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Conclusion

Eight Portable Hard Drives Compared: USB 2.0 Lives On
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All eight portable drives we tested work well if you mainly need a device to store large amounts of user data that doesn't depend much on performance. As soon as you apply more demanding workloads, it's time to start paying more attention to the way you're attaching external storage. After all, eSATA is fast and USB 3.0 is at least a viable option.

Wiebetech’s ToughTech XE Mini is the only drive in this roundup that will be fast enough for enthusiasts, as it comes with USB 2.0, FireWire 400/800, and eSATA. Only the latter is capable of exposing the internal drive's peak performance. The latest 2.5” drives can exceed 100 MB/s. USB 2.0 bottlenecks your portable storage to 35 MB/s. Wiebetech allows customers to purchase the bare enclosure or a model that comes with a hard drive already installed.

The highest capacity solutions (up to 1TB in a 2.5” form factor) are currently available from Seagate and Western Digital. These utilize larger hard drives (12.5 mm as opposed to 9.5 mm height) in stylish enclosures, delivering impressive capacity points at relatively modest dimensions. None of these drives are faster than USB 2.0, but if you want maximum capacity, you don’t have faster options at this point anyway.

Looking at the warranty, there's nobody able to challenge Seagate, the only vendor with a confidence-inspiring five-year guarantee. Samsung and Toshiba provide three years, LaCie and WD only offer two years, and Brinell only offers one year of coverage. This doesn’t convey a lot of confidence in the product.

We also have to consider software add-ons. Toshiba has the only bundle capable of booting to perform a disaster recovery from existing backup sets, but it can’t encrypt or schedule backups. Samsung alone bundles an encryption solution that allows creating secure container files, but we couldn’t run the software on Windows 7 64-bit. WD provides full-disk encryption and password protection, but backup file selection doesn’t support inclusion of user-definable folders, at least as far as we could tell. Brinell, LaCie, and Seagate have the most suitable backup for tech-savvy users.

Finally, we should mention that LaCie has a performance advantage if you install its Turbo USB driver for Windows. Samsung’s 1.8” S1 Mini has a significant size advantage over the others, and Wiebetech’s multiple interfaces are a benefit if you want maximum flexibility. Picking one product as a favorite is very tough in this crowd, but Seagate seems to offer the best balance between convenience, flexibility, and warranty today.

Manufacturer
Brinell
LaCie
Samsung
Samsung
Model
Purestorage Elegant SStark
S1
S2
Model Number

301891
HX-SU025BA  HX-MU064DA
Form Factor
2.5"2.5"1.8"2.5"
Capacity
500GB
320GB
250GB
640GB
Interface
USB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0
ManufacturerSeagate
Toshiba
Western DigitalWiebetech
Model
Free Agent Go Portable Hard DriveMy Passport Essential SEToughTech XE Mini
Model Number
ST906403FAD2E1-RKHDDR320E04EWWDBABM0010BBK-NESN
Form Factor
2.5"2.5"2.5"2.5"
capacity
640GB
320GB
1,000GB
500GB
Interface
USB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0, 1394a, 1394b, eSATA
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  • 0 Hide
    mianmian , April 2, 2010 6:49 AM
    So for USB 2.0, they have almost the same performance. Price and looking are the things you need to chose.
  • 0 Hide
    babybeluga , April 2, 2010 7:46 AM
    Glad to know that my Samsung S2 and Toshiba (girlfriend wanted it for its looks) weren't bad choices.
  • -3 Hide
    zybch , April 2, 2010 9:41 AM
    Just be sure to stay away from the WD passport drives. The bundled USB cable will come loose from the drive if you just look at it oddly. Other brands like the Samsung S2 and others that use the same connector have cables that don't come loose at the slightest touch. WD are full of fail.
  • 1 Hide
    itsgrandpa , April 2, 2010 10:33 AM
    The WD Passport DOES have the USB issue people are talking about when you wiggle it around since it doesn't fit snugly . If you take care of your things, slide the usb firmly and not jam it in sideways, there will not be this issue.
  • -4 Hide
    dimitrik , April 2, 2010 10:48 AM
    How can you have a portable drive test and not include a single product from Transcend - not only are they one of the biggest (and often recognized as best) manufacturers but their drives are the only ones that are subjected to the US Army's Drop Test and ensure they can survive all kinds of shocks. That's far more valuable in a portable drive IMO than a 1-2MB/s read performance advantage (which might not even be the case because they were not tested with the others).

    Furthermore, this kind of feature is much more important to the average buyer of a portable drive - what % of readers are going to worry about transfer rates to a portable drive, beyond reasonable levels of performance?

    I hate to say it, but the quality of articles on THG is dropping steadily...
  • 0 Hide
    zybch , April 2, 2010 10:58 AM
    itsgrandpaThe WD Passport DOES have the USB issue people are talking about when you wiggle it around since it doesn't fit snugly


    Nah, its because there is something wrong with the inside of the connector. The Kindle uses the same USB connector and it locks in place really well. When using the kindle cable there is no issue with the WD drive. WD just cut corners, used a cheapo connector and all the poor saps who bought their drives have to suffer.
  • 2 Hide
    JohnMD1022 , April 2, 2010 11:43 AM
    When reviewing products where the vendor is not a drive manufacturer, you really should specify the brand of the HD that is actually in the product.

    I bought 2 LaCie drives, a 320 and a 500. The 500 failed in short order. It had a Seagate drive in it.

    LaCie tech support was a PITA. I won't buy their products again.

    I have seen far too many bad Seagate drives. The 5 year warranty means nothing, since they replace a drive with the same junk.
  • 0 Hide
    dimitrik , April 2, 2010 11:54 AM
    JohnMD1022I have seen far too many bad Seagate drives. The 5 year warranty means nothing, since they replace a drive with the same junk.


    Just a side note that Seagate no longer do a 5 year warranty, only a 3 year like all other manufacturers. 5 years is only offered on enterprise class models.
  • -2 Hide
    lolsir , April 2, 2010 12:26 PM
    I just can't stand usb 2.0 any more..i want usb 3 and only usb 3
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , April 2, 2010 5:09 PM
    I agree with dimitrik that reliability is a more important factor than performance when it comes to portable drives.

    @JohnMD1022:
    Seagate's 7200.xx are very reliable, and I have not had a problem with them for several years.

    @dimitrik:
    If you look at the data sheet for the FreeAgent Go, it says in large letters that it has a 5-year limited warranty:

    http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/external/freeagent/freeagent_go/
  • 1 Hide
    dimitrik , April 2, 2010 5:12 PM
    needs2Breliable@dimitrik:If you look at the data sheet for the FreeAgent Go, it says in large letters that it has a 5-year limited warranty:http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/p [...] eagent_go/


    Oops, sorry I was thinking of the desktop drives, you're right!
  • 0 Hide
    lord cobol , April 2, 2010 7:13 PM
    I needed something pocket-able for off-site backups. My specific backup job runs more than 10x faster on 250gb 1.8-inch usb2 Samsung drives than on the 32gb thumb drives I used before. And so far the 3 Samsungs have been 100% reliable -- one of the thumb 2 drives flaked-out after a lot less usage than the Samsungs have had so far. So for my needs, just no contest.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 2, 2010 7:23 PM
    @dimitrik:
    Sorry to contradict you again, but if you look at the product pages for Seagate's internal hard drives (both Barracuda and Momentus,) you will see that they also have 5-year warranties.
  • 0 Hide
    dimitrik , April 2, 2010 9:31 PM
    5yrWarranty@dimitrik:Sorry to contradict you again, but if you look at the product pages for Seagate's internal hard drives (both Barracuda and Momentus,) you will see that they also have 5-year warranties.


    Not so, the warranties were shortened to 3 years on Jan '09. Only products purchased prior carry the 5 year warranty. There may be a few products out there that still have it such as external drives and of course the enterprise class models e.g. ES series but the majority of desktop products are now 3 years. Google "seagate lowers warranty to 3 years" or simply try to find an internal drive with a 5 year one:) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 2, 2010 10:32 PM
    According to Seagate's warranty statements, the 3-year non-enterprise warranty only applies to OEM products:

    http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/support/warranty_&_returns_assistance/

    If you purchase a retail kit, you get a 5-year warranty:

    http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/internal-storage/barracuda-5900-kit/
    http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/internal-storage/barracuda-7200-kit/
    http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/internal-storage/momentus-7200-kit/
    http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/internal-storage/momentus-5400-kit/

    "Key Features and Benefits: Five-year warranty"
  • 0 Hide
    dimitrik , April 3, 2010 12:17 AM
    Well, if you say so. I have not seen any such seagate product on sale anywhere recently but they must be available somewhere. If you find one let me know. I just checked newegg out of curiosity and not one of the desktop class drives has a 5 years warranty. So I think the point applies for the vast majority of users. Since it's not really relevant to this review, I'm dropping it.
  • 0 Hide
    paravorheim327 , April 3, 2010 9:50 PM
    The WD Passport Essential SE is 149.99 USD, not 249.99
  • 0 Hide
    zybch , April 4, 2010 3:13 AM
    paravorheim327The WD Passport Essential SE is 149.99 USD, not 249.99


    Still WAY too much for a device that will disconnect if an ant touches the cable with its antennae.
  • 0 Hide
    trifler , April 4, 2010 11:26 AM
    Why waste money on a USB 2.0 external hard drive? USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and doesn't cost much more, if any.
  • 0 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , April 4, 2010 1:03 PM
    "Intel, certainly one of the standard's key driving forces, has been quiet about USB 3.0, and there remains a chance that the next chipset generation won’t include this interface natively."

    If that turns out to be true, the widespread adoption of the USB 3.0 standard is going to take longer.
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