The Aluratek Tornado is an external hard-drive enclosure with a pre-installed drive that comes in a variety of capacities all the way up to 1 terabyte, but for our tests we're using a model with 160GB ($129) of space. The Tornado drive is also equipped with an RFID-security encryption that requires a swipe of a quarter-size key to access the data inside. Aluratek claims that transfer rates can reach up to 480 megabits per second, but our test data shows significantly slower results. Also, the enclosure itself is flimsy and doesn't feel like it can sustain any sort of abuse. And finally, the price tag isn't exactly appealing, either. If you need your data locked down and available on-the-go, your money will go further with the Maxtor Black Armor external hard drive.
|External USB Flash Hard Drive
|160GB, 250GB, 320GB
|2.5 inch version: 5.25 by 0.5 by 3.25 inches (LWH) - 49.99
|3.5 inch version: 8 in by 1.31 by 4.75 inches (LWH)
|Capacity of test unit
|* Windows 2000, XP and Vista
|* Mac OS 9+
Inside the box you'll find the drive, two RFID keys, a carrying case, and the accompanying documentation. The enclosure is compatible with any PATA/IDE hard drive up to 320GB, and installing a new 2.5-inch drive is fairly stress free--Aluratek makes it easy to remove the two screws on the top panel (mini screwdriver not included), connect the new drive, and place it back into the frame. Unfortunately, the enclosure is made of a light metal casing that feels flimsy. In fact, the build quality is so shoddy that the hard drive doesn't even fit flush into the shell, causing it to rattle around inside.
The drive is USB 2.0 compatible and it comes with a two-pronged USB cable in case you need extra power. In addition to the USB port, the top of the Tornado Plus also has an LED-status light and a DC-in port for older computers without the necessary powered USB bus. Aluratek doesn't include a power cord in the box, which leaves us confused as to why they would create the option for external power but choose not to include the necessary accessory to make it work.
The data stored on the Tornado Plus is protected by a security system that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to enable and disable access to the drive. The only way to unlock the information stored inside is with the key included in the package, as long as you remember to associate both keys (Aluratek includes two just in case) with the drive in the initial set up process. We like the idea of mobile data security, but the external key is just one more thing to get lost in the shuffle or increase an already cluttered keychain. We much prefer built-in hardware-based encryption that requires a password for access, even if it does mean one more password to memorize. Still, the Maxtor Black Armor external hard drive is a more practical alternative and serves its purpose well if you don't plan on swapping drives.
Cost per gigabyte
For $129, the 160GB Aluratek Tornado Plus isn't exactly a bargain at 81 cents per gigabyte, although it's still not as expensive as the Maxtor Black Armor. Still, the rest of the industry offers much better deals; the Toshiba hard drive we recently tested is the least expensive, but it also happens to be the slowest. The best compromise of speed and cost is the WD My Passport Studio that offers a 320GB drive for $185 (58 cents per GB) with chart-topping data transfers.
|Est. street price
|Cost per GB
|Maxtor Black Armor
|WD My Passport Studio
|Iomega eGo Portable Hard Drive
|OWC Mercury On-The-Go
|Toshiba USB 2.0 Portable External HDD
|Aluratek Tornado Plus
The Aluratek Tornado Plus's read and write speeds aren't very impressive, either. The Tornado barely beat the Toshiba and pushes it into the second-to-slowest slot, but that's not saying much given that the Toshiba tested slower than any other drive we've seen. At a blisteringly slow 97.04 megabits per second, the Tornado is a full 41 megabits per second slower than the OWC Mercury On-The-Go.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and Support
Aluratek covers the Tornado Plus hard drive from product defects for one year from the date of purchase. The Aluratek Web site has additional information, including a knowledge base with a comprehensive FAQ list, a file library for manual and driver downloads, and a section that allows you to create a help ticket. Unfortunately, the site gives no mention of a number for telephone support.