When we last reviewed portable storage products, we named these products “convenience storage," which is a very precise explanation. You can get 160 GB to 500 GB of 2.5”-based portable storage products at your retailer, but depending on the country of purchase, you will also find them in supermarkets, in gas stations, at the airport or in hotel vending machines. Basic storage products have become commodity goods, and we expect them to be convenient and somewhat stylish. But the industry is falling behind capacity when it comes to performance, and features also aren’t where they could be.
It is very important to realize that almost all storage products based on USB 2.0 and on hard drives perform similarly. Some are limited to less than 30 MB/s, some reach slightly more, but USB 2.0 just does not offer more bandwidth—even though USB 2.0 is specified at 480 Mbit/s, that doesn’t translate into 80 MB/s in the real world. It is getting to be time for USB 3.0, because copying data onto a USB 2.0 storage device takes up to 90 minutes for 100 GB—be prepared to wait many hours if you have to copy hundreds of gigabytes onto such a storage device. eSATA shows that faster technology is already here.
At the same time, storage vendors can only differentiate their products by features and convenience, and we found that both Buffalo and Toshiba failed in this category. Both provide basic backup software, which does its job, but none includes additional features such as U2, which allows users to carry installed applications with them. They can then run these apps off their storage device once it is connected to a host PC where the US launch pad provides access to these programs. Online storage is also increasingly important, although features should not stop here.
We realize that encryption, while important, might not be suitable for everyone, but we would like to have synchronization options, as you might not only want to run backups, but rather take all of your key data with you. These features might go as far as including some useful web services such as Plaxo, which are used to synchronize your contacts with its platform so you have them available online.
From a performance standpoint, the Buffalo Mini Station Turbo USB is the better product. Although the difference is not large, it provides better throughput. Access time is longer, but that should not matter much for storage applications.
From a style and quality standpoint, Toshiba offers a much more beautiful product, which does not even require auxiliary power. This, we believe, is part of the convenience equation, which storage products for the mainstream must have. Enthusiasts, however, may want to live with connecting two cables to get access to up to 500 GB of storage, which Toshiba doesn’t offer at this time.
Toshiba’s style and quality perfection together with smaller weight comes at a price, as the retail price tags of both products are in the $200 range. That’s not quite a bargain, but still acceptable for high capacity portable storage. Buffalo still gives you more bang for the buck, though, if storage is your main objective.