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USB 3.0 allows external hard drives to realize their performance potential. Each of the three external USB 3.0-based 2.5” disks we're reviewing also excels in some other discipline. We study these specialties up close: speed, capacity, and durability.
Even in this day and age of blazing-fast SSDs and inexpensive Blu-ray burners, external hard disks remain the top choice for blending mobility, capacity, and performance. There is no way for conventional magnetic storage to outperform solid-state storage, and optical storage is just so much less convenient. So, yeah, mobile hard drives are a lot slower than SSDs and, in many ways, they're less robust than Blu-ray discs. However, they do offer other advantages like comparatively high capacities at lower and the built-in compatibility associated with USB. Just plug them into any semi-modern PC or Mac, and their respective operating systems automatically load the requisite drivers.
External 2.5" disks are perceived as small and light-weight, though they give up a lot of space compared to 3.5" models. But smaller drives offer several advantages that help even the playing field a bit. Aside from their pocket-friendly size, many 2.5" drives are able to draw all of the power they need through the USB interface. Say farewell to bulky wall warts and black bricks.
Fortunately, 2.5" drives have evolved tremendously, picking up capacity along the way. They can't yet match the multiple terabytes crammed into 3.5" disks. However, one of the models we're reviewing packs in an enormous 2 TB, which is half of the capacity of the largest 3.5" external drive. Moreover, it does this in less than one-quarter of the 3.5" solution's volume. The other two contenders on our bench both weigh in with 750 GB, which is a little more typical in the 2.5" space.
Where 2.5" drives really do fall short, however, are in performance benchmarks. Even complemented by identical USB 3.0 controllers, 2.5” disks are slower than the 3.5" options out there due to the physics of angular velocity and how it affects the amount of data passing under the heads. But as we've shown in the past, the fastest 2.5" models achieve up to 80 MB/s or so, serving up enough sequential throughput for everyday use. Not all drives are created equal, though, and for good reason: the road warrior who needs to transport lots of data needs a storage device that behaves differently than a network admin's super-fast backup target.
We rounded up three external drives geared toward different types of users, and we want to know how they perform both in synthetic and real-world tests. Adata's DashDrive Durable HD710, Hitachi's Touro Mobile Pro, and Western Digital's My Passport are all on our test bed and ready to go.