One of the newer entries to the FireWire storage market is
WiebeTech LLC. Recently the company introduced its first major offering to Mac and PC users — the DesktopGB. It’s a FireWire and USB 2.0-equipped desktop hard drive available in capacities up to 80GB.
Long time Macintosh users may recognize the “Wiebe” in WiebeTech. It’s the surname of James Wiebe, WiebeTech CEO. Wiebe was a principle founder and the former CEO of now-defunct Mac processor upgrade maker Newer Technology. Wiebe is back in the saddle with a new line of FireWire and USB 2.0-based storage peripherals for Macs and PCs, and the DesktopGB is the first product to be released as part of the new line.
The DesktopGB is a desktop hard disk drive that measures about 9-inches long, 5 1/2-inches wide, and less than 1 1/2-inches tall. Designed to stand vertically, the DesktopGB ends up taking up less than 2 1/2-inches of width on the desk. The industrial design of the DesktopGB isn’t likely to make Mac users swoon; it is, in a word, utilitarian. It’s molded in a beige color and beveled on the top edge (or left edge, depending on how you have it oriented).
The drive incorporates two FireWire connectors on its backplane, along with a USB 2.0 interface. An A/C adapter input is also there, as is a grille for a fan that ventilates the unit. The unit also sports a power switch and green LED on the front that serves both as a power indicator and a drive access light.
Inside, the DesktopGB contains the popular Oxford Semiconductor 911 FireWire bridge controller. For USB 2.0 communications, the DesktopGB relies on the Cypress/ISD 300 USB 2.0 bridge controller.
USB 2.0 isn’t yet standard issue on the Mac; Apple still ships Macs from the factory equipped with the slower USB 1.1 interface. FireWire is standard issue, however, and according to WiebeTech, the DesktopGB can transfer data at up to 30MB/sec using its FireWire interface — presuming you have a drive installed that can saturate the Oxford 911 interface. My average with the 40GB drive hooked up to a PowerBook G4 was more in the vicinity of 9-10MB/sec, depending on what sort of data was being transferred.
WiebeTech sells the DesktopGB in a variety of storage capacities ranging from 40GB to 80GB. In fact, the company even sells a DesktopGB chassis alone (sans drive), if you have your own IDE-based drive mechanism you’d like to install yourself.
FireWire data storage on the Mac is a virtually plug-and-play proposition when it’s done well, and the WiebeTech DesktopGB is no exception. No sooner had I plugged the drive into my Mac when the Mac OS asked me if I’d like to initialize the disk. The drive initialized immediately, with 37.2GB of available storage capacity available to me as a Mac OS Extended partition.
If you’re working on an older USB-equipped Macintosh that does not have a built-in FireWire connector, you’re still in luck — like all USB 2.0 peripherals, the WiebeTech DesktopGB is backward compatible with USB 1.1. That means you can attach it to an older Mac and still expect it to work, although you won’t get the blazingly fast performance you can expect out of FireWire or USB 2.0. My own test bore this out quite well; the WiebeTech DesktopGB worked just fine when I hooked it up to a PowerBook G3 equipped with USB only.
WiebeTech suggested that the drive works fine with a Mac equipped with a third-party USB 2.0 card working on Mac OS X; alas, I was not able to test this functionality as I don’t have a test system equipped with USB 2.0 yet. I’ll try to revisit this in the future to see how different the USB 2.0 experience is.
WiebeTech delivers the DesktopGB with an international A/C power adapter, 6-pin FireWire cable, and USB cable equipped with a regular “A” type connector on one end (that end goes to your Mac or hub) and a “B” type connector (the smaller, squarish connectors sometimes found on USB peripherals) on the other. The “B” Type connector plugs into the DesktopGB itself. A manual is also included, but no software has been added. WiebeTech offers a one-year warranty on parts and labor.
At $259, you can find a less expensive FireWire-equipped 40GB external hard drive out there. But can you find one with USB support — and USB 2.0 support, to boot — as well? That puts the WiebeTech DesktopGB in a different category than the average FireWire drive.
The fact that you can buy a bare chassis (for $159) and put in your own drive is another added bonus. Such barebone configurations are not unique to WiebeTech, but many hard drive techies will certainly welcome another choice. And again, the flexibility of using either FireWire or USB 1.1/2.0 is nice. If there’s a need for you to have external storage that you can attach both to older and newer Macs (or PCs) and offer you some room for future growth, the WiebeTech DesktopGB might be right for you.