August 20, 2009


Seagate BlackArmor PS110. Windows Vista or XP/SP2. 500GB. $160.

     Road warriors will love this one – and so will anyone, in an office, home office or home setting, looking for easy-to-carry portable storage in a drive that works quickly and has a built-in backup function with software preinstalled. The BlackArmor PS110 is a small, matte-black 500-gigabyte hard drive that is almost exactly the size of a 3x5 index card except for its thickness – which is only half an inch. It’s a beautiful piece of engineering, packing a lot of capacity into a space so small that you can slip it into a pocket. It looks good, too – and, even more important, it works very well at a wide variety of tasks.

     Like other drives made by Seagate Technology, the BlackArmor PS110 is sturdy, reliable and quiet in operation. It is also fast at both read and write speeds – helpful not only for individual files but also for backup purposes. Backup is managed by Seagate’s BlackArmor Backup software, which lets you copy anything from your full system to individual files. There are built-in calendars and event logs to automate the backup process, and the recovery options range from standard restoration to creation of a bootable rescue CD (you supply your own blank CD-RW disc) or full disc image. This is not a set-and-forget backup system like the one Seagate offers as the Seagate Replica single-function drive – you do have to decide what you want to back up and when, and you have to be willing to spend some time with the BlackArmor Backup dashboard to configure backups the way you want them. But the interface is easy to use, even elegant, and users who want a small-form-factor drive that does more than make backups will welcome the flexibility of the BlackArmor PS110.

     Actually, the backup software here lets you get really creative, if you wish, thanks to its SecureZone feature, which creates a hidden partition. This is where a disc image goes – and you can also use it for private backups and specified types of backups (address books, E-mail accounts, etc.). For a really high level of protection, you can enable 256-bit encryption.

     But even though the BlackArmor Backup software works well and comes preinstalled, it is not the sole reason to consider this drive. The BlackArmor PS110 is first and foremost a portable data storage device (a desktop dock is available separately but is not really necessary). Because of its capacity, it is in effect a laptop computer without interface device: just take it from location to location, attach it with the included USB cable to a computer at any destination, and you can perform all the tasks you would normally do at your base of operations – and then quickly load all the new data onto the computer at your primary location when you get back there. You could speed things up even more with a FireWire interface, but the BlackArmor PS110 does not have one – a small disappointment unless you are wedded to FireWire.

     In fact, all the disappointments here are small. The most significant involves a well-intentioned feature (again, preinstalled software) that is not as useful as it seems on the surface. It is called Try and Decide, which Seagate created with Acronis Software to let you download and install new programs or open E-mail attachments on the BlackArmor PS110 in a protected environment – then roll back the changes if you dislike them or they are corrupted or unstable. Great idea, and it works well in its basic function: you click on a Start button and, if you find a virus or run into other problems, click on a Stop button – at which point the system prompts you for a restart that applies or discards any changes the new program has made. Discard what you have loaded and the system reverts to its prior image. Good theory – but it works with a maximum of one restart. If you begin installing software that requires multiple restarts and realize after two or three of them that you have a problem, Try and Decide cannot get you back where you want to be. Furthermore, running this program in background degrades the overall performance of the BlackArmor PS110. Try and Decide may be useful if you already suspect system-security issues, but otherwise it falls a bit flat.

     However, Try and Decide is no more of a reason to consider the BlackArmor PS110 than is BlackArmor Backup. The question is whether you need to move large amounts of data from place to place regularly. If so, look at this drive as a hardware purchase; think of it as one with some top-notch software thrown in (along with some not-quite-as-useful software). Even without any software, the drive’s small size, excellent portability and very fast data transfer speeds would make it a worthwhile purchase for anyone who wants to transport and use data without carrying a laptop everywhere. Then add in the BlackArmor PS110’s ability to make full-system, data-only and incremental backups – in an environment as protected as you want it to be – and you have a very impressive, well-priced package that offers plenty of ways to keep you running while you are running hither and thither getting your work done.

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