Fabrik's Sporty Portable Drive

The Signature Mini line offers sleek, silent, lightweight storage in seven colors, but the backup software is less than cooperative

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Compact, attractive drive that can be tossed in a laptop bag

The Bad: Uses backup software from a third-party vendor that stores data in its own proprietary format, so it may be easier to just drag-and-drop your files into the drive manually

The Bottom Line: At $180 for 250 gigabytes of storage, the Mini is reasonably priced. It's sleek-looking in a variety of modern colors

If you've ever lusted after a disk drive designed by a shop that sculpts Italian sports cars, Fabrik's Signature Mini line of portable storage products may be for you. I've been testing one of the company's lightweight, racy-looking drives for a couple of weeks now, and it has kept my files backed up handily with a minimum of, pardon the metaphor, engine noise.

That gives Fabrik's colorful line of Mini drives, which arrived in February, a leg up on the company's previous drives, which had clunked and whirred away on my desk when I tested them. In addition to quiet operation, Fabrik's Mini boasts backup software that isn't horrendous—a surprising rarity among the wide array of portable, plug-in hard drives that can augment your PC's storage or store extra copies of your computer files for safekeeping.

I tested the Mini as part of a series of reviews on desktop storage devices in which I've also looked at LaCie's Little Disk (BusinessWeek.com, 11/7/07 ), Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) Personal Media Drive (BusinessWeek.com 1/16/08 ), and Seagate Technology's (STX) FreeAgent Pro (BusinessWeek.com, 2/4/08).

A Menu of Gigabytes

The Minis owe their sleek looks to the Italian design group Pininfarina, which designs sports cars for Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo. And just like what you'd see in an automaker's lineup, Fabrik offers the Mini in an assortment of seven shades. Taking a cue, as many computer and device makers have, from Apple's (AAPL) marketing success, Fabrik brands these hues in terms of food flavors such as mint, marshmallow, bubble gum, and blueberry. It's like taking a trip to Baskin Robbins.

The colors correspond to storage capacities, which range from 120 gigabytes for $120 (espresso) to 320 gigabytes for $200 (black cherry). Mine was "kiwi," containing "250 succulent gigabytes," as the packaging put it.

At $180, the cost of storage broke down to a very competitive 72¢ per gigabyte. That's not quite as cheap as the storage capacity in LaCie's Little Disk, but less expensive than HP's drive. All of them are trumped by the 35¢ per gigabyte of Seagate's drive, but that product is a weighty affair that's not meant to be portable.

Portability is clearly part of Fabrik's value equation, and at less than half a pound it was a breeze to carry around in my laptop bag. The drives, which also have a softer-feeling plastic than the models they replace, measure just 3 in. by 5 in., and are less than two-thirds of an inch thick. The Minis draw power from your computer (Windows or Mac) through a USB connection.

Upgraded Web-App Coming

My only quibble, and it's one I often have with drives in this category, is with the backup software, which requires more effort than it should. Drag-and-drop saves were a snap. But the pre-loaded backup software, from vendor ArcSoft, saves your data in a proprietary format, which means you have to launch a separate program to open any files you've backed up that way. The software also inexplicably prompts you to create your backup on your computer's own internal hard drive—the one you're presumably trying to protect against system crashes—until you tell it not to. Fabrik says it's working with ArcSoft to fix the problem.

As an extra, the purchase of a Mini entitles customers to two gigabytes of free online storage through EMC's (EMC) Mozy service. An upgrade to unlimited storage capacity costs $5 a month.

It's worth noting that Fabrik is excited about a new Web-based application it's developing called Joggle, which promises to manage files on the Signature Mini, and any other drives you'd like, from within a single browser window. Although Joggle won't be available until sometime this spring, any Mini drive purchased now will be compatible with the service. But even without that upgrade, if you're looking for a compact, affordable, and attractive way to back up your data, Fabrik's sporty little drives already present a compelling case.

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