Hard-disk drives are getting bigger, up to 1.5 terabyte in one drive now, but solid-state capacities are also on the up, and with prices that are coming down. And so Buffalo has developed a kind of half-way solution between a USB external hard drive and a USB memory stick with the Buffalo MicroStation, otherwise dubbed a Hybrid Portable Silicon Disk.
The ‘hybrid’ reference in Buffalo MicroStation Hybrid Portable Silicon Disk alludes to the use of a combination of single- and multi-layer cells, the building blocks of flash memory. Single layer cell (SLC) technology typically gives faster read and write times but allows less capacity, while multi-layer cell (MLC) memory is often slower, but cheaper. By using a mixture within the Buffalo MicroStation, Buffalo hopes to keep the price acceptable and performance attractive.
Which may be just as well, since the actual form factor is arguably a little uninspired. The memory chips within the Buffalo MicroStation are encased in a mock-metal plastic two-piece shell that’s nigh-on exactly the same size as a credit card, at 89mm long and 57mm wide. And at 14mm thick, the MicroStation is still small enough to slip into a pocket almost unnoticed.
The Buffalo MicroStation is connected to an available USB port by an attached cable that wraps around the edge when it’s not in use, with the main USB plug sliding into an integral catch in the Buffalo MicroStation to stop it unwinding.
You could further extend the Buffalo MicroStation's reach easily enough as the cable actually connects to the Buffalo MicroStation drive by a mini-USB plug, which can be detached and replaced with something longer. A little blue LED on top of the Buffalo MicroStation indicates when the memory drive is powered up.
Included with the Buffalo MicroStation is a utility called TurboUSB which promises to increase your file transfer speeds. We used HDTach 3 benchmark software to measure the Buffalo MicroStation’s natural speed, then engaged the Turbo software - which ‘works’ on both Mac and Windows - to see if Buffalo’s assertion of a boost from 29MB/s to 35MB/s read speed could be acheived.
In our tests, the fastest read speed recorded by the Buffalo MicroStation without TurboUSB was 27MB/s, showing that the Buffalo MicroStation was already demonstrably faster than the cheapest USB sticks, which may be in the 15-20MB/s range.
Write speed of the Buffalo MicroStation was much slower, though, at 11.7MB/s. With TurboUSB installed in Windows Vista, the figures with or without TurboUSB engaged were exactly the same, going to show that there rarely is such a thing as a free lunch.
At 32GB capacity, the entry-level version of Buffalo’s MicroStation is being encroached upon by more familiar-looking USB memory sticks. These now reach 32GB capacity for the same price or even less, and are more sturdy. Where the unit’s relatively small size may come into its own is with the more capacious 64GB and 100GB versions, although these are priced much further upscale at £159 and £239.