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Conclusion

External Hard Drives with Trimmings Aplenty
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Axiomtec leaves the choice of hard disk to the customer, which means drives as big as 500 GB can make themselves at home in their enclosures. Maxtor offers only a 200 GB version, and SmartDisk sent us its top-of-the-line 250 GB version for testing.

All three products deliver something between satisfactory (Axiomtech) and good performance (Maxtor, SmartDisk). All support USB 2.0, but only the CrossFire offers support for FireWire 1394a. But alas the CrossFire offers no backup solution that goes beyond scripted use of Windows Backup or manual copy and paste maneuvers, even though it was the speediest performer of all the products we tested.

Axiomtec is the only vendor to offer a creditable disaster recovery tool in its ExBoot product family. Should a computer crash completely because of a drive problem, users may either reboot their systems from the ExBoot drive, or reboot with the help of a software CD that can also restore the contents of the failed drive onto a replacement unit. But this process is painfully slow: even though we restored only 50 GB of data onto a new drive, this process took more than a full day to complete. If this involved a truly critical system, it would be faster to re-install on new hardware!

The lack of a disaster recovery option is the only real weakness we can find in the Maxtor offering, because its Dantz-supplied backup software is both more flexible and easier to use than the Axiomtec alternative. We can only hope that future versions of the OneTouch II Small Business Edition add a disaster recovery option to its feature list. For a list price of $599 that's not too much to ask, either.

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