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Review of OWC Mercury On the Go Portable Disk 99

Long have Slashdot Editors made known the fact that we'll review pretty much any interesting gadget shipped our way. This week we have the OWC "Mercury On-The-Go", a 2.5" external hard drive featuring FW800 and USB2 ports and available in 40 to 160gb flavors. Read on for my review of the drive.

I plugged it into my PowerBook using the included USB cable Since the device didn't immediately mount, I guessed I needed power too- I was disappointed, but not exactly surprised. Another dive into the box revealed a firewire and power cable. Oh, and a one page "Manual" and CD. Seconds later I was off and running.

Rear View of the Unit

The back of the the drive tells the story: 2 FireWire 800 ports, one USB 2.0 Port, a power switch, and a power plug. The case is transparent. Of course that means all you see is a boring old hard drive. I sorta wanted to just use it upside down- the bottom of a hard drive is more aesthetically interesting than the top.

The drive arrived Mac formatted, and shipped with a bunch of wacky stuff on it, including the old Ellen Feiss Apple ad, and a directory with a slew of high quality disk icons. I'll be honest- I'm obsessive about things like drive icons. I make sure that my iPod icon is the correct version of the iPod on my desktop, or when I mount my digital camera or PSP, the icons match the device. So while I'm sure the vast majority of users would simply blow away the folder, I find touches like this very nice.

The Mercury comes with a little carrying case too. Nothing to write home about really. The unit itself is quite small- almost exactly the same size as my Nintendo DS. Unfortunately the case must also carry the power supply which makes the whole thing much larger.

I've used a number of external storage devices, and performance was roughly as I would expect. Since it's an external drive, read/write performance is really more about cabling than anything else. It took 3:36 to copy 3 gigs of data over USB, and 2:24 to copy the same 3 gigs over FW800. The upside is that the FW800 cable provides power- I was able to mount the drive without use of extra power cables.

So without further ado, I present to you my executive summary:

  • It looks nice. Nothing spectacular, just nice.
  • USB2 is slower and requires an external power supply
  • A good choice for FW800 support.
  • $150 for the 40GB version up to $450 for the 160GB version.

My struggle with this drive is really the "Why"? It occupies an incredibly expensive niche between "Portable" and "Large".

OWC Shown in Relation to other gadgets in my very masculine purse

If vast storage is what you need, with less portability, a 320GB external USB drive can be had for around $150-200. Less mobile to be sure, but twice the storage for just over a third the price. I've included a photo of the Mercury with a Gameboy DS and iPod just to give you a sense of the scale of the whole thing.

The Mercury On-the-go isn't going into your shirt pocket: especially if you are using the USB connection and lugging the external power adapter. If what you really crave portability, a 60GB iPod is way smaller, doesn't require an external power supply, and runs like $400.

On the other hand, if you need 100-160 gigs, and plan to use a FW800 cable, this is a reasonable, but pricey option. It does exactly what you would expect in an external hard drive. It's quick, easy, and simple. It just doesn't seem cost effective to me.

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Review of OWC Mercury On the Go Portable Disk

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  • by jjh37997 ( 456473 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:04PM (#14925220) Homepage
    Wow.... an external harddrive. Color me impressed!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:05PM (#14925223)
    Words = 609
    Sentences = 38
    Sentences per Paragraph = 2.9
    Words per Sentence = 15.5
    Characters per word = 4.3
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 8.3 ... just playing with you, Taco!
  • Screw That (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:08PM (#14925252) Homepage
    Just buy an external IDE enclosure for $15 bucks anywhere. You can pop a 320 GB drive in that for a fraction of the price of this thing. Plus it is upgradeable.

    If you want a smaller drive just do as above but with a 2.5" laptop drive enclosure.

    • We bought a case of them (+enclosures) to sell (populated with data) to our clients. They're a handy way to distribute data if you have to ship >8GB of it to your customer. Unfortunately the enclosures we bought came with a confusing Y-Cable, which we had to replace.
      • by blorg ( 726186 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:44PM (#14925557) use the enclosures with combinations of certain higher-power laptop drives and certain computers that don't supply enough power to a single USB port. As most laptop drives are ~1A and the USB spec is 500mA this can end up being quite a few. I know I have to use the Y cable with my laptop (as the USB2 port is on a PC card) and my Shuttle, but don't need to use it on a computer in work.

        With a Y-cable you will never need an external power supply, which is very handy and the key difference between a 2.5" and a 3.5" drive - far less to lug around.

        Of course the point is moot if you are using Firewire which provides enough power for any laptop drive.
        • Also moot if you chose lower-powered drives.
          • AFAIK basically all laptop drives will require near 1A for spin-up, although they will use significantly less for continued operation. Certainly I don't think there are any that will spin up on 500mA (although I may be wrong.) Some USB ports will manage this although it is by no means guaranteed. My experience is with TravelStar drives (a 4200RPM one at 1A followed by a 7200RPM at 1.1A.)
          • The only USB drive that I know that will work on a Mac Aluminum Powerbook USB port without external power is the iPod. Haven't tried a Y-cable.

            Firewire, on the other hand, generally is not a problem.
    • Re:Screw That (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mikedaisey ( 413058 )
      "If you want a smaller drive just do as above but with a 2.5" laptop drive enclosure."

      You can buy these as just enclosures, for $59--and that's why they are popular. It's very fast to swap 2.5" laptop drives in and out of them. I have two myself.
      • It appears this model [] is $85.
      • There are other things you can do with 2.5" USB2 enclosures besides just adding extra portable storage to your PC. For me the big issue was data recovery from a dying PC - previous generations, including IDE and SCSI in the PC world, were really inconvenient, but USB is so widely supported that the next time my laptop dies, I can pop the disk into my $29 enclosure and connect it to my other PC. (The price is real, but fortunately the laptop decided to stop overheating.)

        So for me, an enclosure that comes

    • Re:Screw That (Score:4, Informative)

      by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @02:10PM (#14925808) Homepage Journal
      Just buy an external IDE enclosure for $15 bucks anywhere.

      Where are you buying these for $15? I'm paying $17 just for a decent drive sled at NewEgg and the decent enclosures are in the neighborhood of $35 there.
    • You can actually shave some bucks off that price just by buying the individual components from OWC. They sell plenty of 2.5" hard drive mechanisms and an array of FireFire enclosures. I haven't been able to find 3.5" drives that are bus-powered for FireWire at all, which is the thing I need most.
      • 3.5" bus-powered hard drives are so far beyond impractical that it isn't even funny. You'd mainly want bus-powered devices for laptop use, where such power consumption is just plain impossible with anything remotely resembling current hardware.

        The maximum Firewire power for a 15" G4 PowerBook, for example, is 7W (12.8V @ 546mA). The idle spinning drain for a typical 3.5" hard drive is on the order of 9W, with startup power requirements that can exceed 35W. That's more than half the maximum output of

    • If a drive enclosure only costs $15, I wouldn't trust putting it in a garbage can, it might explode or something, leaving me with a mess.

      The smaller drive enclosure plus the small size drives are a lot more expensive, and this one seems to be that way. This seems to be niche, I don't think there is a point to FW800 in a 2.5" enclosure, I don't think even the 7200RPM laptop drives can get a worthwhile benefit from FW800.
  • I love my T-Mobile EDGE wireless network service (via my phone to my laptop). It doesn't work well for huge files, but I work with mostly small files and if I need to access a large database or app, I just VNC into my office PC.

    I see no purpose in my life for huge files anymore -- most everything I do is web oriented. Rather than spend $450 for a gigantic drive, that $450 pays for almost 2 years of service which is always getting faster.

    Do other people see the time preference and money savings in slimming
    • I see no purpose in my life for huge files anymore

      You've discovered some amazing new way to compress porn?
    • C'mon, you're smart - you can imagine scenarios where this drive is useful (photography, prepress, tech support, portable desktop, etc). Plus not all of us live in the land of ubiquitous cell phone coverage.
    • Okay... so what about backups? What about large photo collections, or home movie projects? There are plenty of things that you always want to have a redundant copy of, just on the off chance that something fries your system.
      • This is why I also drop WiFi access points wherever I spend a lot of time -- even at my church (where I run sound, media and communications). All my customers have a private access point of mine (tied to my MAC address and turned off when I'm not there). One of my directories is set to automatically backup when it connects to a certain network, so I don't even think about backing up anymore. Over time I'd like this to be even more automated.

        Since I carry my laptop practically everywhere I go, I can dump
    • It depends on what you're doing. If most of your stuff consists of nothing much larger than a large Word file or a couple of MP3s, then network storage and a good map of WiFi hotspots should be good enough. On the other hand, I do things like trouble shooting... so being able to boot Knoppix from CD and backup an 80GB hard drive before I get to work cleaning up a system is nice.

      I've got a 1 year old 5" enclosure, so I can fit just about anything I want into the thing. It consistently transfers about 38MB

  • Zing (Score:3, Funny)

    by LandownEyes ( 838725 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:12PM (#14925275)
    Now just make it play mp3s and release it five years ago and you'll make BILLIONS!
  • I'm not trying to complain here or anything, but how is this special? It's just an overpriced external HD, right (and it is DEFINATELY overpriced, if that's all it is).

    Why not just buy an external IDE enclosure? Do it yourself, that way you can change the HD and upgrade it later (if you need extra space).

    • well, I'm not trying to be a jackass or anything, but did you even read the review?
      That is exactly what Taco said.
      very small niche market
      just go out and get a bigger cheaper drive unless you need exactly this setup.

      I can understand people who dont RTFA when you have to link to an external site, but the review is right underneath the summary. Gimme a break.
      • No, I read the article. My point was: Why was there even an article on it? What was supposed to be special about it in the first place?
        • did you?
          that was one of the first things taco said.
          he said they'll review anything they get given. Its good pr for them to do so. It keeps people sending them their products when they review everything, even if its not the coolest shit ever.
          So this drive is not exactly what you'd want to pay $500 bucks for, so what?
          By reviewing it, taco is guaranteeing that other gear will be reviewed in the future, cause lets face it, they're not gonna go buy all this stuff themselves.

          Just cause you want to be a negative
    • It's not special, hence the lukewarm review. He was simply asked to review the unit honestly and he did. No harm in that, is there? A review of a product that turns out being rather poor is far more useful to most people than either lying about it and saying it's great or simply not reviewing it at all. Wish there were more actual review sites that were this truthful.
    • This is an effective way to get a bigger HD for the ol' PowerBook and give the old one a place to live.

      The 100 GB in my 17' PB was full so rather than buy a naked 160GB, I bought the 160GB FW800 cased version. I removed it from the casing, took out the 100GB inside the PB, replaced it with the 160B, and put the 100GB back in casing.

      I now have a nice backup 100GB hard drive that I can travel with and even boot off of without needing a power supply. Otherwise, I can keep it at home and attach it to my serve
  • by cejones ( 574416 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:15PM (#14925310)
    I'm sorry, but for a harddrive to really be portable, it must be powered by USB or Firewire. Who wants to lug around yet another power adapter?

    This is not news except for Firewire 800 connectivity. And Firewire 800 seems to be such a niche, I doubt it will ever really catch on.

    • I have this drive--it doesn't need a power brick if you adjust the on switch on the back to the setting where it gets the power over the bus. I use variations of this drive design on FW400 and FW800 all the time.
    • ... is all you're gonna get on a USB connection (at 5v) ... That's pretty punny for a regular hdd.
      • The Seagate 2.5" 4200 rpm (100GB) drives require: (data taken from this pdf overview [])
        * 5.0W at startup
        * 2.3W during seek
        * 2.1W reading/writing
        * 1.0W Idle
        * 0.2W Standby

        Except for startup, that's all under 5v * .5A = 2.5W that USB provides. That surge could easily be handled by a rechargable AA battery or an ultra-capacitor. Or, in a desperate pinch, require 2 USB connectors -- it's still better than lugging a power cube.
      • I've seen a few devices out there that want multiple USB connections, not because they need more than 480Mbps of data, but because they want more power than a single USB cable provides.
      • Is that current limit enforced? I wonder how many companies try to get away with overcurrent. I understand some powerbooks had problems with excessive current draw, unfortunately, I heard that it had consequences such as the machine going into limited mode if it worked at all.
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:16PM (#14925323) d=145402&cm_keycode=85 []

    A bigger, yet cheaper option for anyone that is willing to do a mail-in rebate and doesn't need to put it in their pocket.
  • by ExE122 ( 954104 ) * on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:18PM (#14925335) Homepage Journal
    Those prices are pretty good if you compare to to the G-Tech G-DRIVE mini []

    The G-Drive may look cooler with its "Rugged Aluminum Enclosure" and leather carrying case, but the OWC has FW800+USB2.0 and the G-Tech only has FW400+USB2.0. I wasn't able to find cache sizes, but I'm willing to bet G-Tech only has 8MB available. Here are some prices comparisons I put together (correct me if I made a mistake):

    • OWC (16MB Cache)- $149.99
    • GTech - $149.00
    • OWC - $219.99
    • GTech - $249.00
    • OWC (16MB Cache)- $219.99
    • GTech - $219.00
    • OWC - $249.99
    • GTech - $299.00
    • OWC - $249.99
    • OWC (16MB Cache) - $259.99
    • GTech - $269.00
    • OWC - $299.99
    • GTech - $359.00
    • OWC - $449.99
    • GTech - N/A

    Pretty damn good if you ask me!

    "Man Bites Dog
    Then Bites Self"
  • Mr. Taco, (Score:2, Informative)

    by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 )
    Aside from previous posts alluding to this, was the audience considered when doing this review? Don't many /.ers go out of their way to buy something that they can put together themselves? The obvious /. answer (as covered in other posts) is to buy a cheap drive and corresponding enclosure.

    Now, if the drive did something else cool, say was a combination drive/electric shaver, IMHO, we would start drooling over something like this. However, run-of-the-mill junk like this is something that could just as ea
  • OWC, a great company (Score:4, Informative)

    by cyngus ( 753668 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:47PM (#14925594)
    As someone who has done business with OWC for the last eight years I just want to say that they've been great. I've ordered everything from software to RAM to processor upgrades from them and never had a problem. Once I got a couple of bad sticks of RAM (in an order of 50) and they were replaced promptly and without a problem.
    • Unless it's for OWC!

      I second your opinion. I've been buying stuff from OWC for maybe six years, and I've always been happy with both the products and the service. I have two of the "On-the-go" drives (FW 400s), and they've performed as expected and have even saved my ass at least once. I can't speak to USB or FW 800 versions, but the FW 400s use bus power without problem. These are great external drives if you use a laptop, and don't want to carry around a large external and a power brick.

      They also have a m
  • power (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Qwavel ( 733416 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @01:58PM (#14925694)
    I've bought quite a few 2.5" HD's and put them in cheapo USB enclosures. They all work fine without any external power. Why would I pay much more money for a unit that's much less portable (because it requires me to carry around a power supply)?
    • Umm, because the cheapo drives often fail. We were going thorugh a lot of cheap drive enclosures at work, till we switched to the OWC drives--our failure rate dropped to near zero.

      Having said that, it is still an ex$pensive drive--the larger OWC drives are a much better deal, and bulletproop to boot.
  • I'm really really looking forward to next week's review of USB cables and screen cleaners.
  • I have a 40GB Pocketec USB 2.0 hard drive that's powered just fine over USB 2.0 - no Firewire, but it's smaller and (IM frequently less than HO) cuter than the Mercury. I'm seeing them on Froogle for as little less than the Mercury also - but I paid a lot more than that for mine when it first came out ;-)
  • ...For someone who travels all the time and needs vast amount of data storage available such as a huge sample library (for music composition), this is ideal.

    Well, I am not sure that FW/800 makes such a difference, but I own two of the FW/400 models, use them all the time and have found them an absolute pleasure to work with!

    You can also buy the enclosure separately and put whatever drive strikes your fancy in there; regarding the price, it is really a tradeoff for the convenience, and when working with
  • If all you cared about was speed, you'd go eSATA2 [] instead of USB or firewire, right? This product seems way expensive for a solution that doesn't even offer an eSATA- or LAN-connection

    • I've seen pro photographers using this kind of drive, to good effect.

      A full day's photoshoot would exceed the capacity of the digital camera's media
      card (remember, it's about $60/gigabyte for compactFlash, having dozens of
      cards is not a great option). But even the raw mode (uncompressed) will fit easily
      onto a suitable disk.

      You need a good laptop screen to preview the shots anyhow (before the model
      changes her dress, you need to KNOW that there's a good image), so you
      plug in the outboard drive (get three, th
  • A portable drive must be bootable because if it's useful only for storage then it's over-priced. That's why it also has to have Firewire, unless you want to fiddle with firmware to get your Mac to boot from USB.
  • by pointbeing ( 701902 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @02:22PM (#14925916)
    I sorta wanted to just use it upside down- the bottom of a hard drive is more aesthetically interesting than the top.
    Hard drives don't care if you run them upside down, taco. Honest.

    • Hard drives don't care if you run them upside down, taco.

      Uh, no. Some drives actually do care about mounting orientation. It varies on a drive-by-drive basis. You need to look carefully at the spec sheet to see which orientations are acceptable.

      All drives will run "right side up" (usually with the circuit board facing downward). Nearly all drives will also run mounted vertically (on either long edge). There are a few drives that expressly discourage running upside down. Nearly all drives discour

  • I'm always disdainful when people claim that a Slashdot story is just an ad. But this time I've got to wonder. Why else does this product rate a review? It's yet another USB portable hard disk. There must be hundreds on the market.
    • RTFA. It has two Firewire 800 ports (important for booting and for chaining firewire drives) and one USB2. It's true there are hundreds of USB drives. Many aren't portable, aren't bus powered, and aren't bootable.

      This review has actually missed the point. If all you need is storage then this drive is both unnecessary and over-priced, as you can buy a 250GB dual Firewire 800 and USB2 drive for under $200 US. If you need reliable portable backup you can boot from while on the road then this drive could be
      • I did miss the part about Firewire. But so what? Firewire-powered drives are nothing new. I even own one, which I bought 4 years ago. But I haven't used the Firewire port since my Sony laptop was stolen. USB 2 is the standard now — it's faster, and more widely implemented.

        USB-powered isn't a big deal either. You're right, most drives aren't USB-powered. But many are, including this puppy [] which I just bought from Slashdot's sister site, ironically enough.

        Daisy-chaining is nice, but not worth paying

  • Get a MacAlly 2.5 enclosure from NewEgg (or your favorite vendor) for ~$30, and use a 2.5 HD of your choosing. This is a very nice aluminum enclosure, supports FW400 & USB 2, and is powered off the connector you use (FW *OR* USB) external power needed. Affordable, sturdy, attractive (for a HD case), dissipates heat, no power adapters.

    I carry one in my laptop bag, and it constantly comes in handy. As far as FW800 goes, why would this be useful for a run of the mill 2.5 IDE drive? Thay can only tr
  • Roll your own? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by retro128 ( 318602 ) on Wednesday March 15, 2006 @02:46PM (#14926146)
    A power adapter? You've got to be kidding - Most external 2.5" HD enclosures can be powered by the USB bus itself. Plus, you are paying some company to take a drive, put it in a case, and slap their name on it. Why does this unit have Firewire 800 anyway? FW400 is faster than any laptop drive can go...And, besides, is Firewire REALLY necessary when just about every computer under the sun has USB 2.0 now? Besides, USB2.0 can also sustain transfer rates greater than most single hard drives can dish out. So why not roll your own enclosure? E16817145329 []

    Or if you really, really want firewire: E16817146035 [] E16822148073 []
    How about a 160GB for $329 E16822146047 []
    Or a 7200RPM 80GB for $145?

    So ask yourself - Is a clear case and a Firewire 800 interface really worth the extra $100?

    • A power adapter? You've got to be kidding - Most external 2.5" HD enclosures can be powered by the USB bus itself.

      Really? Which ones have you verified to work on a Mac laptop? The only one that I know of that will work off the USB bus of a Mac is the iPod.
      • I have a USB2 enclosure that I got ages ago that I put 20GB drive in, and it runs fine off of any Mac laptop I've hooked it to, with either USBv1 or 2, and that's directly to the computer, no hubs or anything inbetween. The enclosure itself also came with a wall wart, but I've never, ever used it. It's only there if you plan to use it with an unpowered port, of if it dosen't work with a port that will not supply enough power, like keyboards or monitor hubs sometimes do.

        I don't remember what make it is, bu
  • What I'd really like to know is this: Are there any USB enclosures that support the SCSI spin up/down [] commands?

    Everything I've tried so far doesn't, and forcing the drive to do an emergency head park every time you unplug it (or power down the computer it's attached to) can't be good.

  • When was that released? Maybe you mean "Nintendo DS"?
  • All I can say is I'll stick with just grabbing a standard IDE drive and an IDE->USB2 case for it. Good grief though, on newegg, you can grab a drive that does all this does at about $160+S&H for a 160GB. I may not speak for everyone here, but, I say I'd pay $10 and give up not having to have an extra power plug for the extra storage. ( Here's the particular product that caught my eye: E16822154068 [] )

    I don't like the idea of relying on an iPod or s

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