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Buffalo Drivestation HD-HXU3

Review USB 3.0 external drive beats eSATA speeds
Tue Mar 02 2010, 17:05
drivestation-usb3-side

Product: Buffalo Drivestation HD-HXU3
Website: http://www.buffalo-technology.com/hd-hxu3
System Specifications: 1.0TB, 1.5TB, 2.0TB, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, USB 1.1, Windows 7, Vista, XP, Mac OS X 10.4 or later
Price: £90


BUFFALO'S LATEST ADDITION to its external storage range has embraced new technology, this time around it's USB 3.0.

The Drivestation HD-HXU3 boasts a theoretical maxmium data transfer rate of 10 times that of USB 2.0, which reaches 480Mbps while USB 3.0 is clocked at 5Gbps, which is even faster than the 3Gbps rating of eSATA. Realistically the average transfer speeds are a far cry from what's possible on paper, although in our tests USB 3.0 leapt past USB 2.0 as expected.

Superspeed USB, as it's now known, is really what eSATA should have been if it had been more widely adopted in the industry. It was quite uncommon to see eSATA on netbooks and notebooks, and even on desktop PCs it wasn't as regular a fixture as we would have hoped. Only higher end computers, portable or otherwise, often ship with an external SATA port where really every computer could have benefited and not just elite models. In contrast, USB ports are everywhere, from netbooks to the all singing all dancing HP Envys of the world, which is where we first saw USB 3.0.

drivestation-usb3

The external drive itself comes in a rounded edged, tall black case that resembles the monolith from Stanley Kubrick's film 2001. Its dimensions of 1.8-inches thick, 6.8-inches high and 6.1-inches wide aren't too far off the size of the 3.5-inch SATA drive inside, so it's not all that bulky, all things considered. The case includes a fan for cooling, whilst the power supply is an external unit. Unfortunately the drive can only stand vertically and not horizontally, since the only black rubberised feet are on the base to prevent movement, so the HD-HXU3 tends to slide around if it's placed on its side.

The Buffalo external drive is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and 1.1, although it appears the US model might not be able to use the much older 1.1 standard, according to the website. Buffalo sheds some light to dispel any confusion about whether the drive is connected via USB 3.0 or USB 2.0, by including an LED at the top of the unit, which indicates what port standard it's attached to. The light turns green whenever the supplied USB 3.0 cable or a USB 2.0 cable is connected to anything other than a USB 3.0 port. The LED shows blue only when a USB 3.0 connection is present, helping one make sure to use the right cable for the correct port, thus relieving any connection woes the average user might encounter.

drivestation-usb3-side

There apparently is some back up software for the HD-HXU3 that caters for both PCs and Macs, although the disc was lost in transit en route to us so we weren't able to try this out as a result. Buffalo also includes some software for those who aren't blessed with a USB 3.0 connection on their computer, called TurboUSB. This speeds up transfer rates over USB 2.0, although it doesn't quite match USB 3.0.

A USB 3.0 cable is included as expected. The USB 3.0 cable has much larger connectors, for both type-a and type-b sockets. The same cable can be used for connecting to a regular USB 2.0 port, while a common type-b USB 2.0 cable can also be used for connecting the Drivestation to a computer but only at USB 2.0 speeds.

usb-type-male-type-male-printer-data-cable-blue-xs0011090902c

The drive tested came with 1 Terabyte of SATA based storage, although 1.5TB and 2TB models are also on offer. We're not sure which hard drive manufacturer Buffalo has chosen to use in the Drivestations, as the review unit was sealed up tight and inaccessible, which means that upgrading manually could be an issue, not to mention void the warranty *cough*.

For testing we used the only native USB 3.0 computer we had at our disposal, the HP Envy 15 we reviewed earlier this year. Buffalo does manufacture USB 3.0 cards, for both the laptop and the PC just in case choosing a Superspeed card seems daunting. The HP notebook connected to the drive with no trouble and the operating system recognised the external drive over both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 cables.

We tested the HD-HXU3 using the hard drive testing software HD Tune and HD Tach, along with a file copying test from the Drivestation to the hard disk in the notebook. The software drove the connection for all it was worth, highlighting the limits of USB 2.0 versus USB 3.0.

usb2-hdtune

usb3-hdtune

On HD Tune USB 3.0 saw a maximum speed of close to 135MBps, declining as expected to 71MBps due to the nature of a Sata HDD. USB 2.0 tests hit the connection bottleneck even though the hard drive was capable of faster results, where we saw only a maximum data transfer rate of 33MBps and a minimum of 30MBps. In the past testing eSATA equipment we've seen results of 120MBps maximum with 53MBps minimum, in our Dual eSATA HDD multi function dock review.

Similar results were obtained using HD Tach. Copying a DVD5 ISO image from the HD-HXU3 to the notebook took 40 seconds via USB 3.0 and over two minutes on USB 2.0. It's worth mentioning that USB 3.0 is full duplex and USB 2.0 is not, so this means the USB 3.0 speeds obtained could be the same in both directions and at the same time.

image-copy-usb2

image-copy-usb3

In Short
Superspeed USB 3.0 offers three times the transfer speeds of USB 2.0, at the same time trumping the seldom seen eSATA speeds as well. Buffalo has embraced this USB 3.0 technology early, becoming the first to have announced its product range and first to market as well. With a cost only slightly over the price of USB 2.0 products it makes sense to look at the HD-HXU3 over Buffalo's older kit. USB 3.0 is set to be the peripheral connectivity standard for some time to come, so choosing a Superspeed USB 3.0 external drive such as the Buffalo can enable you to future proof your external storage even if you are not quite at USB 3.0 just yet, as it will be on many new computers soon. µ

The Good
Three times the data transfer speeds of USB 2.0.

The Bad
Drive can only be used vertically, case can't easily be opened for user upgrades.

The Ugly
Some computers won't have Superspeed USB 3.0 built in, meaning a bit of extra kit may have to be purchased.

Bartender's Report
8/10

beer8

 

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