USB 3.0: The New Speed Limit

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Buffalo DriveStation USB 3.0 HD-HXU3

With its sensuously curved case and jet black finish, Buffalo's DriveStation USB 3.0 HD-HXU3 is not only stylish, it's a reliable place to stash your data.

The 1.5TB version of DriveStation ($175-$200 retail) consists of a 3.5-in. SATA drive with 1.36TB available for use. Buffalo also sells a 1TB drive for $131-$168 (retail) and a 2TB model for $244-$280 (retail).

Like the StarTech dock, the drive comes with an AC adapter. It set itself up automatically on the first try, without any additional software. I really liked its LED activity light, which glows blue for USB 3.0 and green for USB 2.0.

It also comes with a number of utilities, including Memeo backup software, a disk formatting application and a power conservation application. Throughout the testing, the DriveStation stayed cool and silent. At times, it was so quiet that I was hard-pressed to tell it was running, even while data was being transferred.

Test results

Unlike the Seagate and StarTech devices, the DriveStation did not come with a controller card (and Buffalo doesn't offer one separately). I connected the DriveStation to the Fujitsu laptop using the ExpressCards from Seagate and StarTech, and directly to the Lenovo ThinkPad W510.

When the DriveStation was plugged directly into the ThinkPad's USB 3.0 port, it had a DiskMark score of 319.9, compared with a score of 115.2 when connected to a USB 2.0 port.

The DriveStation had the best Random Read-Write speed, at 27.4Mbit/sec., which translates into sustained back-and-forth data transfers. It also did exceedingly well on Sequential Writes when paired with the StarTech card, and Sequential Reads when connected to the ThinkPad W510.

Its speed when moving the 8.45GB folder of files was in the middle range of our tested devices, with average read and write speeds of 350.2Mbit/sec. and 339.9Mbit/sec., roughly double the results when doing the same task with USB 2.0.

Bottom line

I like the way the Buffalo DriveStation looks on my desk and that it's significantly faster than USB 2.0 devices. Interestingly, the DriveStation was slower than the Seagate mobile drive on most tests involving the USB 3.0 ExpressCards; on the other hand, it did slightly better than the Seagate when plugged directly into the USB 3.0-equipped ThinkPad.

Seagate BlackArmor PS 110 USB 3.0 Performance Kit

Seagate's BlackArmor PS 110 USB 3.0 Performance Kit ($180) can make mobile data move a lot faster. Small enough to go where you go, the 500GB portable drive is a convenient way to carry around your files and/or backups.

At 0.5 by 3.2 by 5.1 in. and weighing 6.2 oz., the PS 110 is about the same size as other portable drives, such as Western Digital's My Passport Essential drive. Inside is a 2.5-in. SATA drive that spins at 7,200rpm and yields 465GB of usable space.

The BlackArmor kit includes its own ExpressCard adapter so that you can enjoy USB 3.0 speeds on a USB 2.0 laptop; the card offers a single USB 3.0 connector (not quite as convenient as the StarTech card, which gives you a pair of USB 3.0 slots). It also requires a second USB connection on the host computer to power the drive.

The BlackArmor drive installed its drivers automatically when I plugged the unit into the computers. The ExpressCard adapter also set itself up without any problems and connected with both the USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 devices neatly.

The drive comes with Seagate's BlackArmor backup program and 256-bit AES encryption software for scrambling your files so only you can read them. When data is being transferred onto or off of the drive, its LED glows blue; however, unlike the DriveStation, the BlackArmor drive doesn't indicate whether you're running it as a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 device.

Unlike the other two drives tested here, which use a full-sized USB 3.0 plug, the BlackArmor uses a Micro USB 3.0 plug. In my testing, the drive worked dependably with the StarTech and Seagate ExpressCard adapters and with the ThinkPad W510.

Test results

With the drive plugged directly into the ThinkPad's USB 3.0 port, the BlackArmor had a DiskMark score of 275.4, just a bit slower than both the Buffalo DriveStation and the StarTech Dock with the Western Digital drive. However, it sped ahead when connected to the StarTech USB 3.0 ExpressCard with a score of 432.9, the highest DiskMark score in these tests.

The drive's Sequential Read and Write scores were also the fastest of the group, with 466Mbit and 468Mbit/sec. of throughput respectively, about three times the speed it delivers with USB 2.0.

On the downside, it was the slowest of our three test drives when it came to reading and writing the 8.45GB folder of assorted files, with speeds of 287.6Mbit and 207.4Mbit/sec.

Bottom line

At $180 (direct) for 500GB, including an ExpressCard adapter, the BlackArmor PS 110 is a good buy that can open up the benefits of USB 3.0 for those who are on the go or on a budget.

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