Toshiba 5GB PC Card


As a notebook user, there are a lot of little things that you give up when going mobile. This fact is even truer when you’re trying to go really mobile with smaller sized notebooks and accessories. On smaller sized notebooks you get increased mobility at the expense of screen size, keyboard size, processing power, and storage among the most important things. I can live without all of those…except for storage.

Of course, I knew this when I purchased my Sony TR1AP a few months ago. I had researched this model for months and had decided that the unit’s 30GB drive would be enough for me. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to readily upgrade the drive but the unit’s overall abilities in performance and battery life overpowered my need for more storage.

So, months later, I’m still extremely happy with the notebook; however, I’ve decided to look into options of adding portable storage to my system that’s cost effective and useful. One item that definitely piqued my interest was Toshiba’s PC Card Hard Disk. Based on 1.8” hard disk technology (coincidentally, the same technology used in the most of the Sony TR notebooks), the Toshiba PC Card fits into any standard PCMCIA slot and instantly adds 2 or 5GB of extra storage space. In the case of most modern operating systems, this space is added without the need for any special drivers.

Toshiba 5GB PC Card

Since I wanted the most storage I could find, I decided to pick up a 5GB model (which is the most common type now) and put it through a few tests. 5GB doesn’t seem like a lot but I figured it was more than enough space to keep audio files, digital photos, and video files. This card actually debuted in the summer of 2002 so it’s a fairly old product. I was hoping that they would increase the capacity by now but that remains to be seen.

The specifications of the card are as follows:

• 5GB Capacity
• 3990 RPM
• 256KB cache
• 15ms access time
• Transfer rate: 5.2MB/s (PIO) and 20.0MB/s (DMA)
• 1.94 oz (55 grams) weight
• 3.3V or 5V operation

As stated, the specifications are modest at best but more than adequate for simple storage needs. The power requirements are actually pretty low and the device has fairly good power management schemes. The drive powers itself down whenever when it’s not in use. I noticed that this works better when you leave the drive formatted as FAT32. When formatted using NTFS, the drive did not power down very much.

The card comes in a nice plastic case that protects the card from damage. The card is suspended by rubber supports and the case itself is reinforced with rubber corners to keep the drive safe. It’s a nice touch and you’ll want to keep it around to protect the drive.

The drive also comes with a copy of Iomega’s Automatic Backup software which is actually a very good backup program. The program allows you to backup directories and keeps revisions of files. You can set specified times for backup or have the program monitor specific directories and backup whenever changes are detected.


I was eager to see how well the drive performed. Storage space is one thing but performance is another thing that’s important to me. I was planning to watch DivX and MPEG files from the drive so I wanted to make sure the drive was capable of doing so.

Testing the drive with HD Tach 2.70 shows some interesting results. With an extremely high 99.9% CPU Usage, it’s evident that Toshiba has decided to ship this product only using the PIO mode which means that the CPU must handle all of the transfers. This effectively cripples the performance potential of the drive and only allows the drive to average 1MB/s which is in line with a USB 1.1 device.

When transfer a 200MB Windows Media Video file from my notebook’s hard disk to the Toshiba 5GB drive, it takes around two minutes and it brings the system to its knees. This doesn’t make the drive too useful if you’re doing large transfers. 200MB really isn’t a lot of data.

So, performance isn’t stellar. Read speeds while slow are fine for most tasks. The write speed seems to be the culprit. It gets the job done but if you’re planning on filling up the entire 5GB then you should be prepared to wait a while. I suspect Toshiba implemented the PIO interface since this is a removable device and wanted to make sure there was no chance for data loss. I can understand that but I’d prefer if they gave consumers a choice. Most DMA devices can be forced to run in PIO mode but the reverse is usually not possible.

When playing back the 200MB WMV file, performance was decent and the clip played without any hiccups. The file was encoded using Windows Media 9 at 704 x 396 resolution with a bit rate of 4998Kb/s. During playback, the system was fairly responsive compared to the sluggishness exhibited when copying files over.

Most DivX clips I played also played decently although higher bit rate movies didn’t fare so well with choppy playback.

Final Thoughts

So, what do I think about this product? Well, in terms of being easy to use, it definitely scores points in being a convenient form factor that instantly adds 5GB of storage space to your notebook. The drive is very universal and can work in some of the older Windows operating systems (Windows 98 and above) as well as Mac systems. During my tests, there were occasions when the drive came in handy when moving small amounts of data from one system to another.

Sadly the performance of this drive doesn’t work well for me. Because of the PIO implementation, the drive performs too slowly for my needs. While adequate for running audio files, video files can be jerky if the data rate is too high. Also, I envision myself constantly copying and moving files on and off of the drive and I don’t think I’ll want to wait several hours just to copy several gigabytes of data over to the drive. The upside is that playback and read speeds are adequate so once the data is on the device, it’s not so bad.

That doesn’t mean this is a bad product at all. If all you’re doing is backup files and saving regular office documents then you’ll find the 5GB of space generous and extremely easy to use. The inclusion of the Iomega Automatic Backup software is nice as you can use it with other devices such as network drives, optical drives, and other types of storage devices. At around $150, the drive is a good value if you need quick storage compared to flash media but if you’re in need of something faster then you’ll want to look elsewhere.








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