Portable Storage Devices

Which one to bring on your next trip?


Moving far from the usual energy sources forces you to juggle with a difficult constraint. But during a trip, while building a news story or an unplanned photo shoot, you may have to shoot a lot of images without the ability to empty the memory card into a computer. What should you do?

SafariAn article written in the context of preparing a photo safari in East Africa.

You can see the photos I took there.

On the one hand, you can multiply the number of memory card, or their capacity. But this can be expensive and the limit is easily reached. There come the solution offered by the Portable Storage Devices. They allow to quickly (in a few seconds) to transfer the data from your Flash card onto a portable disk drive (with a large capacity).

For the opportunity of a photo safari where you probably do not want to bring a heavy, expensive, energy-consuming portable PC, this should be the ideal solution. This is why I started hunting for an efficient solution of this kind.

The specification is finally quite easy to write:

Some would have been adding the need to visualize the result (the transfered images). On my side, I think that this is a very secondary need. Notably, I observed that the price of the portable storage devices is very sensitive to the size and quality of their displays. the cheaper ones are always those that only display quantities (of files, of bytes, etc.) Thus, I easily removed all storage devices that include a nice graphic display, color or not.

I quickly found that several solutions could be easily found (and that some other products where notably difficult to find in France, in Europe, or anywhere on the web).

Transcend USB 2.0 Photobank

Definitvely the smallest and the cutest of these (at least from those I have been looking at). It has a nice Apple iPod kind of feel. But its price is quickly going over 300€ for a 40GB+ hard drive which is a bit of a problem (stick to the 20GB version).

A 1.8" drive (instead of the usual 2.5") explains its very small size. It has two Flash memory card slots and shows a whole list of supported formats (CompactFlash I & II, Secure Digital/MMC, Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro and SmartMedia - other formats can be accomodated using an adapter).

Compatible with all Microsoft OS (down to Windows 98) and MacOS 10.1 or more. It is provided with a small protecting bag and a battery charger that can be intelligently modified to adapt to Europe and US mains. The Lithium-Ion battery is internal and offers 3 hours of operation for a total weight of 247g.

The interface seems reasonably simple to use. The disc is seen as an external drive when connected to the PC through the USB interface. As simple as needed.

Very nice, but not automatically the best combination.

CompactDrive PD70XCompactDrive PD70X

Here, we find the exact opposite of the Transcend Photobank. It looks rough, even if we immediately see that it is well built. But all its users agree on one thing: This is the Ferrari of all portable disc drives.

All technical choices seem to have been done favoring simplicity, efficiency, solidity. The power supply is provided by four AAA standard NiMH batteries (no risk for the future and one charge will provide enough energy to empty 50GB worth of memory cards); All the needed card formats are there (CompactFlash Type I & II MicroDrive, Seagate ST1 5GB Drive Secure Digital, Multi Media Card Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro SanDisk Memory Stick, MS Pro xD Picture Card - other formats can be accomodated using an adapter); Compatible with all the common Operating Systems: Microsoft from Win98 toXP (with a driver for Win98), MacOS 9.x and 10.x (Plug n Play), Linux.

A lot of good ideas have been included from the start. For example, the CompactDrive is provided with a belt transport bag. In this position, the LCD display is no longer visible. So, there is a color LED to display the exact operating status of the device while used from the bag. It is possible to format the hard drive without any PC connection. The only command button provide easily three different functions and is protected against humidity. The device will power off automatically as soon as unused. The manufacturer also provided a screwdriver and detailed information about the best way to replace the internal hard disc (providing maximum evolutivity).

Manufacturer's web site:

And, let's repreat it again: It is amazingly fast. It is often faster to empty the card into the PD70X than to fill it with your digital camera.

Of course, the weight is slightly higher than for its competition: 270g. But it's not a big drawback and the overall feeling is impressive.

Memup X-drive III 80GB (or Vosonic Xsdrive)

Again a very nice device: a very elegant black cover hides a big 80GB hard disc drive (no less!).

A long list of compatibility (CompactFlash type I/II (CF), SmartMedia (SM), Memory Stick (MS), Memory Stick Pro (MS Pro), Secure Digital (SD), MultiMedia Card (MMC), IBM MicroDrive - other formats can be accomodated using an adapter). The X-drive will also recognize your OS without a hitch: Windows 98, 98SE (with a driver), Windows 2000 (service pack 3 or more), Me, XP (without driver), Linux Kernel 2.4 or more (without driver), Mac OS 9.x or more (without driver).

The internal battery provides about 3 hours of operation for a weight of only 230g (all included except the bag that is also in the box).

My choice, my conclusions

Important: The previous model from CompactDrive (the PD7X) seemed to suffer from battery management problems that were creating risks when using an IBM MicroDrive, but this was solved on the PD70X.

All in all, these products are very similar and the choice is a tough one. If you look for a nice design, you could turn to the Transcend Photobanck.

But the CompactDrive is impressive with a list of small advantages for the real user: speed (of transfers), simplicity (ideal user interface), evolutivity (removable hard drive and batteries), robustness, long autonomy. These weapons look decisive to me and to the photographer who will go further than the family lunch. That is why I recommend and buy the CompactDrive PD70X.

Copyright (c) 1999-2008 - Yves Roumazeilles (all rights reserved)

Latest update: 30-oct-08