The only thing we Americans love more than the idea of freedom is the idea of security. Ontologically speaking, it's a pipe dream. Technologically, there may yet be hope. The LaCie Safe Mobile Hard Drive mirrors the zeitgeist perfectly with an embedded fingerprint scanner that keeps unauthorized users away from up to 80GB of your sensitive data. It's also fast, small, and lightweight, and it won't break the bank.
Measuring 3.15 by 5.43 by 0.98 inches (WDH) and weighing 8.11 ounces, the LaCie Safe Mobile Hard Drive is bigger than portable hard drives such as the Transcend StoreJet or the Apricorn EZ Bus Mini, but while it may not fit in your shirt pocket, it will certainly fit in the back pocket of your jeans (we don't recommend sitting on a hard drive, though) or into a small purse or computer bag. Unfortunately, there's no carrying case to protect it from the sundry items rattling around in your bag. The drive connects to a PC or a Mac via the included USB cable and draws its power from the host system. If you're hooking it up to a notebook, you can divert extra power by adding the USB power-share cable (also included), but be aware that this will tax your notebook's battery life somewhat (as well as occupy two USB ports on your system). Both the 40GB and 80GB models house a 5,400rpm hard disk drive with an 8MB cache. The LaCie Safe Mobile Hard Drive is encased in sleek, gunmetal gray plastic with a dark gray simulated fingerprint grain. The fingerprint scanner is a quarter-inch piece of glass set in a finger-guiding groove on the top of the case. LEDs on either end of the groove glow red or green to indicate whether the drive has been unlocked.
The LaCie Safe Mobile Hard Drive's preloaded user interface makes installing it on a Windows XP/2000 PC incredibly quick and easy. All you do is plug in the USB cable, wait a few seconds, open My Computer, and click the LaCie Safe icon that appears. This launches the First-time User wizard, which instructs you to identify a user, set a permission level (administrator, read/write, or read only), and scan two identifying fingertips for each of the five maximum allowable users. The next time you plug the drive in, no matter which PC, you just click on the drive in My Computer, swipe your finger along the scanner groove, and the drive unlocks. Unfortunately, setting the drive up on the Mac requires a few extra steps to install the user interface, followed by a restart. Another negative to the LaCie Safe Mobile Hard Drive is that it doesn't come with any backup software. You'll either have to purchase your own, such as Dantz Retrospect, or be satisfied with manual backup.
The LaCie Safe did quite well on our throughput tests. We tested it in FAT32 file format, though it can be easily reformatted to NTFS. It took an average of 35 seconds to transfer a 400MB folder of mixed files to the drive and about 30 seconds to transfer the same folder back to our PC.
To end on a low note, however, LaCie backs the Safe Mobile Hard Drive with a dinky one-year warranty (other drives come with a two- or three-year warranty). Phone tech support is available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., PT, but it's a toll call. LaCie's Web site includes an e-mail tech support form (free), driver downloads, and FAQs.