Over the last couple of years I’ve moved away from personal physical disk media to using technologies like Dropbox as my method of carrying around files. This is a pretty obvious migration; Dropbox, Google Drive and others provide additional features, including the most obvious one; they keep all your data in sync.
However, there’s one area where cloud-based synchronisation becomes expensive, and that’s with audio and video media. So, when I was provided a ToughTech portable drive to review, it proved to be the perfect way to allow me to carry around all my music and videos (with 20,000 music tracks, even my 100GB Dropbox account doesn’t cut it). In addition, it’s a good way of ensuring I have a backup of self-created content too, which is also usually too big to upload to cloud storage. I’ve since found a third use – transporting laptop images as virtual machines.
The benefit of the Mini-Q is the secure feature – the device features a removable key that prevents the contents of the drive being written or read when the key is not plugged in. The key (pictured left) gives access to the drive and unlocks the AES256 hardware-based encryption. Fortunately the unit is supplied with three keys in case you lose one – the recommendation is to keep one at home locked away just in case. Having encryption on the disk is better than using host-based encryption. It enables platform transparency (assuming the file system you configure it with is support across your hardware) and simplifies key management. Having a physical key is much easier to use than sharing software keys across machines.
Getting into the Details
As the Mini-Q is also sold without a drive, the unit is pretty simple to open up by removing the two back-end screws and sliding off the top metal cover. Inside the hard drive is screwed onto a motherboard with the connectivity at one end and the indicator lights at the other. The design looks neat and tidy but doesn’t preclude replacement of the hard drive if required. The installed drive is a Seagate Momentus XT 750GB (ST9750420AS) which runs at 7200RPM. In terms of performance, I’m seeing a transfer rate of around 36MB/s for sequential reads and writes across USB 2.0, which is more than acceptable performance. This testing was done to and from my new MacBook Pro with an SSD, so there should have been no bottleneck issues on that side of the data path. The device also has eSATA and FireWire connectivity, if that’s your choice.
Overall the Mini-Q is a reasonably compact external drive. I’ve had drives that were thinner (in their cases) but of course they didn’t come with built in encryption. Probably my only criticism of the mini-Q is that it does warm up somewhat, as the case acts as the device heatsink.
The real test of these kinds of devices is in the field. I’m about to go away for a few weeks and the Mini-Q will get put to good use storing backup copies of video and images as well as allowing me to travel with my music and films. I’m expecting to generate quite a lot of content during the next 3-4 weeks, making this an excellent test of the device. Look out for an update review in September with the results.