The Imation Travan FireWire backup drive has a compact, graphite-and-ice-colored plastic case designed to coordinate with current Apple computers. The mechanism uses relatively well-established Travan NS20 tape cartridges, providing up to 20GB (compressed) of storage space. The $499 Imation is an economical storage solution, even if it's a bit noisy and not as fast as its FireWire image suggests. The Imation Travan FireWire backup drive has a compact, graphite-and-ice-colored plastic case designed to coordinate with current Apple computers. The mechanism uses relatively well-established Travan NS20 tape cartridges, providing up to 20GB (compressed) of storage space. The $499 Imation is an economical storage solution, even if it's a bit noisy and not as fast as its FireWire image suggests.
The provided Quick Start card shows you how to connect the Imation drive to a Mac's FireWire port with the included cable and how to install the supplied Retrospect Desktop Backup software. You'll also find a 12-page user guide on the installation CD.
It looks nice, but boy is it noisy!
After installation, the first time we inserted the tape cartridge into the Imation drive, it brought up bad memories of the dentist's office. The grating noise made by the mechanism sounds somewhat like a dentist's drill, though it's not quite as loud as the real thing. This groaning and whirring persisted for as long as the mechanism was running, even when no backup was in progress, but the sound lessened after a period of inactivity.
We also noticed that the NS20 cartridge only inserts partway into the drive mechanism, something that's not mentioned in any of the documentation. This may confuse users who expect to be able to push the tape in all the way, as with most other removable media products. At least the bundled software, Retrospect, is easy to master; its EasyScript feature will get you up and running quickly.
A real yawner
The same cannot be said of the drive's performance. In CNET Labs' tests, the Imation drive ran like a tortoise. It took about twelve and a half minutes to back up a folder containing 1GB of files. Still, in an informal test, the Imation proved faster than the Sony DDS-3 DAT (digital audio tape) drive, which costs several hundred dollars more. And, with patience, we backed up and restored a Power Mac G4's 9GB hard drive without incident.
The Travan cartridges have a lifetime warranty. One comes free with the drive, and replacement cartridges cost $33.95. Imation also recommends that you buy one of its $30 cleaning cartridges and use it after every 40 to 80 hours of wear on the actual drive mechanism. When you add up the cost of the drive and the cleaning cartridge, the Imation's cost per megabyte is 2.6 cents--not a bad deal and one that gets better the more tapes you buy.
Imation provides a short, one-year product warranty for the drive. Technical support is provided via a toll-free number, available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. central time. While the company promises to place driver updates on its Web site, we were unable to find any specific help information for this product.
Taken at face value, the Imation Travan FireWire tape drive is not a speed demon, and it's a bit noisy. But as a no-nonsense backup solution, it offers decent performance and proven reliability at an affordable price.