Newer Portable Hard Drives are Faster, More Reliable

Category: Hardware Published on Friday, 18 April 2014

The world of hard drives is becoming more complicated as we become more efficient in tech and our need for speed becomes more prevalent. In fact, you may need to carry a tech dictionary in your briefcase to help you find the perfect drive for your computer.

With this in mind we took a look at new drives from Apricorn and G-Technology and a docking station from StarTech that will allow you to mix and match the various drive types.

But, first, let's define a couple of terms you may run across in your quest.

Solid State Drives (SSD) use flash memory (the same as found on USB memory sticks) to store data and, unlike conventional hard drives you can hear whir and spin, they have no moving parts. This means they'll last longer and are "faster" than those older drives. Although there's a tremendous upside to owning one of these drives, the downside is their cost per megabyte. They tend to be a lot more expensive than their older brethren, hence you often find them offering less storage space (ie: 256 GB versus one TB) at higher prices.

Thunderbolt Technology is a high-speed connection for hard drives, monitors and other peripherals. Unlike Firewire and USB, you can daisy-chain Thunderbolt devices. It's also a lot faster than USB 3.0 (five GB per second) and eSATA (six GB per second) topping out at a data transfer rate of 10 gigabits per second.

The Apricorn Aegis Portable 3.0 varies in price with standard hard drive prices ranging from $79 for 500 GB to $189 for 1.5 TB and SSD prices at $279 for 258 GB and $529 for 512 GB (more than four times more expensive than it's HDD counterpart). The one we played with was the 258 GB SSD.

This drive is fast! The USB 3.0 interface plus the solid state technology combine to give you data speeds of up to 360 MB per second, versus 100 MB per second for a standard hard drive using USB 3.0. We won't even go into the difference between this drive and older USB 2.0 hard drives (it's too embarrassing).

We used the drive with a standard HP desktop computer and a Samsung laptop and were amazed by how easy it was to set up. Because it's bus powered, all we had to do was attach the cable to a USB port and we were up and running.

Other key features include:

The G-Drive Mobile with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 ($200) from G-Technology gives you the choice of high-speed interfaces.

We played with their one TB drive and discovered that the data speeds were the same for both interfaces, so you really don't lose any speed using either USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt cables. Puzzled by this (the Thunderbolt interface should have delivered twice the data rate of USB 3.0), we did a bit of research and discovered that combining Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 interfaces actually reduces the data rates for Thunderbolt, because you are only using two channels to transfer data instead of four (which is the Thunderbolt standard).

Like the Apricorn, the drive was extremely easy to use (technically plug and play). It was a bit slower than the Apricorn SSD, but that's to be expected from a standard hard drive. It's also a 7200 RPM hard drive, which accounts for its faster data speed than the Apricorn HHD, but at twice the price.

The only downside we could find with the G-Drive Mobile was that it only has one Thunderbolt port, eliminating the ability to daisy chain Thunderbolt devices.

Other features include:

The new Thunderbolt Hard Drive Enclosure ($326.99) from StarTech allows you to hook two standard or solid state hard drives using SATA or eSATA interfaces to a Thunderbolt interface, thus taking advantage of the higher data transfer rate of up to 10 GB per second.

We tested it with older HDDs and a couple of SSDs just out of the box. Basically, it was like we had given the older drives adrenalin shots.

Other features include:

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