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Eight Portable Hard Drives Compared: USB 2.0 Lives On

Conclusion

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.

ManufacturerBrinellLaCieSamsungSamsung
ModelPurestorage Elegant SStarkS1S2
Model Number301891HX-SU025BAHX-MU064DA
Form Factor2.5"2.5"1.8"2.5"
Capacity500GB320GB250GB640GB
InterfaceUSB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0
ManufacturerSeagateToshibaWestern DigitalWiebetech
ModelFree Agent GoPortable Hard DriveMy Passport Essential SEToughTech XE Mini
Model NumberST906403FAD2E1-RKHDDR320E04EWWDBABM0010BBK-NESN
Form Factor2.5"2.5"2.5"2.5"
capacity640GB320GB1,000GB500GB
InterfaceUSB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0USB 2.0, 1394a, 1394b, eSATA