Storage gift ideas [2010 Cool Yule Tools]

Hard drives, memory cards, network drives - all places to store our stuff.

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Storage drive vendors have a tough sell to consumers – after all, just hyping storage capacity really isn’t enough anymore. So we’re starting to see things on hard drives like personalized designs, protection features, network connectivity, additional software (both useful and entertaining), and funky formats. Here’s some of our favorite storage devices that we think would make good holiday gifts.

FreeAgent GoFlex Desk (3TB), by SeagateSeagate FreeAgent GoFlex DeskThe Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk drive might sound like a cartoon or video game from Japan, but in reality it’s a massive external hard drive with software built in to backup your computer in less than 60 seconds.  Seagate touts this as the “world’s most upgradeable hard drive”, and indeed, I can confirm it’s built for the long haul.

The drive itself sits on a connector dock, or “desktop adapter”, as Seagate calls it, which houses the power cord and USB interfaces.  The adapter is upgradeable to a USB 3.0 variant, which is sold separately. The GoFlex adapters for FireWire 400 and 800 are also available if you want to use those cables.

When you back up your data on a PC – using Windows 7, in this instance – you’re able to seamlessly transfer the data to an Apple computer.  I tested this by transferring parts of my music library to an Apple machine, and it was a pretty simple process.  Seagate’s auto backup software is compatible with either OS, so the mass majority of computer users are covered.

All my testing was on USB 2.0, and speeds were quick as expected.  Not much you can do to speed up 2.0.  I would have liked to test 3.0, but unfortunately didn’t have a machine available to try this with.

Aesthetically, the drive looks nice enough.  It’s black, and has Seagate’s logo embedded on the sides.  The drive will blend in just fine with everything else on your desk.

Chances are if you’re reading this Gift Guide, you’re into tech.  If you’re into tech, you’ve probably amassed an enormous library of content over the years – a library which you’d be devastated to lose in an accident.  You need a reliable way to backup your data.  Seagate is a trusted brand, and one of my “go to” manufacturers when building or customizing a computer.  Indeed, it’s surprising how ahead of the competition they came to market with a 3TB device; manufacturers such as Western Digital are just now catching up.  I would feel comfortable using this as my primary backup device.  I highly recommend it as either an external hard drive or a dedicated backup, especially as it incorporates Seagate’s trusted software.  Pick one up and let the good times roll.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $250

Company Web site

Reviewed by Dan Hunt

MiniStation Cobalt USB 3.0 portable hard drive, by Buffalo TechnologyBuffalo MiniStation CobaltAlthough USB 3.0 is still not on a lot of new computer systems yet, the technology has been seen on several portable hard drives, including this one from Buffalo Technology. The small and sleek MiniStation Cobalt comes with a USB 3.0 cable, but you can also connect it to older USB 2.0 systems for your data transfer needs.

The version we tried included 500GB of storage capacity, but it also comes available in a 640GB package. Buffalo says the USB 3.0 interface can deliver speeds up to 10x faster than USB 2.0, so if you do a lot of data transfer, it can make a difference (as long as your system has USB 3.0 ports, of course).

The device comes with a bunch of handy utilities as well, including TurboPC and TurboCopy (increases data transfer speeds even more), eco Manager (power-saving mode for the drive), RAMDISK Utility (software that uses your computer memory as a virtual hard drive), a backup utility and SecureLockMobile, which lets you secure data on the drive with AES encryption. Setup is as simple as plugging the cable into an open port and opening the drive.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars (even better if you have a USB 3.0 system)

Price: About $100 for 500GB; About $120 for 640GB version.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable Drive, by SeagateFreeAgent GoFlex 1.5TBIt’s inconceivable that you might eventually have enough data to fill up 1.5TB of data on this very portable drive, but the rise in portable high-definition video cameras over the past year, thanks to the like of Cisco’s Flip and other cameras, makes it inevitable if you shoot a lot of video. In last year’s holiday gift guide, we saw portable drives of about 500GB to 750GB available; we’ve now gone from 2x to 3x that capacity for this season.

But Seagate does more with its drives than just slap a lot of capacity on the drive – this drive is part of Seagate’s outstanding GoFlex line of drives, which includes  a flexible and replaceable cable that can be upgraded should transfer standards be upgraded. The drive comes with a USB 3.0 cable (which should be standard on PCs for at least a few years), but if you’re a Mac person you can replace the cable with a FireWire 400 or 800 adapter to achieve faster transfer speeds, or an eSATA cable if you desire for the PC.

Seagate also throws Memeo backup software onto the drive, and its deal with Paramount also means you get a free copy of the recent Star Trek film when you purchase the drive. The drive also comes preloaded with other movies, which you can purchase and unlock on the drive. You can watch the movie on your PC, or attach the drive to a FreeAgent Theater device and view on a TV. It’s these extra features that make the Seagate drives a pleasure to test out, and makes the drive more than just a place for your digital stuff.

But yeah, having 1.5TB of data capacity doesn’t hurt, either.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $230 for 1.5TB (lower capacities are available)

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

SanDisk Ultra SDXC Card (64GB)SanDisk Ultra SDXC cardThis mega-memory card offers 8x the capacity of my 8GB SDHC card that I use in my Canon Vixia HFM30 digital camcorder, which allows me to really shoot long stretches of HD video. With the 8GB card, I would use the card only to copy video files that I had shot onto the camera’s hard drive. But the increased speed form the SDXC card allows me to capture video and record it directly to the card, a bonus. With the 8GB card, I was only able to get about an hour of recording time before it would fill up, but with this monster card, that expanded to 8 hours! Sandisk also says the card supports transfer speeds of up to 15MB per second.

With a $350 price tag, this card is recommended only for serious professional photographers and videographers who need the expanded storage capacity and/or the ability to write directly to the card when shooting.

A couple of warnings – this card won’t work with all of your SD-related gadgets – it didn’t work with my wife’s digital SLR camera, and earlier models of cameras and other gadgets won’t support it either. If you’re going to buy this card, make sure it will work with the brand of camcorder that you have. Also, there have been some Windows XP compatibility issues, Sandisk has a patch that can help if you want to use the card with a Windows XP system.

Cool Yule rating: 4.5 stars

Price: $350

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

ClickFree Automatic Backup Transformer Network Edition, by Storage Appliance Corp.Clickfree AutoBackupClickfree has been making its own hard drives that include its automatic backup software, but the Transformer Network Edition is a separate adapter that can be attached to any existing USB hard drive and provide the same automatic backup. If you’re unhappy with any backup software that may or may not come with your USB hard drive, this device can add those features. The software includes photo sharing, the ability to import from an iPod, and CD/DVD burning features. The network component means that users can back up data from all of their computers on a home network through the BackupLink technology – if you leave at least one PC connected with the Clickfree device, then those systems with BackupLink will be backed up regularly.Cool Yule rating: 3 stars

Price: $99.99

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

USB cufflinks, by Cufflinks.comUSB Cufflinks from cufflinks.comI’ll bet you didn’t even know that there was a site where you could get specialized cufflinks, but there is. In addition to personalized cufflinks that show off your favorite sports team or hobby, the Techie Cufflinks area of the site also provides USB storage cufflinks, to provide you with true on-the-go storage functionality. The cufflinks come in regular (steel?), gunmetal and gold-plated options, and each cufflink provides 2GB of storage space.

After thinking, "Does anyone really use cufflinks anymore?", I then thought that this would be perfect for industrial espionage, as they look like normal cufflinks, and can be easily transported/hidden if you have to go through any inspections by security officials. But if you’re not planning on using them for insidious purposes, this is a neat way to have some additional storage on you at all times. However, be a bit warned: The small size of the USB dongle can make it tricky inserting and detaching the drive from the port, and it’s also so small that you might forget to put the cufflink back on when you’re done with the file transfer.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $195 for 4GB (two 2GB USB cufflinks)

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Skin Hard Drive by IomegaIomega Skin hard drivesAt first glance, you hear the phrase "Skin hard drive" and you think, "Ewwww, a hard drive made of skin!" and you start thinking about what kind of odd portable hard drive a serial killer might have. But then you realize that this is made by Iomega, a division of EMC, and you realize that they wouldn't likely make something out of real skin.

Instead, the Skin on the hard drive refers to Skin Inudstries Inc., which helped design three covers with artistic "skins" on top of a regular eGo Compact portable hard drive from Iomega. The Knock Out version that we tried is a silver and green-like design – the other two are the Radical (black and brown design) and the Red Hot (red and white cover). The designs make you think of tattoo artwork, so these could be cool for the person on your list who likes tattoo art but also wants to back up their data. There’s also a sex appeal to the drives, if you look at some of the marketing messages that Iomega is sending out with the Skin line of devices.

Iomega Skin drive marketing messageIf the designs or sexiness don’t appeal to you, then there’s always the inclusion of free software. Each of the drives comes with the Iomega Protection Suite (downloadable form the Iomega site), which includes one year of Trend Micro Internet Security, Iomega QuickProtect, MozyHome Online Backup (2GB of free online backup), and EMC Retrospect HD backup software.

Each drive comes with a USB 2.0 cable that includes an extra port to power the drive if you don’t have external power on your PC, and the company’s Drop Guard technology protects the drive from a drop of 1.3 meters or less (about 51 inches).

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: About $110 for 500GB version.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

SoloPRO fireproof and waterproof hard drive, by ioSafeIoSafe SoloPRO hard drivesIt’s hard to imagine a hard drive that is more protected from natural or manmade disasters than the ioSafe line of Solo hard drives. The SoloPRO external hard drive is heavy, but that’s because of its fireproofing and waterproofing to make sure data is protected during disasters like a fire or flood. The company says it can protect data from loss up to 1,550 degrees F for a half-hour, and can also be submerged in water up to 10 feet for 72 hours without any data loss. The company offers a data recovery service, which will cover up to $2,500 for forensic data recovery, as well as advanced replacement should something happen to the drive.

The version we tried out had USB 2.0 and eSATA connections, but a USB 3.0 version is also available. The drive supports Microsoft (including Microsoft Server), Linux, and Mac devices. It was easy to install, and it quickly transferred a bunch of video files from our editing machine for easy backup.

The company has demonstrated its fireproofing and waterproofing prowess for a few years at the Consumer Electronics Show – I was able to witness them take one of these drives and torch it in an oven, then drop it in a pool, and the data was still safe (after they took off the enclosure, of course). If you have data that absolutely, positively, needs to be protected, you don’t need to look any further than the ioSafe brands of hard drives.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $249

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Canvio Plus portable hard drive, by ToshibaToshiba Canvio Plus hard driveCapacity is definitely the name of the game with the Canvio Plus drive by Toshiba – it offers 1TB of data capacity, and is about the size (perhaps even smaller than) of some portable 500GB drives we tried out this year. In addition, the drive only includes one USB 2.0 cable, which is an extreme help for systems with limited USB 2.0 ports.

The drive includes pre-installed backup software (NTI BackupNow), and also includes data security features such as password protection and 256-bit encryption. An alert can be set up to tell you when you’re getting low on data (although, at 1TB it could take a while before you see an alert), and the drive is physically protected with an internal shock sensor and ramp loading technology from Toshiba.

The only bells and whistles other than the backup software is the choice of color – if you don’t like black, there’s red, blue, gray or green – this drive is clearly geared towards users who want a lot of storage capacity at a fair price without any fancy-schmancy extra features or styles.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $170 (check Amazon for other offers) for 1TB. Smaller capacities available.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Echo ZE Backup Drive, by LexarLexar EchoZE USB driveThis is a low-profile USB port no larger than a thumbnail, yet it provides some powerful automatic backup capabilities for your PCs. Once you plug the drive in, the software loads and asks you which types of files you’d like to have protected (as well as an offer for online backup as well). You also have the option of encrypting the data if you desire.

Once the backup is done, you can keep the Echo ZE drive attached to the USB port (this is useful if you have a lot of additional ports available, otherwise you’ll want to remove it) – as it automatically adds data to any of those folders that you wanted to protect.

My only beef with the drive is that while 8GB sounds like a lot of space, for videos and other multimedia files you may find that it’s not enough. Even 32GB, the highest available, doesn’t seem like a lot for multimedia guys like myself. I’d likely give this to friends who want to have always-on backup protection, but for files that aren’t huge (like most work-type documents). For backup of larger files, I’d go with a larger-capacity external hard drive.

Cool Yule rating: 2 stars

Price: $49.99 for 8GB; $89.99 for 16GB; $140 for 32GB.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

LifeStudio Mobile Plus, by HitachiHitachi LifeStudio Mobile PlusHitachi has teamed up with CoolIris to provide users of its LifeStudio hard drives (they also make a desktop version) with software that provides a 3D interface to view the users’ photos, videos, music, etc. The cool part of the software is that it can not only find photos and digital content on your PC’s hard drive, but also can view photos that you’ve uploaded to social networks, including Flickr, Picasa and Facebook. The software also has the ability to view TV and movie clips from different Internet sources, but we found some lagginess there, and just went to the original location instead.

The hard drive itself is a standard 500GB version, but the “plus” part adds a 4GB USB key that is magnetically attached to the drive – this gives you two drives, in essence, and you can use the 4GB USB key to take essential items with you, making it more mobile than lugging around the 500GB drive. To be honest, this works more for the desktop version of the drive (the LifeStudio Desktop), as the mobile version isn’t really that bulky or heavy. But if you really want a light drive, the 4GB key also provides some synchronization capabilities for when you return the key to its hard drive master.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: About $100 (Amazon.com)

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Platinum II SDHC Card, by LexarLexar Platinum SDHC cardSecure Digital (SD) and SDHC cards have become the main media card choice for storing digital camera images, and the SDHC format allows for faster transfer speeds between the camera and the card (around 9MB per second write speed), as well as the card to the computer (around 12MB per second read). The increase in capacity on storage cards has also been impressive – the 16GB card we tested here isn’t even the largest available; Lexar makes a 32GB card as well, and we tried out a 64GB card (on the SDXC format) from SanDisk (see later).

The 16GB card stores an impressive amount of digital images or video; it can store up to six hours of EP-based video (about 5Mbps); if you’re just storing digital images from a camera, it can store 6,650 images from an 8 megapixel camera; or 5,200 images from a 10 megapixel camera (if the average photo is 2.3MB or 2.9MB in size).

The faster speeds of the SDHC card means that if you have a “burst mode” feature on your camera, you can take a larger number of photos in quick succession instead of having to wait for the camera to write to the card after each shot. This is great if you have a digital SLR camera as well, and also helps when you’re shooting high-definition video. The card can also be used as an additional storage drive for your netbook, if you want to watch videos or view photos from the card instead of copying them to the netbook’s drive.

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $105 (for 16GB); $165 (for 32GB).

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

MixTape USB, available at Thinkgeek.comUSB mixtape from Thinkgeek.comIf you grew up or came of age in the ‘80s, the mix tape was part of your life. It was a cassette tape that contained a bunch of your favorite songs in a random (or perhaps not-so-random) order, and usually signified what your feelings were at that moment in time. Some mix tapes were created to help set a romantic mood, or maybe you had a “rocking out in the car” mix. With music turning digital, the mix tape eventually turned into the iPod playlist.

But the folks at Thinkgeek remember fondly the mix tape, and have brought it back for modern times. Basically this is a USB storage device with about 128MB of storage capacity. This should give you about 90 minutes of songs, which is the equivalent of the two-sided cassette mix tapes of old. Sure, you can pack more music on a 1GB, 2GB or even higher USB stick, but the paper cassette folder lets you write out the songs and any other message that you’d like to put on for either yourself or that someone special.

I still remember receiving that mix tape from that special girl in college, and clearly she was telling me that she wanted to be more than friends when I played the tape and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” started playing through my Walkman’s headphones. Whoo-hoo!

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $16

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

G Drive mini high-speed portable drive, by HitachiHitatchi G Drive MiniIf you’re a Mac user, when it comes to portable hard drives you either have to reformat a drive that claims to be Macintosh compatible, or you look for a specialized drive that claims both PC and Mac compatibility, only to find out that the Mac portion is achieved through specialized software (the drive itself is formatted for PC, but you can still store files from your Mac onto the drive).

The G Drive mini by Hitachi is specifically formatted for the Mac OS, and offers 250GB of storage capacity on a 7200 RPM Hitachi drive. The drive is very small, making it good for Mac notebook users to carry along with them. Bonus: The drive includes both FireWire 800, 400 and a USB 2.0 cable for connecting to your system.

A downside: The cables are also very small – if you are connecting to a desktop unit that’s on the floor, the cable isn’t long enough for the drive to sit on your desktop – we had to place the drive on the floor for connecting. There aren’t any bells and whistles either, like backup software or the like – just simple capacity in a portable drive.

Cool Yule rating: 3 stars

Price: About $120 (for 250GB); $130 (for 320GB); or $170 (for 500GB)

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Star Wars USB 2.0 Flash Memory Drive, by MimobotStar Wars USB drives from MimoCoWe’ve seen these little guys before, but the company keeps coming out with new character designs, making them seem like collectibles more than just another flash drive. If you are a big fan of Star Wars or collected a bunch of Star Wars action figures as a child, then it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to collect multiple versions of these drives.

The drives now contain 4GB of storage space (at least the capacity keeps going up), and feature the mimoDesk suite of Star Wars-related wallpapers, screen savers, icons, avatars and sound clips. They’re cute, but not necessarily a must-have (for example, the sounds are just sounds that play when you eject the drive).

The drive I tested was a snowtrooper from The Empire Strikes Back (30-year-anniversary this year!), but other characters are also available. Especially cool is the Unmasked versions, which reveal two possible faces when you take off the drive’s USB cap helmet. The Stormtrooper Unmasked, for example, either shows a Luke Skywalker or Han Solo face (you have a 50/50 chance on Han or Luke). The Darth Vader Unmasked features either the original face as seen in Return of the Jedi, or the new Anakin face that was seen in one of the updated versions of the Star Wars movies (after Hayden Christensen was cast as Anakin Skywalker).

And if you get bored with Star Wars designs (whoa, shocker!), Mimobot also licenses designs like Hello Kitty, Halo and Happy Tree Friends.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars

Price: $40 (for 4GB); capacities up to 16GB ($90) available.

Company Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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