Imation’s Travan 20GB tape drive looks good, but it’s a noisy beast and anyone looking for a Mac OS X backup solution is going to be disappointed with its performance – it lumbers along far too slowly under the new OS.
To be fair to Imation, the company doesn’t claim that the drive will out-sprint others under OS X. It bundles Retrospect (see page 55) with the drive – and since developer Dantz has only just upgraded its software to support OS X, Imation presumably feels no urgency to do the same. Our experience, however, suggests that this should be made a priority.
Mac OS 9 is a different matter. We tested the drive using Retrospect 5.0 – the bundled version is 4.3 – and found it performed reasonably well. A typical backup operation, writing the 712.5MB of data and verifying its fidelity using our own documents folder with Retrospect’s software compression facility turned off, took 25min 14s with the compression option selected. A single backup took 15min 6s.
We mention software compression because the drive offers no compression of its own. The drive is dubbed 20GB because it uses 20GB Travan NS tapes. However, the designation assumes the use of compression to double the tapes’ true 10GB capacity. That’s a dangerous assumption. Compression yields mixed results because some data-types can be compressed to a greater degree than others – as anyone who’s attempted to squeeze JPEG files with StuffIt can verify.
We got an average of 16 per cent compression – backed-up files were 84 per cent of the size of the originals – but we had plenty of already-compressed JPEGs and StuffIt files. Users with more text files, which can be compressed to a higher degree, will get better results.
They may still be disappointed with the drive’s noise level, though. It’s particularly loud and whiny during fast-forward and rewind operations, and it isn’t much quieter when reading and writing data. There’s a built-in cooling fan – despite the use of a separate power transformer to keep the unit slim – so it’s never silent.
More positively, the drive connects to the host Mac using FireWire, so it’s a doddle to hook up. The Travan mechanism maxes out at around 60MB per minute, or 8MB per second, so it’s hardly taxing the bus’s 50MB per second capacity. This leaves plenty of room for other devices to be added to the FireWire chain.
The Imation Travan 20GB is a nice-looking, slimline tape drive, but it provides too-little capacity at too high-a price. It’s noisy, and it isn’t the fastest tape drive we’ve seen. Nor, at £499, is it the cheapest. Tapes, at around £25 a pop, are more competitively priced. It isn’t a bad product, but anyone seeking an entry-level tape back-up drive will find that other products offer better deals.