Out of the box, Peerless, Iomega's latest mass storage offering, was initially impressive.
The external hard drive unit splits into three components. The first is a 10Gb or 20Gb plug-in data cartridge (in our review model we had the smaller 10Gb drive) about the size of a Compaq iPaq.
The main element of the device has a funky dual-colour grey and silver body into which the cartridge plugs. (In case we were in any doubt over what we were reviewing, the unit's body has "Peerless" written across it in large letters.)
The final component was a base which clips below the body, accommodating the power and data connections - either USB or FireWire. Our review model came with a USB base.
It's worth noting here that Iomega has covered itself in the forthcoming great debate between Intel's USB 2 data transfer standard and the Mac-supported 1394 FireWire. It's currently too soon to call which of these high-speed data transfer technologies will emerge as the de facto standard, but Iomega's design means that only the relatively inexpensive base unit will need to be changed as the company will offer USB, USB 2 and 1394 modules.
The build quality of the injection moulded plastic construction appeared solid, apart from the notable exception of the base. This was inexplicably made from very thin hollow plastic and detracted somewhat from the overall effect, which was of very good quality.
Iomega has kept printed instructions to a minimum, with only a small eight-page Quick Install guide that has large pictures explaining exactly how to assemble and install the device. The Guide is as close to idiot-proof as it's possible to get, and only the most obtuse users could fail to assemble the unit correctly.
Getting the boot
We then loaded the IomegaWare setup CD as directed. The installation wizard was quick - less than two minutes - and easy to follow.
We were then prompted to see if we wanted the PC to reboot so that the install changes could take place. We clicked to reboot and our test machine got a bit upset. We were presented with a scary close-down screen that we've not seen before, and a dead machine.
We could not shut down with the PC's power button, so we yanked the AC cable from the back and rebooted.
All was well, and when we opened My Computer, the Peerless was alive and well, having been automatically assigned the next available drive allocation - in our case, drive G.
A right-click on the Peerless icon brings up all the usual Windows info about the drive and its status. This is when we first noticed the blue light on the front of the unit. Every time the drive is accessed, this light, about the size of a 10 pence piece, flashes on and off, creating an effect not dissimilar from the title credits of The Bill.
The drive comes preloaded with a range of MP3s, so we fired up the House of the Rising Sun and began transferring files to and from the mass storage device. The company claims data transfer rates of 1Mb per second through a USB connection, and up to 15Mb per second using FireWire.
In our testing data transfer was quick with no real discernable lag, even when we loaded a minimum install of Office 2000 on the drive, fired up and ran the application from the Peerless.
The drive ejects smoothly from its base station at the press of a button. We tried popping it in and out very quickly, but the system held out perfectly.
The company claims that the drive units are rated to be strong enough to drop from desk height. We duly tested this by dropping it from a desk and plugging it back in. There were no problems, although the drive does make a bit of a rattle if shaken.
We then tried dropping it from head height - again no problems. We decided not to subject the unit to the famous vnunet.com spin-drier build quality test.
We were intrigued to find a supplementary sheet saying "STOP! install software before installing hardware" in big letters. In the interests of science we deliberately ignored this good advice: we uninstalled the software and plugged the drive into the Xircom USB hub on the back of our Dell Win 2K test machine.
The OS noted the new hardware and attempted to find a driver. Then it hung and we could go no further. Yanking the power cable out again allowed us to reboot, and we reinstalled the software and drive again without problems.
This is a well-made, stylish device, but the price tag of 515 Euros - £326 - is a little steep considering that a 40Gb internal drive weighs in at only £100. However, there is definitely something to be said for having the convenience of a mass storage device in the form of portable cartridges. (Iomega even provides a little wallet to put the drives in on the move.)
One thing's for sure, and that's the amount of hard drive space we need is growing at a frightening rate as we download more and more megabyte-gobbling MP3s, videos and pictures.
Given this, the Peerless' ability to accommodate this data in a convenient and flexible manner is not without appeal.
Iomega: 01628 822444 www.iomega.com