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Firewire Direct's Portable Firewire Hard Drive Kit
How it Compares to VST's Superslim Drives
by Mike
Published: 5/27/2000


(Update: Prices have fell dramatically (and drive capacities increased) since this article was written. For a complete list of current products/pricing see (sponsor) OWC's firewire products page.
Before getting into the how-to and performance tests, I'd like to summarize the Pros and Cons of building your own portable Firewire drive versus buying a pre-assembled version and compare this kit to the more expensive VST drives. In the past the price savings of building your own were attractive (over $100 savings), but with bare drive and case kit prices changing (falling usually) all the time - compare prices of bare case kit + separate hard drive vs an assembled drive first.

The advantage of building the kit is you can choose the drive model and size of your choice (as long as it's 12.5MM of less high) as well as have the option to reuse an old drive should you be upgrading your internal PowerBook drive (sort of a two-for-one upgrade). Notebook drives are relatively expensive for their storage size, so being able to reuse a PowerBook drive is a big plus in my opinion. By building from a kit you'll also know how to replace the drive if you want to upgrade it in the future. Satisfaction of doing it yourself is another reward.

The Pros/Cons below is a summary of both kit vs pre-assembled drives and general comments on portable firewire hard drives.

  • I'm a big fan of the 'two-for-one' upgrades. For instance if your Powerbook needs an internal hard drive upgrade, you can reuse the existing drive in the kit's case.
  • Lower cost than some pre-assembled drives if you build it yourself. Savings varies by drive size. (However as noted, with recent price cuts, the 12GB assembled model is near the price of the kit+drive.)
  • Easy to upgrade in the future to larger drives.
  • Surprising speed, about as fast as an expansion bay drive (see my previous how-to article)
  • Excellent way to backup or offload the internal drive for infrequently used files.
  • Hot plug capability.
  • Good for trying different OS's (Linux, new OS versions)
  • Security. Sensitive or private files can be locked away and not stored on the internal drive.
  • Bootable with onboard Firewire Macs (except the B&W G3 and G4/PCI Yikes models) using Firewire 2.3.3/OS 9.04 or later
    (Not bootable in my tests w/S900 & Firewire PCI card)
  • Doesn't require an AC power supply (unless you're using a PCMCIA firewire card or are daisy-chaining firewire drives). AC adapter is included (Optional on VST drives at $19.95)

  • Easily stolen
  • Due to portable nature - could be damaged from dropping, etc.
  • Portable drives cost more per GB than full size external firewire versions.
    [See the Firewire articles page for reviews/guides on these.]
  • Can't sleep system with drive mounted (putting away the volume/dragging to trash does allow sleep) [VST's Superslim drives with their latest firmware & drivers allow deep sleep with the volume mounted. Also, the FW Direct drive will allow sleep if using the VST 2.1 driver extension.]
  • Completed drives have a 1 year warranty, the kit has only a 90-day warranty.
    (However the drive you put in it may have up to a 3 year warranty)

How It Compares to a VST SuperSlim Drive:

  • Important: See the update to the install page for how to check for sharp solder joints and component leads that could pierce the insulating sheet on the Firewire Direct circuit card. If the insulator was pierced, it could short against the hard drive can cause damage to the drive or firewire controller.
  • Firewire Direct includes an AC adapter ($19.95 option with VST drives other than their combo Firewire/USB versions).
  • Firewire Direct disk volume had to be dragged to trash to allow sleep on Powerbook. VST drive would sleep with the volume mounted (with v2.1 drivers).
  • VST drive costs about $100 or more (12GB model at spring 2000 prices)
  • VST drive is smaller and sexier design (see photo comparison on later pages)
  • VST drive case cannot be opened to replace the drive without destroying the adhesive backed cover. Firewire Direct kit is attractive for owners upgrading their internal PB drive (allowing reuse of the old drive).
  • Firewire Direct Firewire/IDE bridge card contains more components than the VST (consuming more power, but both worked fine running off PCI Firewire or onboard firewire without any power supply). I'm not sure if this would have any significant effect on battery run-time however.
  • Firewire Direct drive would mount with VST's extension or with the Firewire disk support extension from my Clubmac Firewire case, but the VST drive would only mount with the VST extension.
  • The Firewire Direct product is new and less proven (long term use) than the VST, although I've had a number of reports of VST drive failures (not sure this is due to heat (no cooling vents) or handling (dropped?)). Both have 1 year warranties on complete drives. (* 30 day * warranty on FW Direct case kit.)

Physical Size Comparison:

VST vs FW Direct drivesComparing Ports

Drive Used with this Kit:

For this article I used a Toshiba 12GB, 1MB cache IDE 2.5in drive purchased from OWC. The Firewire Direct 2.5" drive kit was from from FirewireDirect.

Note: the kit specifies the maximum height of the drive should be 12.5mm or less. The Toshiba 12GB drive I used is 9.5mm high. The advantage of the kit is that you could replace the drive easily in the future, whereas the VST drives are basically 'sealed' and opening the case ruins the adhesive backed drive case cover sheet.

What's Included in The Firewire Direct Kit

Below on the right is a photo of what you get with the Firewire Direct Kit. Unlike most VST portable firewire drives, an AC adapter is included (required with PCcard Firewire controllers or when daisychaining drives). I still prefer the sexy looks of the VST case design, but they cost a lot more.

Thanks to Firewire Direct for providing many of the photos on the assembly page of this article. However since they didn't provide a photo of the complete kit contents and two steps in the assembly process that I wanted to illustrate (drive retaining screws and installing the rubber feet), I did so.

Kit Contents:

  • Portable Firewire Case
  • AC Adapter
  • Interchangeable colored plastic inserts
    (5 iMac colors but not Granite)
  • Firewire Cable
  • CD with Drivers & Docs
    (OEM Prosoft Radialogic drivers included)
Kit contents (photo by Mike)

Tools You'll Need:

* Small Phillips Screwdriver
* Cup to store small screws during assembly
* Anti-static wrist strap (recommended)

Of course you'll also need a 2.5" notebook hard drive (12.5MM max height).

The portable Firewire drive kit is a lot easier (and faster) to assemble than the expansion bay kit I built previously. From open box to copying files took only a few minutes.

Next Page: Installing the Drive/Kit Assembly
Yes - show me!

No, take me back Home.

Index of Portable Firewire Drive Kit Project

Intro | Case Assembly | Software Install | Benchmarks

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