Cobra+ 120 GB Firewire Drive, by EZQuest
Posted: 10-Mar-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: EZQuest Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

EZQuest makes the Cobra+ firewire drives in the following configurations: 40 GB (37GB formatted), 60 GB (57GB formatted), 80 GB (75GB formatted), 100 GB (93GB formatted), and 120 GB (113GB formatted). This review is for the EZQuest Cobra+ 120 GB firewire drive.

The firewire drive was tested on a G3/333 with a firewire add-on card, on a G4/800 and a G4/867, both with built-in firewire support.

Drive Features
The Cobra+ firewire drive features 2 standard 6 pin FireWire ports, a universal power supply, transfer rates up to 36 MB/sec (31 MB/sec write), 2MB buffer , 7200 RPM internal ATA drive interface, Space Age Promar series case, and Intech Hard Disk Speedtools software. The unit measures 8.875" x 7" x 2.25", is fully shielded, and comes with a 2 year warranty.

Look and Feel
The Cobra+ comes in the Promar series case, which has a stylish iMac-like design. All of the edges and corners are smooth and rounded, with the outer layer of the case is a smooth translucent hard plastic. Beneath the translucent layer is a solid silver case with the EZQuest design and logo on the front and top. In the back are two firewire ports, power supply plug, fan, and on/off switch. On the bottom or 4 rubber boot legs in a real cool space age design. Overall, I really like the appearance of this unit.

The unit weighs a little over 4 pounds, which is a bit on the heavy side. For a stationary drive, that isn't a problem; in fact, the extra weight makes it a little more stable. I like to switch my firewire drives between computers, though, and lifting this drive frequently takes a small toll on the wrist. On the other hand, it uses a universal power cord instead of a special power cord with a power adapter (which most other devices use). Not having to lug a power adapter with the unit is a plus; in fact, because it takes a universal cord, you don't even have to port the cord with the unit. I typically have an abundant supply of power cords in all locations, so I could just use any power cord that is handy.

Functionality
No software is necessary to use the drive, although two CDs come with the drive: EZ-Startup Kit CD and Speed Tools CD. The startup kit includes PDF manuals, warranty card, registration info, and a multimedia manual. The Speed Tools CD provides disk utilities for formatting and setting up the firewire drive. Although not necessary, the tool does provide more options than Apple's disk tools, so if you want to have more control over the drive, it's better to use the Speed Tools.

With 120 GB of disk space, this drive is awesome. I am a big multimedia user, and like to convert analog video, as well as digital video from external devices, into Quicktime movies and Quicktime DV streams (for use with iMovie). Digital video takes up a lot of disk space, especially uncompressed, so having a 120 GB drives really frees you up to work with all the video you want, without always worrying about skimping on quality or ignoring certain video clips because you don't have the space for it.

The throughput on the device is fantastic. In full use, I also found that the casing really does a good job of keeping the heat down. In comparison, my Western Digital firewire drive gets very hot to touch when it is in full use, whereas the Cobra drive was still cool when touching the top of the casing (the bottom was warm, but nothing like the Western Digital).

Throughput on the unit is excellent as well. In one test, I copied 125 files totaling 575 MB of data from the Cobra to my internal hard drive in about 60 seconds. On the G4's with built-in firewire, Most of my tests yielded the same results. On the G3/333 with the add-on firewire card, however, my experience with the drive was a lot less favorable.

Before discussing the problems I had, it's important to note that these problems exists for most firewire drives working with Macintosh computers that have an add-on firewire card. Not all add-on cards may have the problem, but from reading the discussions on Apple's discussion boards, it would appear that most of them do. There are known issues of using firewire drives with add-on firewire cards where the data transfer gets out of sync. Depending on the card and the drive, the results of going out of sync range from a stalled transfer to a hard crash and corrupted volume header on the firewire drive. Using the Western Digital drive, I have always experienced interrupted transfers with the G3 firewire add-on card, but I could usually recover by copying less data at a time. When I began my tests with the Cobra drive, the experience became a lot worse. My system would freeze, requiring a hard reboot, and when the system came back up, it asked me if I wanted to initialize the firewire drive. Initializing it, of course, would wipe out everything on the drive, and not initializing it means that I no longer have access to it.

Working with EZQuest tech support, it was suggested that I lower the transfer rate on the drive using Speed Tools. In general, transfer problems may occur when exporting large amounts of digital video. To avoid the problem you can adjust the driver options using the hard disk Speed Tools and clicking on the tune option. By lowering the packet and load sizes, you slow down the performance but decrease the change of transfer problems. Unfortunately, this did not help my situation at all. The other suggestion received from tech support was to do a low-level format of the firewire drive. That is not recommend for the faint of heart! Besides wiping the drive, on a 120GB drive, this process took over two hours. The worst part is that, after all that, the problem persisted.

It was not until I read the Apple boards that I discovered that the issue is really with the add-on firewire cards, and the problem is widespread. The Cobra drive performed perfectly on both of the G4 Mac with the built-in firewire. What's missing from the Cobra's documentation and from EZQuest's support web site is the caveat that there are known problems using the drive with certain add-on firewire cards, and that these problems are non-trivial (i.e., can crash your system, corrupt your drive's volume header, and cause you to lose everything on the drive).

Summary
Putting aside the dramatic saga of using the Cobra firewire drive on a G3 with an add-on firewire card, this drive is a great piece of work. It's designed with a stylish look and feel, provides impressive firewire throughput speed, takes power from any universal power cord, and stays cool even under intensive use. While the Cobra+ drives come in varying sizes, after using the 120 GB drive, it's hard to go back to anything smaller. Some might consider that they would never need that kind of space, a thinking pattern resulting from never having that kind of space. Once you have it, believe me, you'll find ample ways to use it! In terms of price, I found the unit selling for $370 at MacMall. That's about $3 a GB, which is not bad. If you have a Macintosh with build-in firewire support, I recommend this unit.

Pros

  • 120 Giga-bytes of storage
  • Firewire speed
  • Sleek design and low heat output
  • Uses universal power cable


Cons

  • A bit on the heavy side for portability
  • Serious problems on Mac systems with add-on firewire cards

Rating

4 out of 5 Mice