Reports | Technology

Product Review: VST Firewire Hard Drive

1 Apr , 2000  

Written by Peter Bohush | Posted by:

It's not often that you see the words 'cool' and 'hard drive' together. But VST Technologies has managed to pull it off.
Product Tested: 
VST 22 Gb Full Height External Firewire Hard Drive

VST Technologies Inc.
125 Nagog Park
Acton, Mass. 01720

It’s not often that you see the words "cool" and "hard drive" together. Face it: Most hard drives are about as hip as Lawrence Welk. But VST Technologies has managed to make its external firewire hard drives not only fast and functional, but cool, too.

Maybe the correct term should be "hot," although computer peripheral manufacturers go to great lengths to keep their products from getting hot. VST, based in Acton, Mass., is no exception, as the fan in its firewire drive is somewhat noisy and causes vibration on the desktop. But that’s about the only critical comment I can think of for the drive I tested.

VST’s firewire drives connect to the IEEE 1394/Firewire port of an Apple G3 or G4 with built-in firewire port or a 1394a PCI card. Setup is pretty simple. Load the software, reboot the machine and plug in the drive. After this initial software installation, the firewire drives can be plugged in and unplugged while the computer is on without needing to shut down or restart.

Firewire, a trademarked name owned by Apple, is also known as IEEE 1394, which is a peripheral interface standard that zooms data between hardware components at up to 400 Mb per second. Traditional ethernet moves data at about 1.5 Mb per second, so you can see how fast the promise of firewire is. VST’s full-height drives run at 7200 rpm, and bill themselves as delivering data at a transfer rate of 16.6 Mb per second, fast enough for most digital video needs.

VST’s drives come in two case sizes, full-height and half-height. The half-height drive, which is like the Mini-Me of the full-height drive, can derive its power from the host computer or through its own power plug. It’s small enough to fit into the pocket of a coat or cargo pants, and would give Mae West an updated quote: "Is that a VST in your pocket, or are you just really glad to see me?"

The full-height’s fin-shaped, bright red case is truly striking (although I wouldn’t recommend striking it against anything hard, like my head. Ouch!). The half-height model sports a red-and-yellow motif in a molded case that looks a little like a radar detector. (Now THAT would be an interesting dual-use product!) The VST full-height and half-height drives stack on top of one another just like Tupperware.

Most drive manufacturers have an ever-changing array of disk sizes. Your needs will determine how much external storage is right for you.

I tested VST’s 22-gigabyte full-height external drive. Twenty-two gigabytes may sound like a large drive, but it is firmly on the low end of midsize when it comes to digital video. For other types of file storage, including graphics, this would be a huge drive. I was able to load up the files for three short projects onto the 22 gigs. The drive would theoretically hold about 90 minutes of uncompressed digital video, although working on a project requires about a 2:1 empty-to-full ratio on a drive to allow for the render and temp files to be stored. So I wouldn’t expect to work on anything longer than 30 minutes using a 22-gig drive for video storage.

One of the benefits of firewire and the VST drives is that you can connect multiple units together in a string. With two firewire ports, you could connect up to 30 VST drives in two strings. For corporate projects, one could envision charging the client a few hundred bucks extra for their own VST drive on each project, then keeping the drives in a stack somewhere for file storage and retrieval later if necessary. It would be fairly cheap to do this and would save on recapturing files later.

VST also offers a RAID array solution so that multiple drives can be "striped" to appear to be one single drive to the computer. (I just love fooling computers, don’t you?) Actually, striping allows data to be written to and read from multiple drives simultaneously, sort of like, "One kilobyte for you and one kilobyte for me. Two kilobytes for you and two for me." Pulling data back from a striped raid array means higher bandwidth, or less chance of dropping frames or data corruption on playback. That’s a good thing. A really good thing.

In testing, the VST drive performed admirably as the storage medium for a digital video project using Final Cut Pro 1.2. There appeared to be some dropped frames in playback at first, but tweaking Final Cut Pro solved the problems, so the drives don’t seem to be the culprit. I set up five two-gigabyte files to stream out, and the drives did their job. No problems, no data loss, no dropped frames. What more can you ask for out of a hard drive, especially one that looks this cool sitting on my desktop?

Check VST’s Web site at for the latest configurations.

An update to the VST story

Just when you think you have all the facts, the facts change.

The high-tech world continues playing its corporate version of Pac-Man.

On February 23, VST Technologies, Inc., announced that it was swallowing up El Gato Software, the company which VST had contracted to provide its firewire drivers.

Then on February 24, before Kinko’s even got the order for new letterhead, VST was gobbled by SmartDisk ( SmartDisk’s slogan is "simplifying the digital lifestyle." A welcome relief, no doubt, from everyone else, who seem to be trying to "digitize my simple lifestyle."

In the words of old Pac, "Chomp, chomp, chomp!"