Hyperdrive HD80 – Hands-on Review


My primary cards are a pair of Sandisk Ultra II one gigabyte CF’s. They are a great match with the 20D and my Lexar firewire reader, but they only hold about 103 shots in RAW mode. A little over 200 shots between card dumps might sound like a lot, but when I am shooting political events, for instance, I can go through hundreds of shots in very short order. This requires me to keep my laptop close at hand for periodic card dumps… but this isn’t always convenient and I’m certainly not going to hump a 17″ Powerbook around with me under most shooting conditions. Obviously, I can buy more cards… but they aren’t the cheapest things in the world and they can be a little bit of a pain to keep track of in chaotic situations.

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On the weekend of January 14th I traveled to Williamsburg on behalf of the Democratic Party of Virginia to photograph the Inauguration of Tim Kaine (Pre-Events, Richmond Ball) as Virginia’s latest Governor. It was a historic event on many levels, not the least of which being the fact that Kaine was only the third person to be sworn in as governor in Williamsburg. The other two were Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. ?

The week before leaving, I started to revisit my storage issues knowing that the logistics of the event (and the fact I was traveling alone) would make two cards a major limitation. In the past I’ve considered such units as Epson’s P2000 with its gorgeous screen for image review but have not wanted to spend $500 on a unit that isn’t known for being super fast or especially great at handling RAW images to their fullest. I’ve continued to be baffled by the fact that nobody has made a decent, simple CF card reader for the iPods. My clickwheel iPod has been a 40 gigabyte firewire/USB2 drive screaming for this kind of use… but alas, Apple’s Camera Connector only works on models newer than mine and has its own flaws. The fact that nobody has made a battery/slot “sled” of sorts for the iPods that tackles this problem in a good manner still baffles me. But I digress…

I was on the verge of ordering an additional card or two when I happened upon references and positive reviews for the Hyperdrive HD80. Upon visiting their website, I discovered I could get a bare unit with no hard disk for less than the cost of the cards I was about to order. Since I had some 2.5″ IDE hard disks from old laptops already on hand, the extra savings of buying a bare Hyperdrive were too good to pass up. Besides, if the Hyperdrive worked as advertised, it would be the piece of equipment I had been hoping to find for several years.

What follows is my description and hands-on review of the Hyperdrive HD80.

Be sure to also check out the captioned photos I took of the unit using my new light tent.


BACKGROUND

The Hyperdrive HD80 is a fairly simple device that primarily does one thing and does it well: it copies the contents of your camera media to its internal hard drive very rapidly. Since it’s relatively small and portable, you can do this in the field and immediately re-use the card in your camera to continue shooting. For me, this means no more having to choose between conservative shooting or needing to carry my laptop with me on a shoot.

Essentially, your shooting capacity in the field becomes the size of your Hyperdrive’s hard disk rather than the sum total of your memory cards. Rather than two gigabytes of CF cards, I now think in terms of 40 gigabytes of photos between visits to my laptop. As hard as a I shoot, I don’t forsee filling up 40 gigs of space between sorting and editing sessions… at least not under normal conditions.

Don’t let the HD80 model number fool you… you can use both larger and smaller drives in the Hyperdrive either by adding your own (as I did) or buying the unit with a drive pre-installed. At the time of this writing, Hyperdrives can be purchased with pre-installed 40, 60, 80, 100 and 120 gigabyte drives. If you purchase just the unit with no pre-installed drive and add your own, sizes can range up to 160 gigabytes with larger drives already on the horizon.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The Hyperdrive measures 5.19″(W) x 3.27″(H) x 1.30″(D) and weighs just over half a pound. It requires four AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and, according to the manufacturer, averages 80 gigabytes worth of card dumps on a single charge. This is obviously an estimate and I’ve not even approached filling up my 40 gigabyte drive, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of this claim. Realistically, I suspect most people will not run it flat between uses if you recharge it after every outing.

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The unit has a built in “fast” NiMH charger, so recharging the unit is as simple as plugging in its power adapter. Unlike dumping CF cards, transferring images to your computer via the USB/USB-2 interface is very power intensive and will flatten the batteries in very short order. For this reason, the manual indicates that you need to run it on its power adapter during this operation (I can attest to this… the batteries don’t last long when USB is involved). Since downloading images likely means you’ve returned from a shoot, though, I suggest you just leave it on the power adapter until it fully recharges or until you head out for your next shoot.

NOTE: Unlike a lot of rechargeable electronics, this unit does not charge the batteries at the same time you are using it on the power adapter. You must turn the unit off for it to begin actively recharging the batteries and there is an indicator on the screen that this is taking place. Be sure to look for the charging synbol and don’t just assume it’s charging or you might be in for a nasty surprise when you grab it and head out the door for your next shoot. I’ve had a few cases where I’ve disconnected it from the USB and turned off its power but realized it was NOT entering the charging mode as expected. Pulling the adapter out and plugging it back in while the unit was off seemed to spur the charging process. Maybe this will be fixed in a future firmware update. In the meantime, don’t make assumptions and always look for the charging indicator as well as the resulting smiley-face icon indicating it has reached a full charge.

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The end opposite the battery compartment is the business end of the unit viagra generico sin receta. This is where you insert your media cards, toggle the power and interact with the interface. The system can read xD, SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MMC, CompactFlash Type I/II and Microdrive media… so pretty much all of the bases are covered for modern cameras. The CF card slot in particular is somewhat more shallow than cameras and most other readers you might be accustomed to using. This leads to an increased chance of bending pins if you insert the card at a funky angle, so take a little extra care when plugging in your card.

The interface is primarily controlled by a pressable rocker wheel. This mechanism is not unlike the clickable scroll wheel on most modern mice: it moves side to side and can be pressed like a traditional button. Rocking it one direction or the other generally allows you to select something while pressing it usually confirms the selection or initiates a given action. The power switch is a normal two-position on/off switch and there is also a red/green LED that indicates when operations are underway.

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Information is conveyed to the user through a fairly simple LCD display on the face of the Hyperdrive. It is not backlit, so you’re not going to be operating it in the dark. Everything is expressed in the form of icons representing various operations or conditions and numbers showing you file counts, sizes, etc. Success and failure of any given operation is represented by a smiley face and a checkmark or a frowning face and an ‘X’. All in all, it’s a pretty simple interface and, since the unit is fairly task-specific, a more complex display would just raise the cost and drain the batteries faster.

DRIVE INSTALLATION

If you purchase a particular capacity unit, your Hyperdrive will come pre-installed and ready to go. If you do as I did, though, and purchase a bare unit with no drive, you will need to install a 2.5″ IDE hard disk yourself.

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Oddly enough, they ship the Hyperdrive complete with a nice little phillips-head screwdriver. I suppose for people with absolutely no tools, this is quite handy. Most people I know have a phillips-head screwdriver around somewhere. Including the screwdriver, though, is a nice touch and goes above and beyond what most vendors would provide.
Adding a drive is fairly trivial. You remove four screws from the bottom panel, pop it off, insert your drive label-side up into the slot and press it onto the 44 pin connector. There is a little black plastic filler that snaps into the gap between the end of the drive and the wall of the Hyperdrive. Put the panel back in place, return the four screws and the physical stuff is done. Super easy.
Your new drive is rather easily formatted following a series of actions on the rocker switch as described in the manual and you’re ready to go. Installing my drive took all of about two minutes and was utterly uneventful.

DUMPING CARDS

Each time you dump a card to the Hyperdrive, it assigns a set number. I won’t go into the specifics of the numbering scheme, but it’s pretty straight forward. For the most part, it’s just 001, 002, 003, etc. The numbers can jump ahead a bit depending on the presence of existing folders and gaps can be filled in if you delete folders and leave others in place. It is also possible to influence the numbering scheme through the creation of a special file, but that’s beyond the scope of this review.

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Dumping cards is fairly straight forward. There is an unattended mode that will begin copying your media if you insert a card, turn on the unit and then do nothing else for seven seconds. This is quite convenient if you’re really busy during your shoot since all you need to do is jam in the card, flip the switch and then turn your attention back to shooting. The red light will flash as it copies and then turn green once it is complete. When you see that green light, your copy is done and the card is presumably ready to be returned to your camera. Further confirmation of success is available if you look at the screen and see a smiley face and a number of shots copied that fits what you know to be true.

If seven seconds is too long for you to wait, inserting the card, turning on the power and then pressing the rocker button will start the card copy immediately.

For cases where you have time to spare and/or want to know for sure that your photos are being copied 100% perfectly, there is also a “verify” mode. This mode will use hardware checksumming to compare the data on your card to the data being written to the drive as it copies. It comes at a price, though, since the verify process is considerably slower than a normal copy. A dump that takes just under two minutes normally might take as long as ten or twelve minutes in verify mode. Honestly, I’d only be inclined to use this if I suspected problems with a card or the photos I was dumping were staggeringly critical to me. In the latter case, I suspect I would also NOT erase and re-use the card in the field but, rather, be dumping to the Hyperdrive for added peace of mind that a temporary copy existed prior to getting back to my laptop.

The verify mode is reached by inserting the card, turning on the unit and immediately pushing the rocker switch to the left and then pressing it. A specialy icon will appear on the screen indicating you are now running in verify mode. Again, be prepared to wait considerably longer in this mode.
STATUS INFORMATION

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If you turn on the unit with no media inserted, it immediately begins to count up from zero. The final number it reaches a few seconds later is the amount of free space remaning on the drive. When my drive is empty, this number stops at 37 which is the normal amout of space free on a clean 40 gigabyte drive (yes, the drive makers do their math differently and real space is always a bit short of the advertised capacity).

If you push the rocker switch to the left during this free space counting process, the unit will immediately go into a sort of auditing mode that gives you file set and quantity information. For instance, if I’ve dumped four cards to my drive, each press to the left of the rocker switch will step through each of the four dumps giving me the set number assigned by the Hyperdrive, the number of images in the set and the size (in megabytes) of the set. You can push the rocker left or right to move back and forth through the list of sets. It stops and the unit re-enters its sleep mode once you reach the last item in the audit.

TRANSFERRING TO YOUR COMPUTER

The Hyperdrive acts like most any USB or USB-2 hard drive. On my Macintosh, plugging in the USB cable and switching the unit on causes a new volueme to appear called COMPACTDRV. It’s a fully readable and writable removable hard disk in most every way.

The cards I have dumped appear as folders named with the set numbers assigned by the Hyperdrive at the time the cards were inserted. I can drag and drop these folders or their contents onto my system. I prefer, however, to use iView’s Import From Disk option which closely approximates the more traditional Import from Camera option I use with my firewire CF card reader. I either navigate to the newest folders I want imported or, if the drive was empty before I started shooting, just import the entire contents of the drive in one shot. This pulls the images into my normal workflow in the same manner as dumping single CF cards. Once done, I either leave the originals on the Hyperdrive until later or simply drag it all to the trash and empty it.

In addition to transferring files from the Hyperdrive’s disk, the unit can act as a media reader. If I insert a CF card before turning it on, I’ll get both the COMPACTDRV and the CF card media as volumes on my laptop. In this capacity, it operates much like my Lexar firewire CF card reader.

Last but not least, the unit is a fully functional USB/USB-2 removable hard disk. You can copy files to it from the computer and transport them to other computers just like you would using an iPod or any other firewire or USB/USB-2 removable drive. While I own several fast firewire 400/800 removable drives as well as an iPod, this gives me yet another option for backing up and moving large files around between different systems. My firewire drives are formatted for Mac OS X, but the Hyperdrive would bridge the gap between my Mac, Windows and Linux boxes from a removable drive perspective.

REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCES

So far, the unit has worked as advertised and is meeting all of my needs rather well. My first use of it was for the inaugural events and it paid off immediately. Right away I was shooting more freely since I knew I wasn’t going to have my back to the wall on space, nor was I going to need to either carry or run off to my laptop in the middle of events and risk missing something.

I probably dumped my cards four times during the actual ceremony and the process was quite convenient. I’d fill a card, pop open the belt pack top, insert the CF card, power on the unit and then return my attention to shooting. By the time the current card was filled up in my camera, the one in the Hyperdrive was well past copying and the green light indicated I could make the swap. I’d put the newly filled card in the slot, power on the Hyperdrive and put the old card in the camera and promptly format it so I could return to shooting.

In all, my attention was only away from shooting for just under a minute each time I did a card swap. The Hyperdrive would dump each 1 gigabyte card in just under two minutes. Obviously, I never was stuck without a usable card with this kind of rapid turnaround.

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The belt pack made the unit quite accessible and there were several cases during the weekend where the Hyperdrive was dumping a card as I walked around. The pocket on the front of the belt pack is also quite convenient for holding a CF card once I’m done dumping it. I’ve started putting my free card in there rather than my pants pocket since it feels more secure under the velcro closure. If I’m wearing jeans, it’s no big deal… but at more formal events when I’m wearing slacks, I’m always worried a card is going to slip out like pocket change when I sit down.

The USB-2 interface to my Mac is reasonably fast and probably quite close to the speed I get when dumping CF cards in my Lexare firewire reader. During the inaugural weekend I opted to leave the folders on the Hyperdrive even after importing them into iView on my laptop. This way I had the peace of mind that the files existed on two different systems and, should one of them fail, I’d not lose everything. So the photos I shot on Friday were still on the Hyperdrive on Saturday even though all the existing shots had been copied to the laptop Friday night. Had my laptop dropped dead, I’d still return home Saturday night with all my photos on the Hyperdrive.

This, however, does lead to one minor annoyance. The Hyperdrive has no realtime clock in it, so every set created when you dump a card has the same timestamp (something in the 1970’s I believe). The image files themselves have the proper timestamps made by the camera… but the enclosing top-level set folders all are dated the same. This means that if I leave folders on the Hyperdrive from earlier shoots and then add new sets, I have to explore the contents of the folders a bit before I transfer the images to the laptop to know where the new shots begin. This gets especially annoying if the Hyperdrive fills in a gap in the set numbers leading to new shots being foldered in between pre-existing shot folders. It’s a minor hassle, but I do wish timestamps could exist on the top-level set folders so I could tell at a glance where to start my imports.

The built-in NiMH charger can take a couple to three hours to charge the batteries up from nothing. While this might be considered fast compared to some of the older systems, my normal NiHM charger usually doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes. Battery life is long enough, though, that I haven’t had this bite me and I can usually put off charging until night if I’m traveling. I use AA NiHM’s in my Canon 420EX speedlight and, if I’m not in a time crunch, can pack lighter now since I can use the Hyperdrive’s internal charger for these batteries and leave my other external charger at home on my desk.

As far as multi-function use goes, you can use your Hyperdrive as a NiMH charger, a card reader and a portable HD… so that’s up to three individual devices you might be carrying that you can probably leave at home now when traveling.
As noted above, I have found the unit to be a little bit fiddly sometimes when it comes to changing between various modes. Turning it off from a given operation when connected to external power does not always put it into charging mode as you might expect. Look for confirmation of operations (such as the charging indicator) and don’t make assumptions to avoid getting burned.

SUMMARY

All in all, I’ve found this to be a completely worthwhile purchase. For the price paid ($149), it has been worth every penny even after having only used it in the field once so far. I’ll end with a brief list of pros and cons to summarize much of what I’ve addressed above:

PROS:

  • Decent build quality – mostly aluminum
  • Good CF card copy speeds – under two minutes for my 1 gig cards
  • Built-in NiMH charger
  • Works as a portable USB-2 hard disk
  • Can be used as a card reader on my laptop via USB
  • Very good battery life for use in the field
  • Included carrying case functions well for walk-around use
  • Great price vs. large capacity CF cards
  • Added peace of mind for keeping copies during travel

CONS:

  • Need to confirm it is charging when hooked to external power
  • Does not charge while being operated on external power
  • Charger could be faster (though appears to be decently smart)
  • Lacks real time and date stamps on set folders
  • Copy with verify times seem inordinately slow

NOTES AND THOUGHTS

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Yes, there is always an added risk when using mechanical magnetic-media like a hard disk. You also stand a chance of dropping your Hyperdrive in a puddle or some other bit of physical tragedy leading to diaster. If you’re dumping all of your important images to the unit in the field and then something happens to it, you’re screwed. Of course, the same thing could be said for something happening to one or all of a pile of CF cards (minus the added worries of mechanical failure associated with a hard disk).

What’s the answer?

Carry two Hyperdrives. Some pro photographers are already doing this for added peace of mind. The card dumping speeds are quite rapid, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to dump each card twice before cycling it back into the camera. The odds of two units failing mechanically are quite slim (as are the odds of one failing, honestly… but it can happen). If you wear them both and get hit by a bus, though, all bets are off. Chances are you’ve got bigger worries in that scenario, I suspect. The point, howerver, is that Hyperdrives are relatively inexpensive and pure peanuts to pro photographers versus the loss of important images… so consider carrying more than one for ultimate peace of mind.

I also want to add that the customer support behind the Hyperdrive is quite excellent. I had some concerns about delivery time since I discovered the product so close to my needing it. Several email exchanges with Customer Service, though, led to them offering to ship my unit overnight for only the difference in cost between standard and UPS Red delivery. Everything arrived right on time and they were very flexible and gracious in our email exchanges. All around, my experience with both the product and the people behind it has been excellent.

I hope this review and commentary prove useful to people who might be considering such a device. If there is something I didn’t touch on that you’d like to know, don’t hesitate to email me or use the comment system on the blog so we can share the exchange with others.

6 Responses to “Hyperdrive HD80 – Hands-on Review”

  1. Tony says:

    Nice review. Great level of information. It will prove very useful for those people who do not yet own a Hyperdrive HD80 or Compact drive PD70x (Alternate name)
    Tony

  2. Another Aaron says:

    Great review.
    Let me just add that you don’t *have* to use the rechargeable NiMH AAs that come with the HD80 (which is sort of implied by the wording in the review). I don’t like carrying extra stuff (ie, chargers) when I travel, and I chose the HD80 so I could just put in regular AAs when travelling. Easy to replace anywhere if they should happen to run out. And, if you buy the expensive lithium AAs ($10/4) it makes the whole package noticeably lighter.
    Probably not useful for a working pro who’s carrying lots of equipment anyway, but for a lightweight travelling shooter, it’s a help.

  3. Aaron Mahler says:

    Other Aaron, 🙂
    Yes – true. I didn’t mean to imply that you HAD to use the batteries it came with. I suspect any AA will perform in some capacity – some better, some worse. Lithiums are probably pretty excellent in this context. Alkalines, on the other hand, would probably fail miserably.
    A good point and thanks for commenting!
    – Aaron

  4. Rick says:

    How refreshing to find an easy to comprehend article (with detailed pictures to boot) regarding a product I debated about purchasing, due to my recent 8GB-CF upgrade for RAW file format shootings. It seems my trigger-happy photo finger just wants to click away like there is no tomorrow, and the 8GB-CF just gave it a license to do exactly that. Now that the order for a barebones HD80 is placed, I am off scouring the internet for that pie-in-the-sky biggie 2.5HDD! Cha-ching. When all is said and done, it will be interesting to see how quick 8GBs copy, but at least I can utilize the 1GB and 2GB-CFs in my arsenal while waiting. My other concern will be to see how an 8GB transfer feeds on the power of the 4-AA NiMH. If there is anything I posses a lot of it’s AA-NiMH rechargable batteries. So on the rare chance the 8GB transfer drains the power sooner rather than later, I will have spares to boot!

  5. Bud says:

    A sincere thank you for the review. I’m headed off to Iceland this summer along with a Canon 5D / Rebel XT. Given that summer in Iceland can mean two weeks of rain, two weeks of sun or (I hope) some combination of the two, with daylight of about 21 hours I have no way of predicting how many CF cards I’ll need. Thanks in part to your review, I purchased a Hyperdrive. It’s worth noting for those of us who find themselves in really wet / inclement conditions that the Hyperdrive fits perfectly into a Pelican 1020 Micro case. The case weighs 9 oz but should survive any sort of moisture and add demonstrably to the HD’s ability to survive any number of traumas.

  6. Brian says:

    Excellent review. Just started shooting RAW and suddenly find myself desperate for more shooting capacity while out taking photos. I think I’ll be picking one of these up …