X'S-Drive Pro VP-300
The Vosonic X's-Drive Pro VP-300 is a battery-operated portable image data storage device, 9-in-1 flash memory card reader/writer, MP3 player and portable USB 2.0 hard drive device. The unit itself is small (5.35 x 3.38 x 1.46 inches) and weighs just 11.6 oz including the hard drive and battery pack. You can purchase this device without a hard drive and install your own. I've seen it priced at $129 without drive and from $229 with a 20GB drive up to $359 with a 80GB drive.
You can see the VP-300 product info at their UK-based X'S-Drive website and purchase the unit in Europe.
The VP-300 can use most any (9.5mm height) 2.5-inch IDE laptop hard disk drive. I upgraded a laptop a while back and had a 20GB IBM Travelstar hard drive sitting around doing nothing, it's now in my VP-300. Laptop hard drives are plentiful and cheap these days, just pick the capacity you want and install it in the VP-300.
The VP-300 has three flash memory card slots; (1) CompactFlash Type I and II cards and Microdrives, (2) SD/MMC, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro and (3) SmartMedia cards. Other types of cards (xD-Picture or Memory Stick Duo) can be used with the appropriate CF or MS adapter.
The VP-300 is compatible with computers with USB and running Windows 98SE, Me, 2000 with drivers supplied or XP without a driver, Mac OS 8.6 - 9.0 with drivers supplied or Mac OS 10.0.1 and above or Linux kernel 2.4 or higher without a driver. The download speed to the host computer is rated at up to 480Mb/sec (that's Megabits not MegaBytes) when plugged into a high-speed USB 2.0 port, USB 1.1 can be used but at a greatly reduced throughput rate.
The X's Drive Pro VP-300 includes everything you need except the hard drive. You get the fully assembled VP-300 with the Li-ion batteries pre-installed, a padded carrying case, 100~240V AC switching power supply / charger, USB cable, 3.5mm stereo ear bud headphones, driver software and manual on CD, a printed manual and hard drive installation screws.
It's easy to install your own hard drive. All you need is a small phillips screwdriver and about five minutes.
- (1) Remove one screw and take the bottom lid off.
(2) Screw the hard drive to the bottom lid with 4 screws.
(3) Slide the bottom lid back on and replace one screw.
At this point you plug in the AC power supply and charge the batteries. It's recommended that you charge them initially for four hours. After that a full charge is usually accomplished in less time. A fully charged battery has enough power for about 2 hours of use. The battery pack can be recharged approximately 500 times. When running on battery the unit automatically powers off after 25 seconds of inactivity.
Before you use the VP-300 for the first time you need to connect it to the host computer and perform a FORMAT on the hard disk. It's possible that you might not need to do this if your drive was already in use in a laptop but a new drive will require a format. There is a special Fdisk and Format application included on the CD disc.
When you connect the USB cable the VP-300 shows up as four removable devices, the three card slots and the hard drive. Shown above is the way it looks when used with Windows 98SE and the provided drivers. When viewed in My Computer you will find the removable drives labeled with icons.
Under Windows XP there are no drivers required, all devices will be auto-detected but unfortunately they are not labeled.
These removable drives allow you to easily move data between the flash card(s) or internal hard drive to your host computer's hard drive. You can use any file management utility to copy or delete your data files.
The I/O connectors are on the top and consist of the DC IN jack for the AC power / battery charger, the 3.5mm stereo jack for the ear buds and the USB mini-B connector. Next to that is a RESET button in case the unit goes "brain dead."
The VP-300 has a monochrome LCD display to tell you what's going on. This is a data display only, it cannot be used to view images stored on its hard drive.
Operation is very simple. Press the power button, the unit will initialize the hard drive and then you will be presented with the menu on the left. At this point you can simply insert your flash card and then press the COPY button - this is an automatic COPY ALL function.
You can also select "File Mode" to copy selected files or folders from a flash card to the hard drive. Insert your memory card, the menu on right shows the Device Select after inserting a SD card. Select the appropriate device option for the card inserted.
Press the COPY button to begin the transfer. The screen on the left will display the progress of the copy operation indicating the number of files copied and the per-cent completed. After the copy operation is completed the screen on the right confirms the number of files copied.
You can delete individual files or entire folders stored on the hard drive.
The actual transfer times varies greatly depending on the speed of the flash memory card being copied. The original Memory Stick cards are very slow devices compared to the new Memory Stick Pro, 32x speed SD cards or even faster 50x professional grade CF cards.
Here's the Windows Explorer view of the VP-300's hard drive after plugging in the USB cable. Each time you copy a card it is assigned a unique folder name such as CF0001, then CF0002 and etc. The two-letter prefix indicates the card type, CF = CompactFlash, SD = Secure Digital, SM = SmartMedia and etc.
Even if you copy the same card twice, each copy will be given a unique folder name on the hard drive. You can use any file management program you want to copy and delete the folders from the VP-300 to your computer -- it's just the same as any other removable file device when it's plugged in to the USB cable.
The included padded carrying case makes it easy to safely take your X's-Drive along with you wherever you go.
Here's the new X's-Drive Pro VP-300 and the older X's-Drive VP-2030 that we reviewed back in 2002. The VP-300 was upgraded with a LCD data display, faster USB 2.0 I/O and support for the new Memory Stick Pro cards.
The new X's-Drive Pro is a very handy way to offload your flash memory cards when you're out in the field and don't want to be bothered with lugging along a large and expensive laptop computer. It's affordably priced and fits easily into your camera bag. If it's simple you want, it's simple you got. Just turn it on, insert a card and press the COPY button - that's all there is to it. When you get home just plug in the USB cable and transfer the files to your computer.
The monochrome data LCD is a really useful feature although I wish that they would have used a more readable display. This one is alright but I've seen other displays with more contrast that are much easier to read. It also lacks a backlight so it is useless in the dark. That being said, any data display beats no data display, it's nice to know what going on during a copy routine and it allows you to selectively delete images and folders without being connected to a computer. The X's-Drive that we reviewed back in 2002 did not have a data display so it is a welcome addition.
They also made it much simpler and faster to install the hard drive. You had to be a little bit of a techie to install the drive in the older VP-2030, now just about anyone should be able to put a drive in the VP-300. And those 2.5-inch laptop hard drives just keep getting cheaper and cheaper and bigger and bigger - for what we used to pay for a 20GB drive you can now have a 60GB drive for the same price.
If you're going on an extended vacation or you're a professional working in the field, the X's-Drive Pro should be in your camera bag. This is a very cost-effective way to store lots and lots of high-res photos without needing to purchase a lot of expensive flash memory cards. When you're not offloading flash cards you can use this gadget to transfer data between computers or carry around thousands of MP3 song files and play them. I'm not into MP3's or portable music players but the VP-300 can do it - it even comes with a set of stereo ear buds. And let's not forget that it can be left hooked up to your computer to serve as a high-speed USB 2.0 multi-format card reader / writer too.