Last year, the Iomega eGo Mac Edition 500GB line really stood out amongst an increasingly crowded market of inexpensive portable hard drives. However, the slick design of their products proved to be more show than substance, as their slow copy and duplication speeds didn’t hold up against the rest of the competition at the time. Since then, Iomega’s portable HDs have increased their data transfer speeds across the board while keeping their trademark look intact.
Iomega’s eGo BlackBelt plays up its namesake right out of the box. Instead of a variety of color schemes, this model only comes in jet black, with a removable Power Grip Band wrapped around the shell of the drive. On the rear of the device, there’s a single USB port complemented by two FireWire 800 ports, rather than the FireWire 400/FireWire 800 split from last year. If you’re running a Mac with a FireWire 400 port, you can still use an adapter cable and a FireWire 800 port to achieve FireWire 400 speeds.
Since Iomega touts the BlackBelt’s new Drop Guard Xtreme feature, we put the drive through its paces in a series of stress tests. We dropped it from a seven-foot height, kicked it down a flight of stairs, and nonchalantly knocked it off our workbench more than a few times over the course of a week. After all that, the drive still worked just fine. So far, the only thing we don’t recommend doing is crushing the drive—if you put too much weight (150 pounds or more) on and accidentally smash it, you’ll have a problem getting the drive to stay powered up.
The safety features and rubber guard do their job quite well. Of course, if you’re more concerned about being able to slip it in and out of your pocket at a moment’s notice, you’ll want to remove the Power Grip Band. It adds a considerable amount of girth to the BlackBelt, which is kind of thick—not nearly as small as the G-Drive Slim ( ) or the Iomega Skin ( ).
Of course, all that safe design doesn’t mean much without speed, but Iomega has also improved in that area as well. To see our complete list of benchmark test results, check here. On copy speeds alone, the BlackBelt is one of the faster portable hard drives we’ve tested, posting improved write/read speeds in most of our results. Fastest of the USB 2.0 tests was the drive’s write speed when copying a 2GB folder, clocking in at 31.3 MBps, a record that the BlackBelt now shares with the Iomega Skin and the G-Drive Slim 320GB .
All the other test results for the BlackBelt were decent, but not record-breaking. Its read speed for a 2GB folder over USB 2.0 was 35.7MBps, matching the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 500GB ( ) and the previous Iomega eGo 500GB ( ), lagging behind the faster G-Drive HD line in general.
Write and read speeds via USB 2.0 for our 2GB ZIP file tests were slightly better—the BlackBelt’s 32.8MBps result was a hair faster than the G-Drive Mobile USB ( ) 500GB and G-Drive Slim 320GB, but only slightly slower than the Iomega Skin 500GB. Its read test clocked in at 37.7MBps, once again lagging a few seconds behind the G-Drive HDs. Least impressive was the BlackBelt’s USB 2.0 result in our Photoshop test, clocking in at 70 seconds—a mid-level score in our chart.
Although the competition isn’t heavily stacked in this category quite yet, the BlackBelt is the best portable hard drive we have in the FireWire 800 bracket, beating the previous Iomega eGo and the current G-Drive Mobile 500GB by wide margins in read tests, a second or two in write tests, and getting top marks at 44 seconds in our low-memory Photoshop test. In fact, the BlackBelt’s speeds are about even with heavy duty desktop hard drives such as the CalDigit AV Drive ( ), while also being clearly faster than devices like the G-Raid 4TB ( ) and WiebeTech RTX220H-QR.
At $200 (and lower if you shop online), the BlackBelt can go for as much as 20 cents per gigabyte. Compared to other drives like the G-Drive 500GB, Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 500GB, and CalDigit AV, that’s about the average you’d expect, and perhaps even a tad on the pricey side. Then again, it’s worth considering that the BlackBelt is a double interface device (USB and FireWire 800 are standard and you can obtain a FireWire 800 to 400 cable to ensure FireWire 400 connectivity).
However, there’s added value to make up the difference, as it also comes with the usual collection of generous security and storage goodies: a free one-year subscription to TrendMicro Smart Surfing for Mac, QuikProtect file backup, access to a lifetime 2GB-per-month subscription to online backup via MozyHome, and a three-year limited warranty if you register the drive. Of course, it’s all included with purchase, and you’ll get license codes to download the extra software straight from Iomega’s Website. All these backup options make the BlackBelt a complete storage solution. Free software, varied connectivity, a 5400-rpm disc speed, and Time Machine compatibility all contribute to the drive’s marketability with small sacrifices in regards to the price tag and form factor.
Macworld’s buying advice
On all counts, the eGo BlackBelt is a solid improvement on last year’s model. It’s not the smallest or cheapest portable HD on the market, but the improved speed, versatility, and safety features round out a very solid package nonetheless.
[McKinley Noble is an editorial intern for Macworld.]