Review: Monstor USB 2.0 Drive

Large Storage, Will Travel (February 23rd, 2005)

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Product Manufacturer: US Modular

Price: $99 for 2Gb, $170 for 4Gb

The Good

  • Small size good for road warriors; USB 2.0 connectivity; price per gigabyte ratio favorable when compared with some alternatives; decent throughput.

The Bad

  • Very slow throughput when compared with alternatives like flash drives; design not compatible with iMacs, requiring adapter cable.

There are a lot of great product ideas out there. But not every great idea, alas, translates into a great product. And I think I've found a perfect example.

Feet Of Clay

US Modular's Monstor Drive has tremendous potential. It uses the latest microdrive technology, spinning at 4200rpm; it's USB 2.0 compatible, it weighs half an ounce, fits in the palm of your hand and works on both Macs and PCs. The two-gigabyte version goes for about $100, with the 4GB version going for around $170.

All of which should spell success. And if you judge the product solely on its own merits, it's quite good. But when you do a real-world comparison, this revision of the Monstor Drive falls short.

Speeding? Officer, I Couldn't Have Been Speeding!

When I received the drive, I plugged it into my 1GHz iMac G4. I had to use a connecting cable that comes with the drive, because the Monstor's design won't let you plug it directly into the iMac. A red LED let me know the drive was successfully plugged in. I initially tried transferring a folder with about 888MB of data from the computer to the drive. It worked, but painfully slowly. After one minute, less than 57MB had been copied from the iMac to the Monstor. Two minutes, 85.3MB. Five minutes, a total of 206.2MB. This is an average of barely more than 40MB a minute. And on top of everything, the drive was quite warm to the touch, a natural byproduct from the spinning disk inside.

By contrast, I plugged in a 1GB Lexar USB JumpDrive, and it was a speed demon, transferring 104.3MB in the first minute, 630.8MB after five minutes, and finishing the entire job in just under seven and a half minutes. It would have taken the Monstor more than three times as long to complete the task.

USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Makes All The Difference

I called US Modular's tech support. They rightfully pointed out that I was using the Monstor, which is optimized for USB 2.0, on a USB 1.1-equipped iMac, and suggested that the transfer rate would speed up on a newer machine equipped with USB 2.0 ports. They were right: I used the Monstor on my new 15" G4 PowerBook, running at 1.5GHz with USB 2.0, and transferred a 377MB group of files in two minutes, eight seconds. That's an effective transfer rate of about 175MB a minute, or just under three megabytes a second. Pretty darned fast.

At least it seemed fast. When I transferred the same 377MBs worth of files to the Lexar JumpDrive, it finished the task in one minute and one second, taking less than half the time of the Monstor.

Tech support pointed out that I was comparing apples and oranges; solid state versus spinning media. Which is true, but when you consider that both products are going to appeal to road warriors primarily because of their size and price, why would you knowingly work with a device that you know going in will take at least twice as long to do the job you want it to do?

Quantity v. Speed

In its defense, US Modular says this generation of the Monstor drives is its first; larger drives are on the way. By contrast, most of the largest consumer flash drives currently available hold only one gigabyte of data, although Seagate has just introduced a palm-sized 5GB USB-powered model at about $160. (The Monstor appears to be smaller in size.) So, capacity may be a factor in your decision.

Final Thoughts

Sorry, but this is one Monstor story that doesn't have a happy ending. There may be few road warriors, however, who need that much capacity right now. Those who do can simply burn a data DVD at 4.7GB, and carry a less expensive flash drive to swap out smaller files, and do it far more quickly.

--edited by Victor Marks

by Steve Friedberg


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