’m partial to slim and light. The company says that you can transfer files 3x as fast to this device via USB 3.0, and it comes with its own 3.0 cable that’s also compatible with USB 2.0 systems. The drive is quick, light and easy to use, requiring no setup as long as you have a Windows 7, Vista or XP computer; some formatting for Mac OS X Leopard or Snow Leopard (and, Lion, one assumes) is required. Like many portable drives on the market, the Passport Essential can automatically back up your files and they can be password protected.

The main part that I like about this hard drive is the associated case (sold separately). The Nomad rugged case – it’s tough, durable and pretty lightweight – WD says it can allow the Passport to safely sustain a fall from 7 feet, as well as protect it from dust and moisture.

I walked around my house dropping the case and drive from various heights onto various surfaces, and the case didn’t show any damage. I also left the case and drive on the carpet next to my cat beds for more than a week, where it would be certain to be near dust and cat hair. You’d never be able to tell. It works just as well as when I first took it out of the box. As technology gets smaller and lighter, I often worry about damaging the gear as it gets more fragile – so I love anything that will protect my technology from me.

Cool Yule rating: 3 stars (hard drive); 4 stars (case)

Price: $94 (for the drive); $17.66 (for the case) – Amazon prices

Reviewed by Jennifer Finn

1T Wireless External Hard drive designed by Neil Poulton, by LaCieIn addition to storing a very nice 1TB of data, the unique feature on this external hard drive is that it’s wireless – using your router, you can allow all of the computers in your home to access shared storage on the drive.

Its speed could use a little boost for my tastes, but I know I shouldn’t be so judgmental because it does have to go through a router first. This hard drive took about one hour to upload 4GB of files from a computer. If directly plugged in to your computer, it claims it will transfer 480Mbps (we’d recommend you transfer your initial files via the PC instead of wireless) You can also set up regular backup for the PCs within the home.

The initial setup wasn’t simple, but it also wasn’t overly complex. It would be nice if LaCie provided a quick start guide with some dummy diagrams. Instead, though, the quick start guide just instructs you to plug in the machine and then follow the pages of instruction on the installation CD.

This hard drive is completely worth the price, however. Plus, the wireless feature makes it very sweet for any household with multiple computers. I know I’m personally excited to get access to all of the music that my boyfriend has been storing on a variety of small hard drives that I’ve never even seen. It’s nice to see the fruits of a full family network in the home.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $90.14 (Amazon)

Reviewed by Jennifer Finn

LaPlug, by LaCieI love the idea of being able to take any USB storage drive and connect it to the network, and that’s exactly what Lacie’s LaPlug does – with one interesting twist: in addition to Gigabit Ethernet, this unit also has 300Mbps 802.11n – yes, it can provide a bridge between a drive and the network wirelessly. I’ve done this in the past by integrating a network-ready (NAS) drive and a separate wireless bridge (often called a game adapter), but that’s kludgy and expensive. LaCie provides an all-in-one solution that’s convenient and effective – and astonishingly easy.

How easy? Take it out of the box. Connect it to Ethernet and power. Fire up the Network Assistant software, which serves as a management console, and that’s it. There’s not really very much to manage here – just connect a USB drive to the LaPlug, and you’ll see it right away. Anyone looking for the easiest possible way to connect USB drives to the network need look no further.

OK, it doesn’t have as much flexibility, configurability or features as some similar products, but if all you want to do is get a USB drive on the network, this is the product for you. And all that simplicity makes the LaPlug a great gift indeed.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $98.79 (Amazon)

Reviewed by C.J. Mathias

GoFlexTurbo, by SeagateThe GoFlex Turbo portable hard drive features a 7200 RPM drive, USB 3.0 interface and a free data recovery attempt from SafetyNet should users lose their data. The drive can handle transfer speeds up to 40% faster than its USB 2.0, 5400-RPM counterparts, and comes with the same GoFlex design and cables as its other products in the GoFlex line. This means users can swap cables for different interfaces (eSATA, FireWire, etc.) without needing to purchase a different drive. The unit also lets users swap files between PC and Mac systems without a need for reformatting (although some Mac applications may require reformatting).

The Turbo lives up to its name, it is slightly faster than previous USB 3.0 drives I’ve tested – in my tests, I got a blazing 101.6 MB/sec of read speeds, and between 53M to 58MBps of write speeds. This was up from the 90 or so MBps speeds of tests, which also used USB 3.0 cables but were 5400 RPM drives.

The SafetyNet data recovery service is free for two years, and will cover one recovery attempt on the drive, and specialists will let you know whether a remote or in-lab service is the best way to get back data if a mishap occurs, Seagate says. It’s a nice added bonus for users worried about losing any data on the drive.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsSeagate continues to innovate and make storage sexy -- with the GoFlex Satellite, it's another one of those "Why hasn't someone done this before?" moments. The Satellite is a 500GB external hard drive that can wirelessly stream multimedia files (movies, music, photos) to any mobile device (but especially the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch).

Price: $130 (for 500GB); $140 (for 750GB)

Reviewed by Keith ShawGoFlex Satellite mobile wireless storage, by Seagate

The Satellite has its own Wi-Fi network -- when you connect your iPad (or other device, including Mac, PC or Android device via a Web browser), you can stream media stored on the Satellite to your iPad. This can free up a ton of space on your iPad -- instead of transferring media to the iPad itself, you can keep it on the much larger GoFlex Satellite. If your media library extends past the 64GB capacity of the top-end iPad, the 500GB capacity makes even more sense.

The Wi-Fi connection (it has 802.11n support with about a 150-foot range) also supports streaming for up to three devices. For example, you can watch three different movies simultaneously, making this a great idea for streaming media content in a car (the device comes with a car charger). The drive also comes with a USB 3.0 cable that supports Seagate's GoFlex adapter, which is useful for transferring your media library to the device (you can either drag-and-drop or use Seagate's media syncing software).

Seagate says the lithium polymer battery on the GoFlex Satellite can last up to five hours on a single charge, and provide up to 25 hours of standby time. I preferred using the wall adapter or car charger to keep the battery up and running.

For iPad and other iOS devices, a free app (GoFlex Media) lets you access the GoFlex Satellite once connected via the Wi-Fi network. For other device users (Mac, PC, Android), opening up a browser will redirect the user to the GoFlex app on the device.

For users with media libraries that go beyond the storage capacity of their mobile device, this means they don't have to pick and choose which media to transfer. Seagate also allows for the playback of iTunes protected content -- as long as the device you're using (iOS devices only) is synched with an authorized iTunes account. The simultaneous streaming function is superb for allowing the kids to consume content on a road trip without having to transfer it to individual devices.

The software interface (and iOS app) has some rough edges in trying to locate specific songs or videos to listen to/view; album art is missing (Seagate says an update will fix this). Also, because the device uses its own Wi-Fi router in essence, users won't be able to access the Internet while using the device. While Seagate won't confirm this, I wouldn't be surprised to see a device down the road that solves this problem, perhaps through the use of a 3G/4G device like Novatel Wireless' Mi-Fi units (basically, imagine a Mi-Fi mobile router that also contains a 500GB hard drive).

But that's a future prediction -- for now, users can be happy in knowing that they can truly bring all of their media with them and view it on any mobile device without having to upgrade to a larger-capacity unit.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $200 (list)

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

GoFlex Slim external hard drive, by SeagateThe GoFlex Slim is the smallest external hard drive I’ve ever come across.  Despite its small size, it delivers blisteringly fast performance – a result of the 7200rpm spinning disk and USB 3.0 connectivity.  It comes in one capacity, which is 320GB – on the small side for most external drives today, but adequate for most users and a very fair trade off given the tiny size of the device.

The GoFlex Slim requires no external power source, and is very easy to travel with.  It’s thinner than most Android smart phones on the market today, and although it’s a bit wider, it should fit comfortably in most pockets (or easily in any bag).  And to connect it, all you need is a USB 3.0 cable – need to lug around an additional power cable.

The device includes Seagate’s excellent auto-backup software, as well as an encryption program to ensure your data is protected should the drive go missing.  Like all devices nowadays, it’s compatible with both Windows and Mac (and presumably Linux, although I didn’t verify that).

Due to the boom of popular programs like Bit Torrent, iTunes, and Amazon MP3 over the past decade, society’s need for higher and larger amounts of data storage seemingly knew no bounds.  If that were still the trend, I’d caution you to be careful before selecting a 320GB drive as your primary backup; but the trend has shifted, and with the proliferation of cloud-based storage moving to the forefront, I have no hesitation recommending this device as an excellent primary backup – assuming, of course, you have less than 250GB of data (leave some room for that to grow).

Seagate is my go-to brand for storage, due to a strong reputation for reliability and brilliant performance.  Assuming you’re not a downloading fanatic, 320GB should be more than adequate for most users, making this an excellent choice for personal use or as a gift!

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $100

Reviewed by Dan Hunt

GoFlex Desk (4TB, USB 3.0), by SeagateWith so many Seagate drives reviewed in this guide, you'd think I owned stock in the company (I don't). It's just that they continue to innovate and make interesting products within the personal storage space. Anything remotely interesting within storage is bound to get my attention, because otherwise it's just a hard drive for storing your files.

For the most part, that's what the GoFlex Desk is - it's an external hard drive that can store your files. A lot of them. No, really, a lot - the version we tried had 4TB of capacity (OK, 3.9 something or other). I've stopped calculating how many movies, music, photos and other such things this can store. Let's just say you could probably dump everything on here and still have enough space to dump some more. This is meant to be used by multiple users, whether in your office or at your home.

The drive also comes with a USB 3.0 cable to provide fast performance when transferring files and folders to and from your PC or Macintosh. In our tests, we were able to achieve read rates of between 95 and 96 MB/s (in one case, I topped 101MB/s), and write rates between 55-58 MB/s. Wooooo!

The system comes with Seagate's Dashboard management tool, which lets you schedule backup (automatic continuous backup is supported if you want) and manage file encryption. Links to backup and synchornization apps (from partner Memeo) are also offered via the Dashboard software.

Because it's a GoFlex unit, the system is adaptable with previous Desk systems - if you want to upgrade to a faster cable in the future (let's say either USB 4 if/when it happens, or maybe Thunderbolt?), the system lets you do this without needing a whole new hard drive.

In addition to the 4TB version, Desk models are sold in 1TB and 2TB capacities.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $269 (via Seagate's site, on backorder)

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

DataTraveler 109 (8GB) with urDrive, by Kingston TechnologyYou may wonder why we're reviewing a USB flash drive - after all, they've been around for years and years, and apart from some of the U3 technology a few years ago (where companies attempted to put apps that you'd run off the USB drives instead of a computer), there's not much more innovation going on other than more memory and smaller sizes.

The Kingston DataTraveler 109 certainly fits the latter statement - seeing 8GB on a drive that tiny is sure to impress people, since the drive is no larger than your thumb (literally, making it a "thumb drive"). It's so small that I'd be worried about losing it almost immediately - if you want to get one of these, invest in some string or something that you can attach the drive so you don't lose it. Sadly, the package doesn't come with a string or keychain or other attachment.

The urDrive app is a bunch of bundled apps that give you a graphical interface for managing the files on the drive, it looks more like a desktop interface rather than just another window that pops up. Included is the ability to browse the Internet via a browser on the urDrive rather than using the computer it's on, which I suppose is good for people who might want to use this on a public computer when they're traveling. Other apps include a bunch of games, backup and protection apps, as well as an apps store that include other things to download to the drive.

The apps approach to a USB flash drive is an interesting approach by Kingston, but I'm not sure whether this will take off like apps for the iPhone or Android smartphones. Getting people to change their behavior from computing on a computer versus computing through their USB drives might be a hard sell. The urDrive software is also Windows-only, so Mac and Linux users are out of luck.

But hey, there's 8GB of space on this really tiny drive, so if you need the space and aren't afraid of putting it through the washing machine because you left it in your pockets, it's a cool device, and a great stocking-stuffer idea.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $9.95 for the 8GB; $19.50 for the 16GB (Amazon)

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

SuperHero Backup & Charger for iPhone, by IomegaBacking up images and contacts stored on an iPhone isn’t a real high priority for most of us, which is why I think the folks at Iomega decided to invent this very handy and easy-to-use device. While backup of these things can be done by connecting the iPhone to your PC or Mac, I think they discovered that not a lot of people end up doing this, or doing it as much as they should. With this device, you can backup the photos and contacts on your phone without connecting to your PC (thereby saving you from opening iTunes and doing backup that way).

The SuperHero comes with two components – first is a small docking station with a power adapter (for the recharging part), and an SD card slot – the unit came with a 4GB Lexar SD memory card, although you could backup to your own SD card if you wanted to. The second component is a free iPhone app (SuperHero), which you download onto your iPhone. After you’ve installed the app, you just attach the iPhone to the docking station and the app can automatically back up your photos and contacts to the inserted SD card. You can also restore those images and contacts back to your iPhone if the images get erased or if you’re transferring them to a new phone.

The backup process is really slow, at least at first – during my initial backup, I had 929 photos to back up to the card, and it took more than a week (during work hours) for the device to do this. The good part, though, is that the device recharges your phone while doing the backup, so you can dock the phone and leave it on your desk to get the recharge and backup all in one action. If you need to grab your phone to leave or make a call, you can interrupt the backup and it remembers where you were when you get back to it. After the initial backup, future sessions only do backups on photos and contacts that haven’t previously been done. Once the photos and contacts are on the SD card, you can remove it and put into your PC or other system for transfer as well.

If Iomega could just add a speaker system to the dock so you could listen to music while this occurs, it would be the perfect accessory. However, for what it’s worth, this is a great device to guarantee that the most important data on the iPhone (photos and contacts) are saved without much thought on behalf of the end user.

Cool Yule rating: 3 stars

Price: $59.99

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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