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December 12th, 2000


OnStream ECHO30 External USB
Contact And Other Information
Manufacturer: OnStream, Inc.
Product Home Page: ECHO30 External USB
Description: USB Tape Backup Unit
Address: OnStream, Inc.
1951 S. Fordham Street
Longmont, Colorado 80503

Price: US$399, US$299 with Rebate
Telephone: 303-772-9000
Fax: 303-772-9001
Requirements: Mac or PC with USB Port
Dantz Retrospect 4.3 (Mac only, $174.95 List)

Systems Used
For Testing:
Apple Power Mac G4/450
Apple PowerBook G3 (FireWire) 400 MHz
Mac OS 9.0.4
[Review]
Back Up Your Data on Mac (and PC) with the ECHO30 External USB

OnStream ECHO30 External USB Review
by John F. Braun

Introduction

If you have been using computers for any length of time, then you know the real issue with hard drive failure is not if, but when, your hard drive will fail. This fact, combined with unpredictable events such as power outages, system crashes or other events, should convince you of the need to make regular backups.

Now that you've (hopefully) decided to explore options for making a backup, the next choice is to select a backup medium. One option, tape, has long been a popular solution, due to a good price versus performance ratio.

Unfortunately, tape drives tend to be on the expensive side (especially ones based on DAT (Digital Audio Tape) technology). Fortunately, OnStream, a relative newcomer to the tape backup scene, introduced an inexpensive USB tape drive earlier this year. Unfortunately, it was (then) only for the PC. But when Dantz announced support for this drive in their recent Retrospect 4.3 upgrade, we decided to take a look.


Documentation

We initially received a PC version of the product, since Mac documentation and packaging was still in the works. This was not a problem, since the product plugs into a standard USB port. When we did receive a Quick Install guide for the Mac, we found it clearly described the hardware installation process.


Hardware

The unit comes in a sleek, two-tone silver case. On the front is an eject button, with an embedded LED that provides power and status information. The front also has a slot that will accept an OnStream ADR tape cartridge. The rear of the unit has a power switch, a receptacle for the included power adapter, and a connector for the USB cable. Oddly, the USB connector is a 26-pin "D" style connector which we haven't seen before. A standard USB connector would be nice, but we suspect that the 26-pin connector is standard across the OnStream line. Just make sure to keep an eye on your cable, or you could be in trouble!

One note on the industrial design of this unit. Tape drives are seldom described as sexy, but the ECHO30 unit is sleek and sexy. For those with a mind for that sort of thing, the ECHO30 is definitely pleasant to look at.


Installation

The hardware installation was very straightforward. We first connected the power cable to the DC IN connector on the rear of the unit. We then connected one end of the USB cable to the rear of the unit, and the other end into a USB hub connected to our test system. Finally, we turned the unit on, and pressed the eject button . The door opened and we saw a plastic insert marked "Remove before use" in the tape tray. Naturally, we removed it.


Operation

While the door was open, the LED on the front of the unit started flashing, first slowly, then rapidly. After 15 seconds or so, the tape tray disappeared back into the unit, and the front door closed. We pressed the button again, and the door opened. Inserting a tape into the slot caused the drive to grab it, and the door closed again.

We used Dantz Retrospect Desktop Backup 4.3 to create a backup. The integration of the ECHO30 drive was seamless as far as Retrospect was concerned. Our test of relative backup and restore speeds was measured with a selection of system, graphic and text documents, totaling 1.8 GB in size. Software compression was enabled for the backup. To put things in perspective, we measured the ECHO30 drive against:

  • Yamaha Model CRW 4416S CD-RW Drive (4X write/4X rewrite/16X read)
  • Panasonic (Matshita) Model LF-D110 DVD-RAM Drive (1,385 KB/s (x1)

The performance results were as follows:

Backup Performance Results
Media Backup Time (minutes) Backup Performance (MB/min) Restore Time (minutes) Restore Performance (MB/min) Drive Cost Media Cost/GB
DVD-RAM 152 11 23 78 $550 $6
ECHO30 USB 86 21 62 30 $300 $2
CD-RW 49 40 37 53 $300 $5

Bold Indicates Best Performance

As can be seen from the above chart, the ECHO30 provides reasonable backup and restore rates, and the media cost is the least expensive when compared to DVD-RAM and CD-RW formats. Backup performance is less than the advertised rate of 0.85 MB/sec (51 MB/min) but still respectable at 21 MB/min with our test backup set. Restore performance was the lowest when compared to other backup methods. This shouldn't be an issue, unless you have a need to frequently restore large amounts of data.


Software

The Mac version of the ECHO30 USB product doesn't include software. One must already own, or purchase, Retrospect Desktop Backup 4.3 to use this drive with a Mac. If you already have this software, than then ECHO30 has a very attractive price point. Software is bundled with the PC version of the product.

If you don't have Retrospect 4.3, upgrades from previous Retrospect versions are between US$20 and US$60, and a new copy can be had for as little as US$135. If you don't already own Retrospect, the US$300 drive plus US$135 for software comes to US$435. At this point, it may make more sense to get their US$499 external FireWire drive, which offers better performance, and comes bundled with Retrospect Desktop Backup 4.3.

On the bright side, Retrospect interacts with the ECHO30 drive flawlessly. This is thanks to the Retrospect SDAP (Shared Device Access Protocol) driver, and a specific driver for the ECHO30. When scanning for and selecting devices, it appears just as any other supported tape device.


Conclusion

It is good to see another (former) PC-only vendor enter the Mac market. The support of the drive via Retrospect 4.3 was seamless, and backup and restore times were very good for a drive in this price range. If one already owns Retrospect 4.3 Desktop Backup, the drive is a great deal. But the added cost for those who don't already own Retrospect 4.3 can be significant, and puts the price of the entire package closer to higher performance alternatives. We hope OnStream will consider a future Mac USB package that is on par with their PC cousin.


Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
3 1/2 Gadgies
Pros Quick, easy hardware setup
Good price/performance ratio
Inexpensive media
Seamless Retrospect support
Good industrial design
Cons No backup software included
Nonstandard cable



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