Kano SureFIRE 800 Portable Hard Drive

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, November 2004, send e-mail
Manufactured by: Kano Technologies Corporation, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 or XP, Mac OS 9.1, 9.2 or OSX and any available USB or FireWire connection
MSRP: $339.99

What's small, fits in a medium size pocket, looks nice, runs quiet, runs cool, plugs into just about any Windows PC or Mac made in the past 5 years, stores an enormous amount of data and can be transported anywhere? Aren't these new portable hard drives nice? Don't they just perfectly fill the need for fast backup of crucial data? And what's this business about triple data connections? Kano Technologies, one of the babies of the optical storage industry (having started life in 2002), has branched out into data storage with both enterprise RAID and somewhat more conventional solutions represented by the SureFIRE line of portable hard drives.

The SureFIRE 800 features triple data connections: FireWire 800, FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (800 Mbps, 400Mbps and 480Mbps data transfer rates respectively). The drive is supplied with cables for all three connections and also comes with a separate AC power block. We tested the SureFIRE 800 (60GB version) on FireWire 800 and 400 connections as well as several different USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, USB 2.0 full speed and legacy USB 1.1 connections under Windows 98SE, Me, 2000 and XP Professional.

For the record, while we could detect some slight speed advantages over FireWire 400 when transferring files via USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, the real difference is practically negligible. FireWire 800 however is another matter. It's gosh-darn fast and turns this diminutive drive into a real tiger. We also hooked up the drive to a standard USB 2.0 connection and literally maxed out the speed measurement at the specified limits (12Mbps) in every test which also means that Kano's USB hardware interface is fully backward compatible with older USB standards —good news for all those with older computers. The lab tests never tell the whole story though and Kickstartnews likes to review products based on their usefulness in day-to-day applications. So I copied about 35GB worth of mixed files (documents, movie files, music files, digital photos), tossed the SureFIRE into my briefcase and proceeded about my weekly excursions to various clients. I have access to client computers all over the place and since we've done this sort of thing before, none of them had any objection to allowing us to temporarily occupy a bit of their server space. We also packed all three data connection cables in order to be able to accommodate whatever connections were available.

First, a bit of a revelation. There are loads of FireWire 400 connections out there. I was surprised at the number of PCs and laptops with available FireWire connections. FireWire 800 is another story however. Of the 12 offices we visited over a six week period, only two had the faster FireWire connection, both of them brand new G5 Macs. We were also surprised at the relatively small number of USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connections compared to the ubiquitous USB 2.0 Standard (which operate at the same 12Mbps speed as USB 1.1) . A number of people thought they had USB 2.0 Hi-Speed and were surprised to find that wasn't the case. Only about half the USB 2.0 ports we encountered were Hi-Speed. PC manufacturers need to do a better job of identifying this sort of stuff for business clients.

Another revelation. Portability, real portability, now means not having to fuss with yet another power cable to provide juice to your portable hard drive. That's a reality with buss-powered FireWire drives. One FireWire cable does it all—power and data transfer.

The other thing we really like about this little guy is its 8MB cache. Say what you want about so-called pokey old 5,400 RPM drives, with an 8MB read ahead cache, this drive will outperform 7,200 RPM drives with 2MB caches.

Last but not least, this drive is small, lightweight and stylish. It is also unobtrusive, easy to handle and strongly built, all important factors when the transport method is the inside of a briefcase or the tangled jungle in a laptop bag.

Cons: No real cons for this one, although you might find that streaming video is not the best application for the SureFIRE (but streaming video still works, albeit with the occasional interruption). Status LEDs can be hard to see unless the drive is located at desk height or higher. It's definitely a minor quibble but if you regularly refer to drive status lights you'll want to choose a higher rather than lower drive position amidst the clutter on your desk.

Pros: Totally silent and runs remarkably cool. Ideal for music studio applications, among other things, because of its low noise output. If you're connecting via FireWire you don't need a power adaptor because buss power from the FireWire port is all the SureFIRE needs. At 5400 RPM this drive is more than fast enough for all conceivable portable data storage needs and because of the comparatively low spindle speed is also wonderfully quiet during operation (thank you Kano). The 8MB cache helps turns this drive into a genuine performer. Lots of uses for this little guy: portable music library server (streaming music across FireWire or USB 2.0 Hi-Speed is a breeze), data backup, data storage, archival storage (this little drive easily fits into a low profile safety deposit box) and data transport. Fairly priced for a highly portable, ultra compact, well-built drive with versatile connection options. I used the drive for five weeks prior to submitting this review and the device performed flawlessly. If you're not regularly burning backup CDs or DVDs because you think it's a pain in the neck, do yourself a favor and buy a Kano SureFIRE. The data you save may be your own. Good product from a good new company. Highly recommended.

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