Seagate's USB 2.0 drive is portable in the same sense that a paperback novel is portable; with dimensions of 254mm by 939mm by 127mm and a carrying weight of 292 grams, it's nowhere near as easy to slip into a pocket as some of the other portable hard drives we've examined recently, although it'd certainly slip into a bag or briefcase without too much hassle.
Visually, the most immediately noticeable thing about the drive is the HAL-style activity light that sits dead centre of the front of the drive. The drive enclosure itself is aluminium with side chrome plating, giving the whole unit a more "business" style look as opposed to the distinctly more consumer-style drives we've seen lately -- especially units like the Mitsubishi Diamond Digital MD100.
The drive itself is powered entirely via USB, and to ensure power supply, the drive ships with a two-ended "Y" USB cable; the green plug controls power and data transfer, while the blue plug supplies power. The theory is that if a single USB port can't supply the drive with enough power, then you can utilise a second port to supply enough. It's a decent way to get around the problem of having to carry around an inconvenient power supply everywhere, although you'd want to make sure that you didn't lose the cable and that any computer you were attaching it to actually had two free USB ports. The drive itself does feature an AC-style power connector, although no power adaptor is provided in the package.
The version of the portable drive we tested with contains a 40GB, 5400RPM ATA hard drive with a 2MB cache. It's worth noting that the larger drives in the same series -- which expands up to a current top limit of 160GB -- feature an 8MB cache. Out of the box the drive is formatted as FAT32, although the accompanying CD (which also features Windows 98SE drivers and the inevitable PDF product manual) includes drive formatting tools for other file systems. Seagate specifically rates the drive for compatibility with Windows 98SE or better, or Mac OS 9.x or 10.2.8 or better.
We tested the Seagate USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive with the same test suite of file transfers as we've used for similar drives recently. This test involves transferring files to and from the drive with three different file sizes; a small 16MB video file, a much larger 384MB video file and a grouped folder of around 1,000 files totalling 235MB. Video files were specifically chosen for the small and larger files as they're normally as compressed as possible and thus a good test of the drive's quick and sustained transfer speeds, while the folder of files tests how well the drive can handle a continuous stream of smaller files of all types.
Many portable drives use 4200RPM hard disks to keep costs down, and we were curious to see whether the jump to a 5200RPM drive would make the kind of difference you'd expect in our test group. For the most part we were impressed. The small file transfer test revealed a write rate of 9.24MB/second and a read rate of 10.45MB/second; compared to, say, the Iomega Micro Mini's figures of 6.5MB/6.1MB/sec that's a significant improvement. Likewise, with the larger single file the drive impressed us with an average writing speed of 13.73MB/second and a zippy read rate of 19.4MB/second. As we expected, large group folder of files kept the drive significantly more busy, with a sustained average writing rate of only 2.86MB/sec, only just ahead of the Iomega drive. Read speeds back were better at 5.68MB/second. To be fair, the Iomega and Seagate drives in this comparison are of different capacities; the Seagate drive does have 10x the storage space, after all.
Without testing to destruction it's hard to form an absolute opinion on the sturdiness of a given drive. Its weight, heft and solid stature certainly earn the drive the appellation of "rugged", but at the same time a rigid structure might not protect as well against sudden shocks. The drive lacks the flexibility of truly rugged drives such as the Lacie Rugged All-Terrain Hard Drive, but it's certainly solid enough.