Archos puts 20GB in your pocket

Archos Technology Inc. has just shipped what it claims is the smallest and lightest portable hard drive yet: The Archos MiniHD 20GB measures 4.7 by 3 inches, is a half-inch thick, and weighs just 6.5 ounces.

The tiny drive can easily fit in a shirt pocket, but holds up to 20GB of data-a capacity that wasn’t unusual for desktop hard drives only a year ago. The drive lists for about US$200.

Physically, Archos’s newest drive is just a bit smaller than the company’s earlier MiniHD 6GB, while storing more than three times as much data. It’s faster, too, spinning at 4200 revolutions per minute. The new drive also supports the finally emerging USB 2.0 standard; with the right hardware, the throughput will be faster as well.

The MiniHD 20GB supports both USB 1.x and 2.0, and comes with a USB cable that will work with either standard. The drive also supports FireWire (IEEE 1394) and PC Card interfaces, although the cables cost extra. Any one of these interfaces can power the drive; you don’t need an AC adapter or batteries.

Travel Troubles

Archos is promoting the MiniHD as mass storage that you can take with you and plug into just about any PC, calling it a “dream come true for the road warrior who needs on-site business data…or the student who needs study notes on Spring Break.” It’s good in concept, but has a basic problem: drivers. On the vast majority of PCs you’re likely to encounter, the MiniHD won’t work until you’ve installed Archos’s drivers.

This shouldn’t be a problem on your own PC, but public surfing facilities are less receptive to letting customers install drivers onto their machines. A spot-check with a local library, six copy shops, and a coffee house that advertises Internet access found all offer PCs for public use, but none will permit users to install anything onto them. Also, while the drive fits into a shirt pocket, the CD containing the drivers is a bit bulkier for travel.

The exception would be any PC with USB 2.0 ports and the proper drivers. The MiniHD should work on these without any software installations, because the standard Microsoft USB 2.0 drivers should be sufficient. But few systems are yet equipped for USB 2.0, and it’s not readily obvious when you sit down at one.

But a small, portable hard drive has other uses. It could prove handy for using files on two different systems, such as at work and home. And it should be great for backup, since it combines the speed and convenience of backing up to a hard drive with the capability to physically separate your backup from your PC.

The MiniHD 6GB came with V-Communications Inc.’s AutoSave backup software. According to an Archos spokesperson, backup software will be included in “most shipments” of the new 20GB model.