As I wrote before, luckily I bought an external hard disk and started backing up my data just in time. Well, although this may look like talking bad about good things, I still believe I should post this. The drive model I bought is a Toshiba PX1269E-G50, a 500GB external USB 2.0 model.
On the box it says this:
Optimized for digital video, photos and music storage. Fanless design for near-silent operation. Interface: high-speed USB 2.0. Interface transfer rate (max.): 480 Mbps. Rotational speed: 7200 rpm. Cache: 16 MB. PushButton Backup. Password security. System requirements: PC with minimum 233 MHz pentium or equivalent (Celeron, AMD, etc.), Windows 2000/XP, available USB 2.0 port.
I read this before buying in the store. I did not care for whatever "PushButton Backup" is. I still don't. I did not care for Password security. I still don't. It says Windows 2000/XP, but after all it is a USB mass storage device. Not needing the nifty Windows backup or security tools I decided to buy it anyway, because it was the only one available with this amount of space.
At home I hooked it up to my Ubuntu box via USB and was somewhat surprised to see a CD-ROM drive being detected and pmount'ed to my desktop. The disc title "PASSWORD" raised my suspicion. This was the moment I decided to have a look at the manual (hey, it's a hard drive, so why include one in the first place?). I almost fell from my chair when I read this:
Your Toshiba Drive came from the factory with Password Security enabled, and programmed with a pre-set password. The first time you connect the Drive to your computer, the login screen will appear. If you want to keep Password Security enabled, follow the instructions below to change the pre-set password. If you want to disable Password Security, go to "Disabling Password Security" on the next page.
Can you believe this? This thing actually reports two drives to the computer - the first being a CD-ROM drive containing some PDFs and driver software and this security thingie. Only for Windows of course. One of the documents on that virtual CD elaborates more on the nature of this "security feature":
You can enable or disable Password Security at any time. Doing so will not affect any data stored on your Drive. Follow the instruction below to enable Password Security for an unsecured Drive. [...] If you permanently forget your password, you will not be able to access the Drive, and any data stored on the Drive will effectively be lost. [...] Password Security allows three consecutive attempts to enter your password at login. If the third attempt is unsuccessful, you will be able to view your Hint, and you will have one last chance to enter your password. [...] If you permanently forget your password you will not be able to access the Drive. For all intents and purposes, the Drive will be rendered unusable, and any data stored on the Drive will effectively be lost. If you want to regain the use of your Drive, you will need to make arrangements to return the Drive to the factory, where the CD+Secure HDD partitions will be deleted and re-created. You will not recover your data, but at least the Drive will be functional again.
I especially like the "for all intents and purposes" part. Had I not already stored my data on the disk (after using the otherwise unused Windows XP I still have to disable the password check and make it appear under Linux as a hard drive at all) I would have brought it back to the store. I probably would have, even had I used Windows. After all, who guarantees that this probably low-level stuff on that inaccessible CD-ROM simulation partition will work on future Windows versions? Just imagine having set up a password on the disk, then upgrading your XP to the all-new shiny Vista just to find out that the driver is incompatible and you don't get your hands on your own files?
Well... Now if you can live with a CD drive appearing needlessly when you plug in a hard drive, and you either disable the password thing altogether (which I totally recommend) or understand the possible consequences, go ahead and buy it. From my experience it is a least blazingly fast. Otherwise: Choose another product.
One more thing: I looked around on the net and found someone who disassembled the whole thing, put the hard drive itself into a PC and removed the CD partition. After putting it back into the external case it would not appear anymore at all. My guess is that either the firmware of the controller has some sort of protection against this, is buggy or maybe even in part contained on the disk itself. Anyways, I just thought I'd put this here for you to find before you ruin yours in the attempt.