With the arrival of a new generation of portable hard drives such as Iomega’s eGo Portable USB 3.0, the storage industry appears to be gradually fixing the issues - performance and security - that have plagued consumer storage.

It features the new USB 3.0 ‘SuperSpeed’ interface and an integrated 256-bit AES encryption controller chip. The former will boost data transfer speeds as long as the user also has a USB 3.0 interface into which it can be plugged, while the encryption will secure the drive’s contents without overloading the host computer during data transfers - that’s the theory at least.

It also comes with a mixed bag of utilities such as Roxio Retrospect Express (a modestly featured backup system), Iomega’s v.Clone for Windows (software which allows a PC to be cloned to a USB stick), and Iomega QuikProtect (a live backup utility we’d generally recommend). The buyer also gets Trend Micro’s basic antivirus program for one year and an invitation to try MozyHome’s Online Backup service.

Performance

Lacking an Iomega USB 3.0 ExpressCard, we were unable to test the performance in that mode. The drive refused point blank to work with an interface card from a third-party vendor which tells us that until USB 3.0 interfaces are standard on laptops and PCs drives should be bought with a controller card from the same manufacturer.

We would expect the boost to be worthwhile but modest, probably equivalent to using an external eSATA drive. The ExpressCard 1.0 interface found on today’s laptops has its limitations too and the eGo’s internal drive runs at only 5,400rpm. The unit will definitely be faster than the same drive used in USB 2.0 mode as long as the type of data transfers are large enough to make the difference.

Integrated USB 3,0 ports will defintiely improve matters as will the emerging Expresscard 2.0 interface.

Encryption

On a happier note, we could see no performance hit imposed by the encryption, even when opening multiple files in succession. In day-to-day use, encryption should not slow this drive down.

The drive loads initially as a virtual drive in order to allow the encryption configuration utility to be run – this can subsequently run automatically, mounting the encrypted drive using a password set by the user. The drive can be used without encryption but this seems to defeat the point of having it. Overall, this feature worked seamlessly, locking (i.e encrypting) the drive when disconnected.

Because it's on the drive itself, the encryption utility will work with any PC the drive is plugged into.

OUR VERDICT

Good features? The encryption is a steal on a drive at this price and the bundled backup utilities work well, despite being licensed for a single PC and being Windows-only. Buying a USB 3.0 drive should also be a no brainer because it will offer better performance both in the short terms and (once these interfaces become more common) in the longer terms as well.

Small dislikes: the power light is on the rear of the unit and not always visible. The meaty USB 3.0 cable comes with a double headed USB attachment, needed for laptops and PCs unable to power the drive through one socket alone. That and the cable’s thickness makes the drive seem less portable than the enclosure’s dimensions would suggest.

It’s also necessary to use an Iomega USB 3.0 card to ensure compatibility. This will add around £30 to the cost of the drive, which is a very reasonable £70 for the 500GB model. For the time being, USB 3.0 does come at a slightly higher cost.

Users who register via Iomega get a defined 3-year warranty to back up the drives claimed drop-protection technology.