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Iomega Mac Companion: Your iMac's soulmate

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of the Iomega eGo Helium Portable Hard Drive. That review was very favorable -- the drive was relatively fast, very solidly built, and is designed to match the aluminum cases of Apple's MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines. The company has also released the Iomega Mac Companion (US$239.99 for 2 TB, $369.99 for 3 TB), a high-capacity backup drive that matches the design of the iMac. Let me take you on a guided tour of this nice-looking and useful desktop drive / hub combo.

Design

Like the Helium, the Mac Companion is (duh!) designed for Mac. Yes, you can use it with a PC, which is why I threw in that little comment. But to use it with a PC you need to reformat the Mac Companion's drive -- it comes pre formatted in HFS+, ready to connect to your Mac.

The Mac Companion is outfitted with one USB 2.0 port and two FireWire 800 ports. There's also a two-port USB 2.0 hub built in, so you can charge and sync both your iPhone and iPad at the same time (if you're not using iOS 5.0 Wi-Fi syncing, that is). But wait, there's more: another USB port on the side packing a full 2.1 amps of current for charging.

Let me get back to the design. While the Helium borrowed from the design of the aluminum unibody MacBooks, the Mac Companion takes its design cues from the iMac. The drive is meant to sit on top of the base of an iMac, and it exactly matches the shape of the base. The aluminum is almost identical to the aluminum finish of the bottom of the iMac, while the black top of the Mac Companion mimics the black bezel around the display. When nestled beneath an iMac, there are no Iomega logos to be seen.

What you do see are four white LEDs that signify that you have power to the drive and, if you've downloaded and installed the Capacity Utility they also display the relative capacity of the drive. Unfortunately, this download requires both a support account with Iomega as well as a reboot upon installation. Both of those steps are annoying. The LED also glows red when the device has been unmounted from a system.

One negative point: I really can't stand it when manufacturers take the cheap route and ship generic power supplies with their devices. These bricks usually take up way too much space and detract from an otherwise well-designed hard drive. Steve Jobs never would have let a new product ship with an ugly, generic power supply.

The Mac Companion comes with no software installed on it -- a very nice feature, since I usually end up taking the "bonus software suite" off of most drives anyway. You can download a complete package with goodies like Trend Smart Surfing and a free 2 GB subscription to Mozy Home from Iomega's site.

The drive is extremely quiet, and as you'll see in the benchmark results below, fast. Iomega's spokesperson mentioned that they're using a 7200 RPM mechanism, and it shows.

Benchmark

TUAW uses a standard industry benchmark to compare the I/O capabilities of disks and arrays. The benchmark uses the AJA System Test, which simulates reading and writing video. The specific test I used was the Disk Read/Write test, also known as the DiskWhackTest, set at a video frame size of 720 x 486 8-bit and a file size of 128 MB.

The test results are compared to the internal SATA drive of the test iMac. I've also included the results for another FireWire 800 drive (Western Digital 3 TB MyBook Studio) for a more direct comparison.

As you can see, this is a pretty darned fast drive! It had an average write speed of 78.9 MB/sec, making it about 14.8% faster in write operations than the Western Digital MyBook Studio. As for read operations, it averaged 80.9 MB/sec, or about 9.5% faster than the MyBook Studio. The Western Digital drive has an MSRP about $40 less than the Iomega drive, but in my opinion the better looks, excellent integration with the iMac, and higher read/write speeds of the Iomega Mac Companion make it well worth the slight extra cost.

Conclusion

Iomega must be doing something right these days. Both the Ego Helium portable drive and the Mac Companion are well-designed, good looking, and fast drives at a fairly reasonable price. Sure, you can buy much less expensive drives, but if you appreciate design and speed you really ought to take a look at the Mac Companion as a primary backup drive.

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