Apricorn Aegis Padlock Pro 640GB

Any hard drive can try to break speed barriers when backing up and copying data, but the Aegis Padlock Pro has an ace up its sleeve. Apricorn’s latest portable hard drive isn’t the fastest storage device you can buy, but it might be one of the most secure options you can find. Aside from having unique data protection features, it’s also one of few portable hard drives that’s both eSATA-compatible and relies on internal bus power.

But what immediately separates the Padlock Pro from the pack, however, is its data-securing features. Even if some hardcore data thief manages to physically remove the hard drive from the Padlock Pro’s shell, Apricorn still has your files protected with 256-bit AES encryption, the same kind approved by the U.S. government.

Aside from the built-in encryption, the drive’s main security feature is a button panel that lets you protect your data with a password. When you plug in the Padlock Pro for the first time, you can immediately set up your own administrative PIN number, which can be any simple code of at least six digits. In addition to your main PIN, the Padlock Pro can also support up to 10 unique user passwords, which is great if you want to share the drive among friends or co-workers. Moreover, you can edit your user password without admin privileges on the fly, so you thankfully won’t have to worry about everyone remembering two sets of PIN numbers.

As a final failsafe, the Padlock Pro also has protection against brute force attacks as a last resort for securing your data. Most people have likely seen this in Hollywood movies—hackers who input every possible code to find the single working PIN number. Luckily, the Padlock Pro has to be power cycled after every six failed attempts, and after the 50th, a manual reset is required for continued use of the keypad. After the 100th attempt, the hard drive will lock permanently, and nothing but reformatting the drive will activate it again. Long story short, if you ever lose your Padlock Pro, your data is most likely never going to be unearthed by any unsavory characters.

Aesthetically, the Padlock Pro succeeds at being portable and relatively easy to carry. Overall, the design is simple and low-key, a plain black box with a button pad that takes up most of the front panel, complete with a single LED indicator at the base. There are a total of three ports in the back of the drive: one for an eSATA connection, one for USB 2.0, and another for the USB power that always has to be plugged in, regardless of which transfer cord you’re using. You’ll always have to carry at least two of the pre-packaged cords wherever you go.

As a side note, it’s a bigger disappointment to have a portable hard drive like this with no FireWire support whatsoever, especially if you’re an Apple user with an older Macintosh. That restricts lots of people to only using the USB connection, especially since the only Macs capable of supporting eSATA cards as add-ons are the 17-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro.

Apricorn’s Padlock Pro is actually pretty light at just over 6 ounces, but it fits in a jeans pocket with little room for adjustment. My only other issue with the design is the glossy finish that seems to be so popular. Within minutes of my handling it, the Padlock Pro was riddled with tons of irksome fingerprints. While the drive also comes with a handy travel pouch, the added girth doesn’t seem useful for anything but protecting it from a harsh drop.

Although the Padlock Pro is preformatted for Windows, it can be easily formatted for Macs by running it through Disk Utility. If you’re unsure of how to do this, Aegis’s Quick Guide also had simple directions that broke down the process step-by-step. Once I added a PIN number and set the format type to Mac OS Extended (Journaled), I was able to drag and drop files with no problem.

The 5400-rpm drive in the Padlock Pro isn’t very fast, and speed is also affected heavily by the USB 2.0 or eSATA connections. (For our tests, we ran the drive on a Mac Pro dual quad core Xeon 5400 3.0GHz using Mac OS X 10.6.2.) While copying a 1GB file on USB, the Padlock Pro performed admirably, averaging a speedy 42 seconds, which is as fast as a USB connection can offer, give or take a second or two. Duplicating that same file took a more moderate time of 70 seconds, putting it on average timing alongside other portable USB-able hard drives like LaCie’s Rikiki ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ) and the Avastor’s PDX-800 ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ).

Tasking the USB 2.0 connectivity with our low memory Photoshop benchmark showed the Padlock Pro’s only real weakness. It took the drive over four minutes to complete each test, which seems to be the case with portable drives that post good copy and duplication tests. At the very least, the AJA tests showed decent read/write speeds, with 28.2MBps and 35.3MBps, respectively.

However, if you’re the rare Mac user with an eSATA card installed in your Mac Pro or 17-inch MacBook Pro, you’ll see some drastic changes when you switch from using the USB 2.0 connection to eSATA. In order to test that, I installed an eSATA II PCI Express Card (also manufactured by Apricorn) into our lab’s Mac Pro. Once I finished re-running all the benchmark tests, I quickly found that all the transfer speeds had improved by anywhere from 25 to 50 percent.

With an eSATA connection, the Padlock Pro’s copy speed improved to 24 seconds while duplication only took 36 seconds. However, even the Padlock Pro’s eSATA connectivity couldn’t boost Photoshop and AJA results to competitive levels.

Overall, the Photoshop test results improved from an average of 4 minutes, 9 seconds to just a hair under 3 minutes, which is actually still pretty slow. More than a few other eSATA-compatible drives can perform that test anywhere between 30 to 90 seconds. For sake of comparison, the EZQuest Thunder RAID did the Photoshop test in 48 seconds. If you look at the Padlock Pro’s competition in the portable market, it’s still beaten handily in the Photoshop test by the iStoragePro Pocket View’s result of two minutes and 36 seconds. However, it's worth noting that the Padlock Pro's subpar showing in Photoshop could very likely be a result of the automatic file encryption. That being said, one of my editors pointed out that this drive probably shouldn't be your first choice to be used as a scratch disk for Photoshop work or anything of the sort.

Although we mostly worked with the 640GB model, it’s worth nothing that the Aegis Padlock Pro also comes in 250GB and 500GB sizes, as well as a solid-state drive model that we’ll be testing later on. It’s durable enough to resist being dropped and kicked, and even though 31 cents per gigabyte isn’t the absolute cheapest deal you’ll find, it’s the best one of the three non-SSD Padlock Pro models. As a USB drive, it’s average at best, and the eSATA connectivity seems like it’s really hampered by either a lack of additional power or eSATA cards that can’t provide enough speed.

But again, perhaps the most attractive factor of this device is the fact that you can lock the drive at will. In fact, even if you completely ignore the eSATA connectivity (most Mac users won’t be able to take advantage of it, anyway) it’s still a decent portable drive all the same. All of the security features aren’t something to be taken lightly, and they make the Padlock Pro stand out among the competition. Ultimately, you’ll have to weigh the benefits of code-protected data against the slight disadvantages of average speeds and slightly cumbersome cable setups.

Macworld’s buying advice

Even though it’s not the fastest (or smallest) portable drive on the market, picking up the Aegis Padlock Pro is worth it for the added security of being able to protect your files both physically and digitally, which is something few other companies can offer the average consumer. And even without Firewire support, the USB 2.0 speeds are just fast enough to pick up the slack. If you’re looking to back up lots of videos and music, you could get speedier, better equipped gear for competitive prices—but not with the impressive security that this device packs in tow.

McKinley Noble is a Macworld editorial intern.

This story, "Apricorn Aegis Padlock Pro 640GB" was originally published by Macworld.

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