What do we usually mean by data protection? Encrypted files, secure data transmission protocols, access rights and other techniques invented to avert unauthorized access to data. Data storage devices are imperfect as well, so regular data backups, clustering and fault-tolerant arrays are employed to solve that problem. In this review we are going to look at the data protection issue from a different angle, though. How do you protect your data from such natural disasters as a fire or flood? Alas, today’s storage devices are mostly fragile. They dislike hot temperature and water. Flash memory drives are more or less water-resistant and you can save data from a wet hard disk drive (but you shouldn’t do that at home as the water inside the drive is no good for the heads gliding over the platters at minimum height), but you’ll have to say goodbye to your data in case of a fire.
Of course, there are ways to solve this problem. The best protection is to copy data to a remote (not in an adjacent room, but in a different building or even city) drive. The chance of losing data in both locations simultaneously is much lower. If this is unfeasible for some reason and you have highly valuable data indeed, you may want to consider special storage devices like the ioSafe Solo that we are going to test today.
Closer Look at ioSafe Solo
The name of ioSafe itself hints at security and safeness. The company turns out storage devices that are protected from various disasters. Besides the ioSafe Solo, which is an unconventional external USB drive, the company’s product range includes fire and waterproof NASes and special racks for installing 2.5-inch drives into 3.5-inch bays.
The Solo series includes three models with capacities of 500GB, 1TB and 1.5TB. The only difference between them is the HDD installed inside. Otherwise, these models are identical.
The Solo looks like a typical external enclosure for two HDDs. Something like a simple metallic brick. You realize that this is quite a complex thing when you take this enclosure into your hands. It is almost as heavy as 7 kilos! There is nothing unusual for the eye, though, except that the case is made from rather thick metal (0.8 millimeters). There are only vent holes in the front panel, highlighted beautifully at work, while all connectors are at the back together with an On/Off switch. The back panel is quite a standard and rather modest view: a grid with a 50mm fan behind it, a full-size type-B USB port, and a power adapter connector. Alas, ioSafe does not offer products with the faster eSATA interface.
Besides the plate with a unique serial number, there is only one thing that can catch the eye.
The bottom panel of the case sticks out and there is a hole in the protruding ledge. You can use this hole to fasten the device to the floor, desk or wall. That’s not much of protection, but will help against a strong flow of water. It can also baffle a thief for a moment.
Of course, the most interesting things are hidden inside. So, we undo 14 screws (there are no latches or anything) and remove two covers.
Most of the interior is occupied by a heat-insulating material that resembles gypsum. It is shaped as two “bricks” that fit tight to each other, although not exactly hermetically. The halves are not fastened to each other. Now it is clear why the ioSafe Solo is so heavy. There is a small metallic plate on the butt-end of one brick. The device’s fan, external connectors and electronics are all fastened to that plate.
The most precious thing can be found between these two bricks. It is a hard disk drive additionally wrapped into a hermetic pack. Take note of the shape of the interior of the bricks. One of them has special grooves for the air from the fan to reach the pack with the drive and then go out of the case through the holes in the front panel. It’s good that the developer has configured the air flow so properly. Running a little ahead, we can say that the fan is not too bad. It is not silent, but not irritating, either. It is just a little louder than the rotating platters of the hard disk and produces a characteristic hum with a high-frequency accent typical of small-diameter fans.
To fix the pack with the drive firmly in the case and also leave some room for air flow, the developer used the following solution. The HDD is fitted into the corresponding hollow of the fill-up material and is additionally secured with four rubber pipes which also protect the HDD against side shocks. You shouldn’t check this protection out with a mallet as you can damage the HDD’s heads actuator even if the latter is parked on the ramp. On the other hand, the HDD is indeed protected against moderate side shocks better than in an ordinary external enclosure.
Now let’s take a look at the electronics card and the cables. The place where the cables go into the waterproof pack with the disk is sealed with two tight straps and filled with a sealant. So, there is a high chance that water, if the Solo happens to fall into it, won’t get into the pack. Still, we’d recommend you to dry the HDD up before using it again.
There is also a pipe going out of the pack. We guess it is a kind of a valve for letting out excessive moisture or air (under high temperature the air in the pack will expand).
The card with connectors and cables is not protected. So, in case of a fire, the hard disk will survive but you’ll have to connect it in some other way to retrieve your data.
The card has a PATA interface for hard disk drives, too. Perhaps the company has produced products with PATA drives before. SATA is undoubtedly better, though. Wide PATA cables would be much more difficult to lay out and make waterproof.
Summing everything up, the HDD inside this enclosure is indeed protected against any external disaster. The enclosure won’t survive a fire (and, probably, won’t live after falling into water), but the HDD inside it will remain healthy. Seeing is believing, and there are indeed a few clips at YouTube showing attempts to destroy an ioSafe Solo. People from ioSafe claim that the HDD remains healthy even after the Solo has been heated up to 850°C for half an hour or after a 3-day submersion to a depth of 3 meters.
We are going to measure the drive’s speed characteristics, too, but without much detail. You cannot expect anything unusual from USB since this interface limits the performance of today’s hard disk drives greatly.