Up until very recently the problem of storing digital files was a non-issue to
me – I did very little photography that involved being away from a computer
for any significant period of time; having about 10 GB worth of memory cards
pretty much had me covered for a day or two of shooting.
A couple of months ago I began to plan two trips where bringing a laptop simply
wasn’t an option. The first trip involved about a week and a half worth of
hiking where lugging a 7-pound laptop would be a huge nuisance. On the second
trip I would be spending approximately two weeks on trains going through Ukraine
and Belarus – besides being an extra weight to lug having a laptop would
make me a target for thieves.
What I needed was an external storage device that would allow me to copy files
from microdrives and compact flash cards. There are plenty of such devices on the
market, usually ranging from $200 to $500 in price. Because I tend to shoot a lot
and because I shoot raw files I usually produce a fairly high volume of digital
files on daily basis. Since I wanted to be sure that I had enough storage to last
me for two weeks, and I wanted to have some redundancy (in case a drive fails), I
was looking into buying two storage devices that would hold about 80GB.
After spending a couple of days on comparing available models I decided that
nothing fit exactly what I was looking for. Devices such as Epson P-2000 or Nikon
Coolwalker are really cool; unfortunately they offer fairly limited storage (40GB
and 30GB respectively). Moreover, having a preview screen significantly decreases
the battery life and makes the devices more fragile. Other manufacturers, such as
Wolverine, offer external drives that go up to 100GB; however they are expensive
and I did not want to spend $700.00 on my storage needs.
After a significant amount of searching I finally came across a product that
worked for me – a Vosonic X-Drive II+ VP-2160 Portable Storage
Reader/Writer. Vosonic (
http://www.vosonic.co.uk/) is a British company that produces
quite a variety of external storage devices. Most of their products can act as
media card readers and as external hard drives; some also double as video and MP3
The X-Drive II+ VP-2160 is a small (116 x 78 x 23 mm) off-white box with two
buttons, a monochrome screen, USB port and seven media card bays. The reason that
it is so inexpensive (they sell on Ebay for about $60-70) is because it comes
without a hard drive. It is dead-easy to operate – you press the power
button to turn it on, stick the memory card into the appropriate slot and press
the copy button. Once the photographs are transferred to the X-drive you cannot
preview them – the LCD on the device only shows you the battery charge and
the file transfer status.
The out-of-the-box kit includes the following items:
USB Cable – this is a Y-shaped cable and you can plug it into two USB
ports simultaneously so your battery can charge from your USB port (very useful
if you are traveling – you can download photos and charge your device at
the same time).
The VP2160 model (the one I bought) supports the following card types: SM,
SD/MMC, MS, MS Pro and CF Type I/II, Microdrives, Mini-SD (with adapter), RS-MMC
(with adapter), MS Duo (with adapter), MS Pro Duo (with adapter).
After purchasing two X-Drives on Ebay I went to CDW (www.cdw.com) and bought two
Hitachi TravelStar 80GB laptop drives ($130 each). The physical installation was
pretty easy – all you have to do is take out four tiny screws (the Vosonic
kit comes with a little keychain screwdriver) from the back of the X-Drive,
remove the plastic cover, slide the hard drive in, close the cover and screw
everything back together. The whole thing takes no more than five minutes.
Before you can begin to use your X-Drive you have to plug it into your computer
and format the disk. That step could present a problem for some of Microsoft
Windows users. As I found out the hard way, Microsoft purposefully crippled their
formatting tool for Windows NT, 2000, and XP in order to force everyone to use
the NTFS file system. The hard drive in the X-Drive has to be formatted with
FAT32 and the Windows formatting tool will not format any hard drive larger than
32GB as FAT32. Fortunately, there are several ways to deal with this problem. If
you know someone who has an Apple or a Linux computer you can use them to format
your disk. You can also try to find a Windows 98 machine – the problem with
that solution is that most Windows 98 machines are unlikely to support USB 2.0 or
even USB 1.1.
The easiest solution is to use the MKDOSFS utility. MKDOSFS is a Linux utility
that allows you to create and format DOS/WINDOWS partitions with pretty much any
file system. If you do not have access to a Linux computer you can download the
MKDOSFS for Windows from the following site:
http://www.mager.org/mkdosfs/ After downloading and
uncompressing the .zip file, use the following steps to format your drive: 1.
Copy the mkdosfs.exe (the file you unzipped) to the root of your C-drive.
2. Click on Start ? Run
3. Type cmd and click “Run” to start the command prompt
4. Type c:\mkdosfs –v –F 32 –n volumename X:
5. Hit the Enter key
When typing the command replace “volumename” with whatever you want
to name your drive. Replace X: with the drive letter of your new drive (you can
see it in Windows explorer).
Now your X-Drive is ready to use. I have tested it with a 2GB Hitachi Microdrive,
a 1GB Sundisk Compact Flash card and a 256MB SD card. The manufacturer’s
specs suggest that it takes 9 minutes to copy 1 GB. In reality it took me about
21 minutes to copy a 2GB Microdrive. I have been using the X-drive for about a
month now and it works really well. Essentially I got two external storage
devices for the price of one Epson P-2000.
Vosonic products are available from a number of vendors in the US as well as on
auction sites. The best way to find one if you can't find one at one of the
photo.net affiliates (see below) is simply to do a Google search
Purchasing from these vendors via these links helps support photo.net