SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina Review

By: Jonathan Kwan
July 15, 2006

Living in the digital age can be classified as both a positive and negative. With hundreds of hours of videos, music and countless other digital content accessible right at our fingertips, both computer enthusiasts and common everyday users have taken advantage of this technological advancement.

As computer events from 2005 become listings in history books and other online sources, we are experiencing revolutions and evolutions faster than ever before as you read this review. Computer and electronic devices become smaller and smaller, and what's residing within starts gaining ground upon its main focus. See the Intel Conroe core CPU hype around the net? Yes, CPUs are faster than current generation products by a significant margin. Remember when Seagate launched their 500GB hard drive? With perpendicular recording technology, it was quickly followed by its 750GB variant seemingly just moments afterwards.

For one thing, we rely on computers more than ever before. On large scale, there's one incident that I cannot forget due to the nature of the event itself. When I was on my trip to Vancouver, BC back in 2003, the Sober worm had successfully taken down the whole Air Canada computer network here in Edmonton International Airport. All boarding passes had to be hand written and... well, everything done "manually" without a computer. This made me wonder how airports functioned prior to implementation of advanced computer networks and complicated software running on their systems.

Moving back to the digital home, you or someone you know must have experienced this before: Data loss. Data loss can be caused by many factors -- some common ones include user error, software attack, or hardware failure. Oops! I deleted the file. Can't recover it? Oh no, I just lost my term paper I spent the last 5 days writing! Got a malicious script that somehow made you lose all your data? That's too bad. And worst of all -- you just lost hundreds of gigabytes of data because your hard drive physically failed.

Many solutions have been made to solve these problems everyone is prone to face. RAID1 arrays, web storage, and the most typical way -- backup to an external storage solution. Using external storage solutions is very common for consumers because it's fast, convenient, easily accessible, cost effective, and simple enough for everyone to use. USB thumb drives such as the OCZ Mini-Kart is very small and convenient for storing and carrying small amounts of data -- but we not talking about a couple of gigabytes here. Most of us need way more than that for backups, and for some of us, convenience of carrying moderately large amounts of data all at once, all the time.

Being a user of external hard drives for quite a while now, there's something that just doesn't cut it: portability. The most recent drive I bought (Which was quite a while ago) utilizes a Bytecc enclosure and a Seagate 160GB 7200RPM 2MB cache hard drive. Sure, it's fast. But carrying an AC adapter and USB cable in addition to the large unit itself can be quite a chore. Internal hard drives sitting in external enclosures create its share of heat, and it's undeniable that these drives do get quite warm after a while.

Moving for a change, we'll look at something unique on its own today -- the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina. The name is pretty hard to get it straight -- from what I can see on their site, it should be SimpleTech SimpleDrive Portable designed by Pininfarina. But SimpleTech suggests it to be simply called 'Portable Pininfarina', so let's just use that name for our review. As long as you know what we are referring to, it should be perfectly fine. This drive is designed for consumers who want to carry lots of data with them without all the bulkiness of an enclosure.

Our review unit came in a box using FedEx International Priority from California, USA. Everything was well packed inside to prevent damage to our review unit. On a side note, the Portable Pininfarina came minutes apart on the same day as the Logitech G3 which we've looked at last week.

Opening our FedEx box revealed the 100GB variant of SimpleTech's Portable Pininfarina hard drive. There are a total of four versions available for consumer purchase; this includes 40GB (Red), 60GB (Silver), 80GB (White), and 100GB (Grey). The drives are priced at SimpleTech Direct Store is $119.99, $139.99, $159.99, and $199.00, respectively. I was pleasantly surprised to discover our review unit today is the 100GB version.

In terms of price-per-gigabyte, let's find out which one offers the best deal between each model. Prices are based on SimpleTech Direct Store's prices as of July 14, 2006:

Red: $119.99 / 40GB = $2.9975 per GB
Silver: $139.99 / 60GB = $2.33167 per GB
White: $159.99 / 80GB = $1.999875 per GB
Grey: $199.00 / 100GB = $1.99 per GB

This is several times more costly than an enclosure with 3.5" HDD solution. But this drive really carry its own definite advantage; which primarily is conveniently carrying a moderately large amount of data -- we'll take a look into other aspects of this product later in our review today. Anyway, the 80GB and 100GB versions offer the best deals at around 66% of the 40GB model's price when put into price-per-gigabyte. Therefore, the two lower capacity drives do not have as much bang for your buck as the higher capacity versions do. Of course, you are very likely to get better deals at local retailers and/or online computer stores than at SimpleTech Direct.

Moving back on topic, our review unit came in a half cylinder-shaped blister pack retail package. With storage capacity and other basic information printed in various locations of the package, its clear plastic packaging in the middle reveals the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina itself. The look of the drive itself is a good selling point, so showing the drive itself physically on the package is a very logical move. On the other hand, opening its package will require some patience and effort. For convenience, I simply cut mine open with a boxcutter.

Out of the box, one dual plug USB cable (More on this later), a uniquely shaped mini CD that contains StorageSync backup software in addition to the Portable Pininfarina unit itself are to be included. A quick start guide tags along, but it is unlikely that you'll need one -- the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina, like most external USB storage solutions, is fully plug and play compliant and appears as a Local Disk under My Computer.

I got quite a few people asking me what 'Pininfarina' is. Let's look around a bit. Acer has worked with Ferrari to design their laptops, and Asus began production of their Lamborghini notebook designs. For SimpleTech, they've got Pininfarina -- a car and car design firm based in Turin, Italy. You'd be surprised to know if you are not too interested in cars that Pininfarina worked with large, well-known automobile manufacturers such as Ferrari, Cadillac, Volvo and more.

If you can't remember the name, simply take it apart. The original founder of the company, Battista Farina, was only 5 feet tall and the tenth out of eleven children in his family. He got nicknamed "Pinin" due to his status in the family and physical size. In 1961, Battista "Pinin" Farina officially changed his name to "Battista Pininfarina". Interesting enough, and easy to remember?

From the left: Dell Axim X30 624MHz, SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina 100GB (Bottom view -- see two strips of rubber to prevent slips?), and Creative Zen Micro 6GB. Obviously, the 2.5" hard drive residing in SimpleTech's Portable Pininfarina is no match for Creative Zen Micro's 1.8" hard drive in terms of physical size. But when we mention storage capacity and file performance, it's miles apart.

However, it's not too far off when it is compared to the Dell Axim X30 624MHz when length and width is put into account. The SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina's thickest point is approximately one-third thicker than my PDA.

For an external hard drive, I found the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina looks very clean and sleek. Judging by its shape, we can say... 'aerodynamic'... yes, aerodynamic -- something you'd expect from a car designer anyway. It comes at a decent size, looks nice, and a decent amount of storage capacity.

When discussing outside properties of this product, I found several things that I must point out. The plastic surface that covers top of SimpleTech's Portable Pininfarina can be scratched pretty easily. On both sides of the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina, shiny plastic where Pininfarina's signature-logo lays is prone to attract fingerprints.

In terms of convenience, I actually meant something beyond its sleek, good looking design and physical size. Utilizing a 2.5" laptop hard drive, the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina consumes less electricity than a standard 3.5" desktop hard drive. Therefore, no AC adaptor is required (There is a power input on the drive itself, but no adaptor is included). A female digital camera connector is on board SimpleTech's Portable Pininfarina, so as long as your computer's USB port supplies enough power (Most computers nowadays are) to the drive, it only requires a single USB port on your computer. Any standard digital camera/digital audio player cables will work with the drive because its connector is not proprietary.

If your computer's USB port cannot supply sufficient power to the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina, a dual plug USB cable is included to acquire additional power from a secondary USB port. Convenience with no external power required? Definitely. It is rare for an external storage solution with decent storage capacity, but the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina has it all. It does not get its "Portable" name for nothing!

Another two things to point out: There is no power button on this drive. It turns on automatically when you plug it in and turns off when you disconnect, which may pose inconvenience to some users. Also, there is no automatic backup button on the drive itself. As SimpleTech accurately advertised on their site -- it's one click backup from within their included StorageSync backup software. Speaking of StorageSync, let's take a brief look over it.

After executing the program, a screen is shown prior to selecting an option as shown above. A few links to SimpleTech's website are outdated which results in a broken link. By the way, doesn't the screenshot of StorageSync's user interface just remind you of Windows Media Player 9?

Anyway, within the program you will be able to backup, restore, and synchronize files. The Drives tab lets you select function source and target, while Settings tab (Screenshot is shown above) gives you a bit of control of what you want to do, and the Reports section shows logs of what's done before.

The Tests

See the bright LEDs? The red one indicates power while the blue one flashes when there's hard disk activity going on. And yes, I am using only one USB port. Anyway, our tests were completed on my 1337 pwnz0r computer:

AMD Athlon 64 3000+ S754 Newcastle @ Stock 2.00GHz (Cool & Quiet ENABLED)
Arctic Cooling Freezer64 Pro
Asus K8V-X Motherboard
Corsair 2x512MB, Single Channel, DDR400 @ 2.5-3-3-8
Western Digital 80GB 7200RPM 8MB Cache (NTFS)
ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro
Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer Rev. 3 @ 2400 RPM
Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2
Mitsumi 7-in-1 Flash & Floppy Reader
Pioneer DVR-108 Multiformat DVD Burner
Liteon 16x DVD Drive
Thermaltake Matrix VX
OCZ Modstream 450W PSU
Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2

For reference purposes, we've used the following USB mass storage devices in our benchmarks:
- Sandisk Cruzer Mini 512MB
- Seagate 5GB Pocket USB HD
- OCZ Mini-Kart 1GB
- Seagate 160GB 7200RPM (2MB cache) in Bytecc PG-35U2 Enclosure
- SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina 100GB

Before moving onto the tests, let's check SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina's specifications, taken from SimpleTech's website:

* Slim, compact & stylish hard drive designed by Pininfarina
* Hi-speed: USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive
* Hi Performance: 5400 RPM with 8Mb Buffer (cache)
* Plug and play, hot swappable
* Extremely reliable
* No external power required
* Free "One-Click" Automatic Backup with StorageSync Software
* Free and Unlimited Technical Support
* 3 Year Warranty

5400RPM with 8MB cache. After plugging the drive into my computer, Windows detected it as a Western Digital hard drive. When WD1000UE is matched with Western Digital product numbers, it indicates a WD Scorpio with 100GB capacity, 2MB cache, spinning at 5400RPM. Either it is really a 100GB drive with 2MB cache instead of the advertised 8MB, or that Windows mis-detected it. Makes me wonder...

In our benchmarks, we used our standard test folder to calculate performance of the drives. Our test folder contains thirty additional folders inside. Inside the folders are 515 files; consisting of EXE, INI, DAT, BIN, DLL, ZIP, JPG, AVI and more. The total combined file size is 399 MB (418,666,235 bytes).

We also used a single 399 MB file (418,666,235 bytes) by adding the 515 files and 30 folders listed above to an uncompressed ZIP file for single file performance. Each test was ran at least twice to ensure accuracy.

Write means copying from the test file from our test system to the device.
Copy means to copy the file from the reference device to our test system.
Move means to move the file from the reference device to our test system.

The first series of tests are 515 files of write/copy/move. The total combined file size is 399 MB and contains a variety of different files, as mentioned earlier.

Time in seconds - LOWER the better.

Transfer rate in MB/s - HIGHER the better.

We all know how badly the Seagate 5GB Pocket HDD is in our multiple file copy test, so I won't go over it again. However, the Portable Pininfarina definitely has its beef against the bigger and supposedly more powerful Seagate 160GB 7200RPM 2MB cache hard drive in Bytecc enclosure. Completing the write test in 32.33 seconds, it was a clear lead in front of the Bytecc enclosure, which scored a still impressive 46.27 seconds. This translates to 12.34 MB/s transfer rate for the SimpleTech drive and 8.62 MB/s for the Seagate drive in Bytecc enclosure.

In our read tests, the Seagate HD in Bytecc enclosure finished copying the files faster than the SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina by a hair's length. Completing at 25.19 and 25.78 seconds, respectively, it translates to a score of 15.84 MB/s and 15.48 MB/s in the same order.

Move tests involve both reading and writing, therefore the Portable Pininfarina finished over a second earlier than the Bytecc enclosed drive; most likely due to its write speed advantage. This translates to a file copy transfer rate of 14.18 MB/s and 13.37 MB/s (Isn't that 1337?), respectively.

Time in seconds - LOWER the better.

Transfer rate in MB/s - HIGHER the better.

Now onto our single file tests. This will indicate maximum performance rather than closer to real life performance as we've shown in our multiple file tests as we've done above. This time, SimpleTech's Portable Pininfarina came in at 20.01 seconds (19.94 MB/s), effective beating the Bytecc enclosed Seagate drive's transfer rate of 11.54 MB/s (34.58 seconds). However, the Portable Pininfarina cannot beat our full size enclosed hard drive when it comes to our copy tests -- transfer rates indicate a 24.52 MB/s and 31.42 MB/s, respectively. Taking its write speed advantage, SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina's benchmark results indicate 23.5 MB/s in our move tests rather than 20.07 MB/s as shown by Bytecc enclosed Seagate 7200RPM 160GB hard drive.

On a side note, the SimpleTech Portable Pinifarina was extremely quiet during our tests. It is barely audible when plugged in, and disk access can be noticed only if you put your ears right next to the drive itself.

All I can do is compare it to the Seagate 5GB Pocket HDD since anything else won't even make a mark on the graph due to its capacity. Running an extended test in HDTach RW takes too long if we were to test our enclosed 160GB hard drive -- even SimpleTech's 100GB Portable Pininfarina took us roughly an hour for this benchmark alone.

Our HDTach results indicate an average read speed of 27.0 MB/s, which is pretty close to our file copy tests above when averaged out. Random access is still decent at 18.1 ms -- much unlike the OCZ Mini-Kart 1GB flash drive. Ironically, the Mini-Kart has pretty good read speed for a flash drive (Although still no match for SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina). After our HDTach test, most drives get pretty warm, but much to our surprise, the Portable Pininfarina stayed pretty cool and had a minor raise in temperature to my hands.

The SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina is just designed for people who have a need to conveniently carry moderately large amounts of data with them all the time. Combined with its sleek good looks and impressive performance demonstrated on our charts, I'd get one immediately. If you don't need to carry lots of data with you all the time, you are probably better off with a standard hard drive in an enclosure due to the price -- which unfortunately affects a good amount of consumers. On the other hand, the Portable Pininfarina is very well designed both externally and internally; most of the time requiring only one USB port to get it working without external power -- a definite advantage. Another big plus is no proprietary connectors. Now if it was priced more competitively to accommodate consumers in the mainstream market, doesn't scratch as easily, slapped on a one touch backup and power button, this drive is most likely to be the perfect external USB storage solution.

Special thanks to Cindy over at SimpleTech for making this review possible.

Note: The number ratings below has been adjusted accordingly to comply with our new Number Rating System.

Rating: 7/10
What do these ratings mean?

The SimpleTech Portable Pininfarina is one fast, convenient, and great looking external USB storage solution. If it was tweaked slightly with things I mentioned previously and priced more competitively, this product could easily accommodate many consumers in the mainstream market.