I have a pile of small USB-powered hard drives that I use to back up various devices. All of them are inexpensive, have somewhat limited storage, and are encased in plastic. The latter feature always makes me apprehensive about traveling with the drives, as they just don't seem to be sturdy enough for a lot of handling. The Iomega eGo Helium Portable Hard Drive ($149.99 for 1 TB, $99.99 for 500 GB) is built to take on a lot of abuse and look good in the process.
The first thing that hit me when I pulled the eGo Helium out of the box was that it looked and felt like it had been crafted from a solid block of aluminum. Of course it isn't, but it does have a very solid aluminum case that is almost a precise match for the material used on the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Even with all of that aluminum, the drive still weighs only 8.2 ounces.
Design-wise, the case is quite stark -- simply a slab of aluminum with the Iomega logo stamped on the side. On the back is a mini-USB port and a single white LED to let you know that the drive is plugged in. Trust me, you'll need that light to know that the drive is in operation, since the eGo Helium is very quiet.
Since the eGo Helium is designed especially for Mac laptops, it comes pre-formatted as Journaled HFS+. The actual mechanism runs at 5400 RPM and is designed to withstand a 36" drop. The really impressive feature of this drive is built-in AES 256-bit encryption in hardware. To enable or disable this feature, Iomega has a free utility available.
The utility, which works with Mac OS X 10.5 - 10.7, requires a reboot after installation. Once you've installed the software, enabling encryption re-formats the drive. A Drive Protection Dashboard is used to eject your drive for disconnection.
What's great about using hardware encryption and a utility like this is that the data on the drive can be encrypted, but used on any Mac that is running the utility (as long as you know the password).
Unlike other manufacturers who tend to throw a pile of (in my opinion) relatively worthless software on each drive that goes out the door, I like that Iomega makes a companion software suite available as an optional free download. That software suite includes such items as a 12 month subscription to Trend SmartSurfing and a 2 GB free account for Mozy Home.
TUAW is uses a standard industry benchmark to compare the I/O capabilities of disks and arrays. The benchmark uses the AJA System Test, which simulates reading and writing video. The specific test I used was the Disk Read/Write test, also known as the DiskWhackTest, set at a video frame size of 720 x 486 8-bit and a file size of 128 MB.
The test results are compared to the internal SATA drive of the test iMac. I've also included the results for another USB 2.0 drive (Western Digital 3 TB MyBook Studio) for a more direct comparison.
I was wondering if enabling encryption on the Helium would slow down the read/write figures, so I ran a second set of tests with encryption turned on. The results were very close (average write speed was 30.5 MB/s, average read 33.5 MB/s), and most likely are within the margin of error considering the small sample size I used for the tests.
As a portable drive made to work with the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, the Iomega eGo Helium Portable Hard Drive is built like a tank. The hardware encryption feature and solid construction should be useful to anyone who needs to protect critical data while on the road, and the speed of the drive is very close to desktop USB 2.0 drives we've tested.
I like that Iomega is building drives specifically for the Mac market that match the Apple products they're made to work with. I'll also be reviewing the Mac Companion, a drive that's designed to complement the iMac. The eGo Helium is definitely worth your consideration if you need a portable bus-powered drive for your Mac laptop.