Review: Wiebetech ToughTech Mini-Q secure hard drive

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Short version: A plain-looking, but robust drive for the security-conscious interface fiend in us all. Or at least those of us with cash to spare.

Features:

  • Quad interface (2xFireWire 800, 1xeSATA/USB 2.0
  • 128-bit AES encryption
  • Heavy duty metal case
  • Removable drive tray
  • MSRP: $180 without drive, $250 for 250GB

Pros:

  • Straightforward encryption
  • Nice chunky case
  • Plenty of connection options

Cons:

  • Quite expensive
  • Bus power only through FW800
  • Not the most attractive drive

Full review:

This little drive is the epitome of practicality in some ways, and the opposite of that in others. Essentially, if you’re willing to make the necessary concessions its whole system (and, I’m sure they hope, convert your whole workplace to it), you’ve got yourself an extremely nice little device.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t willing to change things up, then this drive isn’t for you. That’s not a bad thing — you’re just not the target for it and it’s not the device you need. I may as well say right now, if you need compact, a bus-powered USB drive to keep photos and random junk on, the Mini-Q is not for you. Grab a little WD My Passport or something. However, if you want security and a customizable full system for storage, you might give the Mini-Q a look.

On first glance, it appears to be just a rather plain-looking, 2.5″ external hard drive. Its appearance is certainly one of its faults: while the metal is reassuring, the styling is uninspired, even a little clunky. It’s also heavy: with drive included, it weighs noticeably more than other 2.5″ drives. On the other hand, it feels more solid. The casing is actual metal and you can see the screws (and tighten them if you like), and although it’s not designed with ruggedness in mind per se, it resisted a lot more than other drives when I twisted and crushed it a bit. It’s homely but well-constructed, is all I’m trying to say.


Things look a little brighter when you turn the thing around. The whole back side is inputs: a combo USB/eSATA port and dual FireWire 800 ports that can be daisy-chained. There’s a DC input as well, never a good sign for portability. But the take-away point here is that you’re pretty much prepared for whatever system you need to connect to — as long as you have power. A double USB cord for power and data is included, but it’s bulky and who likes doing that anyway? Bus power works over FireWire, which is nice, but as FireWire is rapidly disappearing, that’s less of a comfort than it could be.

On the front — what’s this? Another USB interface? How weird! Ah, my young friend. How little you know of the ways of secure drives. No, that is something completely different. You saw in the features above, I hope, that this thing has 128-bit AES encryption? Well! The encryption key is stored on a completely separate device, which you see to the right. Without that little guy plugged into the slot, the drive won’t even be recognized. With the key in, it acts like any other drive. Every Mini-Q’s key is unique, and every Mini-Q comes with three duplicate keys — one for you, one for a spouse or lawyer perhaps, and one for an undisclosed location. It’s a similar system to the rest of Wiebetech’s secure storage line, so if you like one, you might like the rest.

The system worked perfectly well when I tried it out; you can leave the key in or simply “unlock” the drive and remove the key once the little green light goes on. This makes it ideal for a secure drive that must be loaned out to employees or whatnot; as soon as the drive is unplugged, it locks again and cannot be accessed until the key is put in again. It also works as a good repository for sensitive computer files (electronic receipts, tax documents and such) that need to be accessed by multiple people but would be catastrophic to lose.

The Mini-Q has one more feature, a rare one: it’s designed to allow for drive replacement. If the drive inside is damaged or you just need more space, simply use the included screwdriver to perform a hard-drive-ectomy and replace it with another 2.5″ drive (9.5mm maximum height). Why not? So it’s technically a drive enclosure as well as a drive. Good to know.

Conclusion

There’s not much to say in terms of pros and cons here: it’s more about whether it fits your needs. As a secure and heavy-duty drive for a business or security-conscious individual, it’s great. As a handy go-everywhere drive, it’s no good. For my money, security and convenience are best combined in Lenovo’s keypad drive, but the Mini-Q is certainly more robust in the interface and accessibility department. Unfortunately, at around $180 without drive, it’s also significantly more expensive. If you can write it off as a company expense, great, but for an individual it’s just too much machine and too much money.

Product page: WiebeTech ToughTech mini-Q

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