G-Technology G-Drive Mobile Portable Hard Drive
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I've used many portable hard drives over the years. I bought my first one -- a 12GB model -- to do DV editing on a PowerBook G3 while sitting at Starbucks. It did the job, although I could only edit about an hour of footage at a time, and the drive sometimes dropped frames during playback. A year later, I upgraded to a 30GB model -- that's more than 2 hours of DV video! -- and thought that was all the space I would ever need....until the next year, of course, when I upgraded again, and then again, and then again. Now, I'm using G-Technology's G-Drive Mobile ($149), and it's about as good a drive as I've ever used. It's small enough to stuff into any bag, it doesn't need AC power to run, and it stores 500GB of content, including dozens of hours of top-tier HD video.
As an editor, the G-Drive lets me keep all of a project's footage in one mobile place, easily taking the footage between home and work editing stations. Working as a cameraman, I've found the G-Drive handy for offloading footage from my P2 cards, and then handing clients one small, convenient drive with everything on it. If I have to send footage back through the mail, the G-Drive is also easier to pack up versus a bigger, desktop drive. I've also used the G-Drive Mobile to clone my Mac Pro's system drive before upgrading to Snow Leopard, so I could occasionally boot up my old operating system.
What's So Special?
Of course, the G-Drive isn't the only portable drive that can do these things. There seem to be dozens of options out there, but the G-Drive stands out for a few reasons.
For starters, it's made by G-Technology (now owned by Hitachi), which is one of the best-known and frequently purchased drive makers in media circles. G-Tech has been selling drives to content producers for years, and has a strong reputation for reliability. To back up that reputation, the G-Drive comes with a 3-year warranty, which is more than many drives I've come across lately (the average seems to be 2 years).
Another unique feature of the G-Drive is that it has a USB 2 port but also two faster FireWire 800 ports. FireWire 800 isn't something you find in many portable drives these days, so Mac users will appreciate having a faster option for transferring big gobs of data. Searching Amazon.com, I was able to find just a handful of portable drives with one FireWire 800 port, but I found none that had two ports. That's definitely another advantage for the G-Drive, because it lets you connect other hard drives through it. If you ever need to transfer data from one drive to another, and are running out of FireWire or USB 2 ports on your computer, then having a spare port on the G-Drive is certainly handy.
Another thing I liked about the G-Drive is that it comes with relatively long cables (more than 2 feet for FireWire and over 4 feet for USB). I know that cable length isn't exactly a hot feature, but it nonetheless makes for an easier, more convenient experience. Case in point: a client recently gave me a portable Seagate drive to store his footage on, and the thing came with a 1-foot cable. I had to put the drive on the floor next to my Mac Pro because the pigmy cable couldn't reach anywhere else. Not a problem with the G-Drive!
Finally, one last highlight is that the G-Drive looks really good sitting next to modern-day Macs. It's got what appears to be the same brushed aluminum body that Macs have, and a black glossy top that matches the black keyboards and borders you find on newer Macs. All other things being equal, it's simply nice having a stylish, rugged piece of gear in your hands, instead of some cheapo plastic contraption.
Hard drive performance is a little hard to talk about, because it can wildly vary depending on the computer the drive is connected to, the number of other drives sharing the same bus, the number and size of files you're copying, and so on. But what I can say about the G-Drive is that it uses a 2.5" Hitachi hard drive spinning at 5400 rpm, with an 8 MB cache, and proves respectably quick for a conventional hard drive.
In one set of tests I did with the G-Drive, I connected it to a Mac Pro, and used Final Cut Pro to edit P2 footage directly from the drive. I was able to edit up to six streams of 720p footage without a hitch (with a data rate of 6.7MB per second, per stream), and three streams of 1080 footage (13.5MBps per stream). In other words, the G-Drive worked great when hosting moderate-bandwidth footage, such as DVCPRO HD, AVC-Intra, Sony XDCAM, or AVCHD. For higher-bandwidth footage (such as ProRes), you should be able to get away with a couple of streams as well.
I also hooked the G-Drive to a 2+ year old Macbook Pro, and transferred a 16GB P2 video folder to and from the drive. Using FireWire 800, I copied the folder from the Macbook Pro to the G-Drive in 10 minutes, 8 seconds. Copying the same folder from the G-Drive to the Macbook took 8 minutes, 40 seconds. The G-Drive's write speed came to about 27MB per second, which is far lower than FireWire's 100MB per second theoretical speed. Then again, that slow-ish copy was partially due to my Macbook's relatively slow internal drive, and the besides, few devices ever approach their theoretical speeds.
I also tested the G-Drive with a current-gen Mac Pro, copying the same P2 folder from the Mac Pro's internal 7200 rpm hard drive and back again. Both transfer times came in just over 7 minutes (38MB/s), which goes to show how different the same drive's performance can be depending on the computer you're using.
I also did a few tests using the G-Drive's USB 2 port, on both the Macbook Pro and Mac Pro (again, using the same P2 folder). On the laptop, those back and forth copies took just about a minute longer than the FireWire 800 tests, even though FireWire 800 is supposed to be twice as fast. What this means is that you won't see an appreciable performance difference between USB 2 and FireWire 800 unless you're copying dozens or hundreds of gigabytes at a time.
On the Mac Pro, USB lagged FireWire 800 times by a couple of minutes each, so you're more likely to get a real speed boost from FireWire no matter what kind of copying you're doing.
Alternatives to Consider
There are a few other features you might want in a portable drive that the G-Drive Mobile just can't match. Some portable drives come with fast eSATA ports, which theoretically run almost twice as fast as FireWire 800. But, of course, theoretical speeds don't usually pan out in the real-world, and if you're transferring data to and from a laptop, or through other bottlenecks, eSATA may never deliver an appreciable speed increase over the G-Drive. Also, very few computers have eSATA ports to begin with.
Another drive to consider would be a Solid-State Drive (SSD), which uses fast memory chips instead of a conventional spinning drive. I love these things because they're very fast and, having no moving parts, are really rugged (you don't have to worry about your data if you drop the drive.) The only problem with Solid-State Drives is that they're expensive. G-Tech sells a G-Drive Mini SSD with 256GB capacity for $1299! I shopped around NewEgg.com for alternatives and found an external 256GB SSD for a more reasonable $700, but even that's far more than you'd pay for the G-Drive Mobile, and with only half its capacity.
Overall, the G-Drive Mobile is a great option if you need to store tons of data in a handheld, no hassle package. It's a little more expensive than some lower-level competitors (particularly USB-only drives, which can run about $80), but you get G-Tech's tried-and-true reliability, a good 3-year warranty and dual FireWire 800 ports. I think that's easily worth a few extra dollars.
About Helmut Kobler
Helmut Kobler is a Los Angeles-based documentary cameraman specializing in P2. He's also written three editions of Final Cut Pro for Dummies. For more information, go to www.varicaminla.com.