Available in Bubblegum, Marshmallow, Blueberry, and Kiwi varieties, SimpleTech's Signature Mini series of portable hard drives might leave you with a minor sugar high. We tested the top-of-the-line 320GB Signature Mini Black Cherry model (the other flavors range in size from 120GB to 250GB) and came away impressed. Like last year's model, the drive is designed by Pininfarina, the famed Ferrari designer. The drive is compact, stylish, and comes bundled with a backup application, but the one drawback is it provides only a USB 2.0 connection. As a contrast, the OWC Mercury On-the-Go supplies FireWire 400 and 800 connections in addition to USB. To its credit, the Signature Mini boasts a smaller footprint and is almost half the weight of the Mercury, while costing you less per gigabyte. The SimpleTech Signature Mini can be found for roughly $180 online--for a very competitive $0.56 per GB. Though 320GB is rather roomy for a portable hard drive that uses a 2.5-inch laptop drive, the Mercury On-the-Go is still the largest such drive at 500GB. If you don't need the largest capacity and can live without a FireWire connection, however, we like the SimpleTech Signature Mini for its high style, low cost, and compact size.
|Drive type||External hard drive|
|Connector options||USB 2.0|
|Available capacities||320GB, 250GB, 160GB, 120GB|
|Capacity of test unit (if applicable)||320GB|
|Dimensions (LWH)||5 inches x 3 inches x 0.6 inch|
|Notable design features||Compact, designed by Pininfarina|
|OSes supported||Windows XP, Vista, Mac OS X|
|Software included||Fabrik Local Backup|
|Service and Support||Three-year warranty|
Design and features
The SimpleTech's Signature Mini Black Cherry ships in a package that looks more like a box of chocolates than an external hard drive. Inside the box, you'll find the drive, a USB cable, and a small Read Me First booklet. You can skip the booklet; simply connect the drive to a USB port on your PC (or Mac), and you'll be up and running. The included cable features a Y-connector that lets you plug the drive into two USB ports in case one doesn't provide enough power. We didn't run into any instances during testing where we needed to use the second connector. The drive works with other single-connector USB cables too.
On the back of the drive, you will find the USB port and a power jack, which is necessary only for old computers with USB 1.1 ports that don't provide enough juice to power the drive. It's hard to find such computers nowadays and for that reason, SimpleTech doesn't include the power adapter in the package. The Signature Mini also lacks an on/off switch, which is convenient for turning off your drive while leaving it connected to your PC for long stretches.
Overall, the Signature Mini presents an eye-catching design and feels sturdy and well built. On top, there are two LED lights to indicate if the drive is powered up (red) and the operation of the internal hard drive (blinking blue). On the bottom, the drive has two rubber feet that keep it from slipping and sliding on your desk. The drive is also very light, weighing only 5.8 ounces (as opposed to 12.5 ounces of the OWC Mercury)
The drive comes bundled with Fabrik Local Backup as the backup solution both for Macs and PCs. We tried the software, and it worked well. It also ships with the Fabrik Ultimate Backup online service that offers 2GB of good-forever online storage for free or unlimited for $4.95 per month.
Cost per GB
Compared with competing portable hard drives that feature small, 2.5-inch laptop drives, the SimpleTech Signature Mini Black Cherry, along with the Maxtor OneTouch 4 Mini, is the cheapest option we've tested, costing $0.56 per gigabyte. We were pleased to see that you aren't asked to pay a price premium for the Pininfarina design as you do, say, with a Ferrari.
|Model||Capacity||Est. street price||Cost per GB|
|SimpleTech Signature Mini Black Cherry||320GB||$180.00||$0.56|
|Maxtor OneTouch 4 Mini||160GB||$90.00||$0.56|
|Iomega eGo Portable Hard Drive||160GB||$100.00||$0.63|
|OWC Mercury On-The-Go||500GB||$350.00||$0.70|
|Toshiba USB 2.0 Portable External HDD||160GB||$140.00||$0.88|
The Signature Mini Black Cherry did very well in the labs. It topped the charts among pocket-size, external hard drives on our USB 2.0 write test, scoring 147.4Mbps (as opposed to 138.5Mbps of the OWC Mercury On-the-Go). On our read test, it finished in the middle of the pack--we typically don't see much variance in read performance among USB drives. Do note that a drive with FireWire support, such as the OWC Mercury On-the-Go, will offer faster throughput using that interface than USB 2.0.
During the testing process, the Signature Mini Black Cherry worked smoothly and quietly. It also managed to stay relatively cool all the time, which is a pleasant surprise as the drive doesn't seem to have any ventilation.
Service and support
SimpleTech backs the Signature Mini Black Cherry (as well as other models in the Signature Mini series) with a generous three-year warranty. Its toll-free technical support is available from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT. At the company's Web site, you can find FAQs as well as drivers, software updates, and manuals.