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See that? That’s a demonstration of how badly my phone camera performs when it’s not blinding broad daylight. More specifically though, it’s a picture of my brand new Zalman ZM-VE200SE. It’s a 2.5″ HDD caddy with USB 2.0 and eSATA. Nothing special there. Nothing special at all. Until you realise it has an LCD screen and a jog-wheel-type-rocker-switch-thing. Wherefore? Well, it’s probably one of the most useful tools I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of tools (you’ve seen the show, right?). This miraculous brick is U3 on anabolics, crack rocks and lysergic acid all at the very same time. It’s a USB/eSATA HDD enclosure which can, and does, present itself to the host PC as both a hard drive and a CD/DVD/BluRay drive. Using its buttons and the thoughtfully provided LCD, you can dump a pile of assorted ISO files onto the drive inside (which you must provide yourself, by the way, but it’s easy to fit), twiddle about with the controls to pick any one of those ISOs to present itself in the virtual drive, on the fly, at any given time. It’s a hardware Daemon Tools, if you like, but without all the associated guff. Incidentally, it’s about the same price as Daemon Tools, except it won’t be detected by game DRM. Good to know, right?

That’s a picture of me in possession of a copy of Windows ME. It’s also a picture of the caddy reporting my drive as being on the verge of extinction, but no matter. Why do I have a Windows ME ISO in its virtual drive? Why, because I can. Because I can, and because it’s possible to carry around every operating system disc you’ll ever need, every service pack, every application, every game, as long as you have a big enough drive inside this beauty, you can carry around every physical CD you ever owned. Not that special, perhaps, any drive can do that, but this thing can boot operating systems on machines which refuse to boot from flash drives, it can boot OSs which are oblivious to the existence of flash drives, it can avoid detection from game DRM so you can use it as a sort of nocd workaround. That’s the bit that rocks the joint. I can simply flick up and down the menus, and I can decide that I want to install Windows ME on my netbook. I don’t need to find the CD, I don’t need to wire up my external XBOX HD-DVD drive to put it in, I just bleep bloop fiddle-de-dee and voila, Windows ME is installing on my netbook. It’s not, actually. But it could be.

Now, I admit, I’m late to the game as often I am, this thing’s been around for a few years, and even as the snappily named “iodd 2501/2511 Portable Virtual ROM” before Zalman got their hands on it. There’s also a USB 3.0 version too, the predictably named ZM-VE300. None of that matters though, because it’s still just as useful now as the day it was conceived. Couple of little gotchas, mind you, it sucks a lot of juice, the single USB cable included might not be enough on some machines, so a USB Y cable is probably advised, and try and find a HDD with low power requirements if you can. It’s also really bloody picky about the filesystem. It requires specific firmware for specific filesystems, but if you’re happy with NTFS then the default one will do the job. It’ll also throw a fit if your drive happens to have one of those useless “system” partitions at the start of it. Or if the drive is partitioned by GPT and not MBR. You also have to put all the ISOs in a folder called “_ISO”, though that’s no hardship unless you’re seriously anal about your filing system, and you can probably set the hidden flag on if you’re that bothered. You can folder up inside of there though, so you can divvy up your ISOs into their appropriate folders, Operating Systems, Applications, Games, so on, so forth. It’s a bit on the large size, if hard drive enclosures can eat pies, this one’s had ‘em all, it’s about as thick as a cassette tape and as long as… I dunno, about the width of a DVD case. Not super pocket-friendly, but if you cram it right down in there, you’ll get away with it. Just don’t sit down.

Was it worth it? I plunked down about £22 in Queen’s dosh, that’s about €30 Eurobucks or $35 Americoins, and I’d do it again if I found myself in a faulty time machine causing me to have to decide again. I don’t think I’d need to own more than one of ‘em, but the one I do have will no doubt have a firm place in my arsenal for years to come. The only thing I wanna know is why I didn’t buy one before. Right, now if you’ll excuse me, I know I have some Windows Chicago betas around here somewhere…

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