Raven XTR 500

Formac has added to its range of rather lovely external hard drives. The new Raven XTR 500 offers bountiful storage, in a quiet enclosure, for around 50p per gigabyte. I used to think that I could never run out of disk space – I had 20 megabytes, which was equivalent to 15 floppies.

Of course that was a long time ago, and disk space has never quite been able to keep up with my consumption for more than six months. In the old days, I used to keep fonts on floppies to save space, now we just want it all. Even those not using high-end graphics or video applications are beginning to amass gigabytes of music, television and games. Thankfully, drive prices have been dropping and you can get as much disk space as you could reasonably need for under £250.

There has been a spate of bargain-basement external hard drives doing the rounds lately, but I'm not comfortable putting important things on cheap drives. To be honest, I've had no problems with cheaper drives, but I just don't feel that confident using them. Also, many of them lack features, such as being bootable, which is handy if you need to access an ailing internal drive.

The Formac drive is reassuringly fully featured, with FireWire 800, FireWire 400 and a temperature-controlled fan. That means it will work with any FireWire-equipped Mac (that's pretty much anything after the first ever iMac), and will take advantage of the newer Macs' faster FireWire. The temperature-controlled fan is a nice touch, meaning that the drive runs almost silently unless it gets too warm.

The Raven we saw, like the model-T Ford, is available in black. As with other Formac products, there are also Oxygen (white) and Platinum (silver) versions. The Platinum is the same spec as the Raven we looked at, but without the temperature controlled fan. The Oxygen model lacks the fan and FireWire 800. It's also the only one in the range available in the smaller 160GB capacity. It makes sense to have the slightly cheaper, lower-spec model be white, as it complements the iMac, which doesn't have FireWire 800.

The Raven and Platinum versions are both available in 250GB and 500GB capacities. I would plump for the bigger one – although they are stackable, so two would work well as mirrored drives for backups.


Any Tom, Dick or Harry can buy the components of an external hard drive and throw them together. Formac is one of the few storage companies that design the drives themselves. In theory, this makes little difference, but in practice I've found bigger brand drives like these to be more reliable. With prices so low, it's difficult to find fault with the Formac range, but it might be nice to have the features of the Raven model in the other colours.

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