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Buffalo MiniStation Lite USB 3.0 Hard Drive

By on May 16, 2010
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USB 3.0 will become the standard in a few months and we look at how speedy it is.

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The Verdict:
USB 3.0 is the way forward and Buffalo's MiniStationLite offers good performance at a decent price.

The original USB specification was introduced in 1996, however, it wasn’t until two years later and v1.1 that it became a widely accepted standard. Its speed was 12Mbps which was good enough for its time but slowly and gradually, USB drives and peripherals started gaining market share and along with the introduction of Firewire, USB suddenly felt ultra-slow. Thus, USB2 was released in 2001 increasing the speed of USB to a whopping forty times at 480Mbps.

Its time to revise this standard as well as you must have seen the limitations of bandwidth that USB2.0 offers in our Flash and Hard Drive tests of late that pretty much saturate the bus. Although USB 3.0 doesn’t offer a fortyfold speed increase from USB 2.0, it still offers a pretty decent jump at ten times the speed of the bus its succeeding. At 4.8Gbps or approximately 570 MB/s, USB 3.0 should satisfy most of the peripherals connected to it.

Now just like the original USB and USB 2.0, you’ll have to wait for a while if you want it supported natively by your chipset. Until that time, if you want to enjoy USB 3.0 speeds, you will need to get an add-on card for your computer or look for a Notebook/Desktop that offers this through an additional onboard controller. Buffalo was kind enough to send us their PCI Express based USB 3.0 add-on card for the desktop along with their 2.5” portable hard drive that is also USB 3.0 based.

Installing the Buffalo USB 3.0 PCI Express Interface Card was as easy as opening the chassis of your desktop PC, finding an empty PCI Express slot and connecting the four pin power adapter included in the package. Buffalo bundles a low profile backplate if you have a slim PC. Once the card was inside the computer, you simply pop-in the included CD to install the drivers and you’re all set.

The Buffalo MiniStation Lite USB 3.0 hard drive comes in a glossy black finish and looks very much like a standard USB hard drive except that the USB port looks a bit different. The new SATA 3.0 specification calls for a new connector which is a bit flatter but wider than the old connector. The other side of the connector is a standard flat USB connector so you don’t have to worry about backward compatibility- all USB 3.0 drives should work with USB 2.0 at the lower speed of USB 2.0.

With our testbed all set, we brought in the MiniStation Lite USB 3.0 Portable hard drive but first, we thought we’d benchmark it using a built-in USB 2.0 port on our desktop. The following is thr result of data throughput using a USB 2.0 interface for this drive.

Its seems pretty clear from the graph above that the MiniStation is saturating the USB port with a constant throughput of about 35 MB/s. Next, we powered this drive on the USB 3.0 plug on the Buffalo and here is what it looks like.

As you can see, there is a pretty big jump in the performance under USB 3.0 with the graph starting at 70 MB/s which is double of what you got from USB 2.0 and finishing off at around 35 MB/s. The Average Read performance for this drive under USB 3.0 was 54 MB/s which is a lot higher than 34 MB/s under USB 2.0

For those of you wondering how USB 3.0 compares to your internal SATA drive, well, there is still room for improvement. Here is an HD Tach screenshot for a pretty standard 250GB 7200 RPM internal SATA drive.

As you can see, USB 3.0 is not out to replace your internal hard drive but it offers a pretty decent throughput for external hard drives moving forward. I would be particularly interested in testing Solid State and Flash drives when they come our as there is a good possibility of them saturating the USB 3.0 bus.

But if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, the traditional mechanical hard drives will continue to lead that segment. The Buffalo MiniStation Lite USB 3.0 drive will cost you around US$160 (AED 590) for the 500GB version and $199 (AED 730) for the 640GB version.


About

Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of tbreak.com and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

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