Having to lug around a power brick for your laptop's external hard drive defeats the point of portability, but Apricorn's EZ Bus Mini lightens your load. Powered through a USB cable, it is small and light and offers good throughput, but it will eat into a notebook's battery life. It costs a little more than larger drives of the same capacity, but it's still a mobile must-have.
Packaged in a matte-black plastic case, the EZ Bus Mini weighs 4.2 ounces and is about as big as a deck of cards. It easily fits into a shirt pocket or a side pocket in your laptop's carrying case. It is half as big as a 2.5-inch drive enclosure and tiny compared to Maxtor's OneTouch drives, although many other drives give a choice of connection method while the EZ Bus Mini uses only USB.
The secret to the EZ Bus Mini's small size is its miniature 1.8-inch Hitachi hard drive, which spins at 4,200rpm and has a 2MB buffer. The entire device is rated to take a shock of 225 g's, so it can be dropped with impunity. A small, green LED glows when the drive is connected and data is moving back and forth, which is useful for knowing when the device is working. Its petite form makes it easy to pass among users and machines, so the EZ Bus Mini is perfect for sharing data between members of a group. Just pull out the USB connector from where it nestles into the bottom of the drive, plug it into a USB slot, and your computer's operating system will set up the drive with the next available drive letter. The EZ Bus Mini works with Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Mac OS 9.2 but lacks Windows 98, Windows Me, and Linux support.
The Apricorn EZ Bus Mini drive comes formatted in FAT32, but reformatting it to the more flexible and efficient NTFS is easy. In addition to the drive, the package includes a soft case, a 3-foot USB extension cord, two software CDs, and a rudimentary 20-page user guide. The 40GB model yields 37.2GB of usable space. In our informal testing using an IBM ThinkPad R50, the EZ Bus Mini wrote a variety of files at 109.6Mbps and read them back at 102.3Mbps. This puts the EZ Bus Mini on a par with the much larger Maxtor OneTouch. It is also much faster than any of the Ethernet-based drives on the market. The drive stays cool and quiet even under intense use, but it consumed 25 more minutes of the R50's battery time than the notebook's native drive did performing the same tasks.
While it lacks the convenient one-button backup feature of some external hard drives, the EZ Bus Mini comes with several backup and archiving programs: Clone EZ for making a bootable clone of your computer, Image EZ for storing compressed copies of a partition or an entire drive, and Second Copy 2000 for synchronizing files with a computer. Those with something to hide will like Cryptainer LE, a shareware encryption program that uses the ultrastrong Blowfish algorithm to scramble the drive's contents; however, Cryptainer LE limits the size of encrypted folders to 20MB and won't work with Macintosh computers.
Apricorn stands by the drive with a three-year warranty, much longer than the coverage included with external drives from Maxtor, Western Digital, and SimpleTech. While the Apricorn Web site offers drivers and downloads of manuals and FAQs, there's no chat room where users and technicians can discuss and solve problems. If you need help, e-mail or call the company's toll-free technical-support line, but only on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. A live person was on the line in less than a minute with the answer we needed.