Samsung's continues to add to their line of external USB hard drives, now adding the S1 mini line of USB powered 1.8 inch drives. Ranging up to 250GB in size, we had a chance to quickly test the 160GB version and came away particularly impressed.
The S1 mini products are based upon Samsung's Spinpoint N3U 1.8 inch hard drives. These drives were announced several months ago, and are unique in that they integrate the USB controller needed for an external drive directly onto the hard disk controller board. In the past all external drives had PATA or SATA interfaces and needed to include a bridge to USB or firewire inside the enclosure. Samsung claims that this not only reduces cost, but increases the reliability of the devices, since it's no longer possible for the connection between the drive and USB controller to fail.
While we haven't performed exhaustive tests, we did plug our drive into a Windows PC found that it was easily identified without need for special drivers, and the drive worked as expected when we copied files from the drive onto our PC. One minor thing that we noticed is that the drive has a mini-USB port rather than the newer micro-USB port that's used in many mobile phones. The European Union has standardized on micro-USB as the universal charging port for mobiles, and almost all vendors have voluntarily switched to it. So with a micro-USB port we would have been able to carry only the one data cable that would work for the S1 and our phone. With the mini-USB we're stuck carrying two. Not the biggest issue, it's the little details that make a product great sometimes.
While 1.8 inch drives have less capacity, they do use approximately 40% less power and are more shock resistant than their 2.5 inch brethren. Current maximum storage for the S1 mini is 250GB, compared to 1TB for a 2.5 inch drive now available from Western Digital, or 640GB for Samsung's own S2 device. Both 1.8 and 2.5 inch drives have a significant advantage when compares to larger external drives in that they can be run completely by the power provided through the USB interface. 3.5 inch drives and disk arrays need an external power supply.
One thing that we noticed while handling the device was a loop hole for attaching a lanyard or key ring. We're not sure if we would be brave enough to carry around 160GB of important data on our key ring, but it speaks towards the the confidence that Samsung has in how shockproof the device is that they've included this feature. Or maybe it's just for a wrist wrap so the drive isn't easy to drop. Either way, we're impressed by the device, and expect that this is just the first device to market in what will be a flood of 1.8 inch devices from multiple vendors. It wasn't so long ago that naysayers were predicting that solid state drives would replace magnetic disks, but it appears that there is still some life left in the segment.
Congratulations Samsung for winning the 1.8 inch drive race. Now get back to work, we're still waiting for those 1TB 1.2 inch drives ;-)