Review: Iomega Mac Companion 2TB hard drive

Iomega Mac Companion hard drive complements iMacs (November 18th, 2011)

Many of Iomega's Mac-oriented storage products merely ship pre-formatted for HFS+, but the new Mac Companion has been entirely designed with Apple's computers in mind. The housing is shaped to match the footprint of an iMac or Cinema/Thunderbolt display, while FireWire connections and a 2.1 Amp USB port complement Apple's computers and iOS devices. In our full review, we explore the Mac Companion's functionality as a storage device and connection hub.

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Iomega

Price: $350 (2TB) - $450 (3TB) MSRP

The Good

  • 2TB or 3TB of storage capacity
  • Attractive design
  • Sized to fit iMac, Apple display bases
  • Variety of connection options
  • Fast transfer rates via FireWire 800

The Bad

  • Cannot use 2.1-Amp USB charging and sync functions simultaneously
  • Noisier than many standalone external drives
  • No Thunderbolt port
  • Housing seems large if not used with iMac or Apple displays

Many of Iomega's Mac-oriented storage products merely ship pre-formatted for HFS+, but the new Mac Companion has been entirely designed with Apple's computers in mind. The housing is shaped to match the footprint of an iMac or Cinema/Thunderbolt display, while FireWire connections and a 2.1 Amp USB port complement Apple's computers and iOS devices. In our full review, we explore the Mac Companion's functionality as a storage device and connection hub.

Design

The Mac Companion centers around a 3.5-inch hard drive, surrounded by an aluminum chassis with a gloss black top. The trapezoidal shape perfectly matches the outline of an iMac foot, enabling the device to be placed atop the computer's base without interfering with the aesthetics of Apple's design. Four white LEDs on the front of the aluminum housing also provide a quick look at remaining capacity.

We found the shape to be slightly wider than the foot of Apple's new Thunderbolt display, though the slight overhang did not make the pairing unattractive. The glossy panel on the top of the storage housing also matches the black bezel on an iMac or one of Apple's standalone displays. We had been using typical external drive with the Thunderbolt display, but the Mac Companion, despite its much larger build, freed up space by fitting on the display base.

Iomega placed most of the ports on the back of the Companion, including two FireWire 800 ports, two USB 2.0 A-female connections and a single USB B-female port to enable hub functionality. Keeping to the "Mac" focus, the company placed a single USB port on the right side of the housing for easy accessibility when charging or syncing an iPod, iPhone or iPad. The easy-access port provides 2.1 Amps to charge larger devices.





Hub functionality

Double FireWire ports enable users to achieve fast transfer rates between the Mac Companion and a computer, while also providing an easier connection point for additional FireWire-attached devices. We liked the easy accessibility for plugging things in, without having to fumble with the awkwardly-placed ports on the back of iMacs and the Thunderbolt/Cinema displays.

The 2.1-Amp USB port is also a welcome feature, especially for older Macs that cannot provide more than 500mA via USB. When we attempted to take advantage of the USB sync feature and the faster charging, we were perplexed to find that both features cannot be utilized at the same time. The system only provides 2.1 Amps when connected to the computer via FireWire, while connecting via USB, to enable syncing, drops the side port's charging power. We're not sure if this is a limitation from the Mac Companion or the iPad, but it is frustrating to have to sync the tablet and then switch two connections to charge the device. Using the USB ports on the computer for syncing and the 10W iPad charger still seems like the easiest option.

Another drawback to the Mac Companion is the lack of Thunderbolt, though this is only an issue for the latest systems. Adding a Thunderbolt port might have eliminated the need to switch between USB and FireWire for fast charging and iOS syncing, while upping the theoretical maximum transfer speeds from 800Mbps to 10Gbps. Most disk drives cannot take advantage of Thunderbolt speeds, but using the storage device as a hub for multiple HDDs or external solid-state drives would lead to a bottleneck with FireWire 800.





Performance

We used Intech's QuickBench utility to benchmark the Mac Companion via USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 connections. Using the faster protocol we were able to achieve maximum sequential read speeds just shy of 664 Mbps, while random read and write performance dropped down to approximately 528 Mbps and 408 Mbps, respectively. Transferring a 1.5GB movie file took approximately 28 seconds, which equates to a write speed of 450Mbps.



When stepping down to USB 2.0 instead of FireWire, our maximum sequential read speeds dropped to approximately 254 Mbps. Random read and write performance also showed a decline, sliding to 200Mbps and 120Mbps, respectively. Transferring the 1.5GB video file took nearly two minutes at 120Mbps.



Final thoughts

We found the Mac Companion to be a perfect match for most Mac computers, especially for users who want a storage device that meshes with Apple design. The premium aesthetics command a slight premium, however, with the 2TB model carrying a $350 MSRP and the 3TB variant priced at $450.

The higher price would be easier to stomach if the Companion followed Apple's "it just works" mantra as close as it follows the company's design cues. The company's datasheet and marketing material includes a bit of a disclaimer, noting that the device "must be connected to the computer via USB in order to use the USB hub or the charge/sync port," however this obfuscates the charging problem. The limitation is not necessarily a deal breaker--we can't think of an alternative product that does what the Mac Companion implies it can do--but tiptoeing around the issue is only going to cause frustration.

Despite our concerns with the iPad charging port, and the relatively high MSRPs, the Mac Companion nonetheless makes a great companion for Apple's hardware, taking full advantage of FireWire 800 transfer speeds for quick backups or other data-intensive tasks such as video editing. We found street prices as low as $250 for the 2TB model, while the 3TB edition can be had for $350 or less, making the proposition a bit more attractive than the MSRPs suggest.





by Justin King


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