Portable hard drives should be about as interesting as the oversize cigarette packets they resemble. They come in a range of capacities – usually ranging from 40Gb up to 250GB – claim to absorb sudden physical shocks while in transit, can rattle data in and out of 5,400rpm platters at USB 2.0 speeds, and often come with cut-down and therefore mediocre backup utilities.
What’s left to discuss? Well there’s colour, which in the case of the Buffalo MiniStation TurboUSB is a functional metallic brown, and the various gimmicks relating to USB cable storage. The Buffalo’s design let’s you wrap it around the outside of the drive when not in use. Quite effective.
The TurboUSB’s name offers up a clue to its special claim to fame, the ability to beat USB data transfer “by up to 64 percent” by loading a supplied driver. According to Buffalo, the USB standard has a degree of data transfer inefficiency in it, and it turns out that the speed comparison figure compares the TurboUSB’s 5,400rpm drive against an older 4,200rpm equivalent. Any 5,400rpm drive would best a 4,200rpm drive, so this is a slightly daft comparison.
Undeterred, we tested the Buffalo against a 5,400rpm WD Passport drive, seeing a benefit of around 15 percent when transferring 100MB of varied data using Vista’s basic copy function. A separate 150MB image transfer test showed almost no benefit, so whether the TurboUSB is worth buying on performance alone will depend on the type of backups being made, their frequency, overall size, and the specific backup program being used to move data. Its underlying efficiency gain is modest.
The drive comes with a licensed version of Memeo’s Autobackup software, and Buffalo’s own AES-based SecureLockWare drive, directory and file encryption program.
In the mutter and moan department, we’d have liked sturdier feet on the drive – the ones at the front are made of a different material from the companions at the rear, which gives the rear of the drive a tendency to slip on your average table. The USB connector is also pretty flimsy, allowing too much lateral movement, not helped by the slightly short cable length.
Perhaps we’re getting too fussy here. This is a perfectly serviceable portable hard drive, and it’s pretty cheap too at around £49.99 (plus VAT) for the 120GB model tested. It’s that price point rather than any fancy speed-boosting claims that will probably sell it to many happy users.
Buy a hard drive on its size by all means but don't forget performance. A portable drive should be spinning at 5,400rpm as a minimum, and come with a basic security and backup application. Too many vendors see them as mere cut-down versions of desktop drives, forgetting that they are devices people actually carry around with laptops and depend on for the crucial second line of defence when disaster strikes (which it always does eventually).