Editors' note: The final rating of this review has been updated to reflect a discrepancy in calculation. None of the individual scores have changed.
We're not surprised to see the Maxtor Black Armor emerge in a time when so much confidential data is transported by external hard drives. The 160GB Black Armor drive ($150) is a portable storage device with built-in Advanced Encryption Standard hardware-based encryption to prevent digital theft. Unfortunately, this added security comes at a significantly higher cost per gigabyte. Unless you need an external storage device with the highest level of data protection, we recommend looking to a more wallet-friendly drive.
|External Hard Drive
|Capacity of test unit
|Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, Business or Microsoft Windows XP Home, Professional, Media Center Edition
|Maxtor Manager software
Design and features
The Black Armor drive isn't going to win any design contests; it's just a 5.17 inch by 3.32 inch black rectangle with a few silver accents and a small reflective strip on the front. The top of the drive has a single exposed USB 2.0 port for connecting to your computer, but, sadly, there's no FireWire.
It might not be the flashiest drive out there, but the Black Armor is all about internal security. Once you set a password, all your data is secured by Maxtor's government grade 128-bit encryption certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The encryption itself is built directly into the hardware, as opposed to other external hard drives that use software to protect data.
Once you set a username, password, and password hint and answer, the Black Armor is completely locked down and ready to use. We recommend writing down your username and password and storing it in a safe place. If you forget either one, your data becomes inaccessible and you'll be forced to reformat the drive and subsequently lose it all. In our tests, we were allowed three tries before the drive wouldn't let us access it. We had to disconnect and reconnect the USB cable to get back into the login screen. In addition, the drive operates in two modes: host and traveler, where the host computer is the only PC with permission to completely erase the drive. Traveler mode protects the data and prevents others from formatting your device.
The Maxtor didn't fare well in our speed comparison tests, trudging in dead last and a full 10 megabits behind the third slowest drive in both write and read tests. We typically don't see much disparity between read performance between USB 2.0 hard drives, but the Maxtor trailed the rest of our test subjects at a sluggish 139.2 megabits per second. Overall, the Maxtor Black Armor is one of the slowest compact external hard drives we've seen in awhile.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Cost per gigabyte
The Maxtor Black Armor costs $150 for a scanty 160GB, and at $0.81 per gigabyte, the price for the extra security definitely isn't cheap. We recently tested the Western Digital My Passport Studio, an external hard drive without built-in encryption that costs $30 more than the Black Armor but offers double the capacity at 320GB.
Service and support
Maxtor backs the Black Armor hard drive with a five-year limited warranty with return to manufacture service for repairs and exchanges. Troubleshooting tips, a knowledge base, and a comprehensive list of FAQs are available on the Maxtor Web site, Maxtor Solutions.