Last August I wrote a post and created a video showing the speed difference between USB 3 and Firewire 800 and while that was fine, what I realized was that the real bottleneck was the drive itself. I typically buy 1TB portable drives for on the road backup and emergency use. Until now all 1TB 2.5″ drives were only rated at 5400 rpm. In other words, slow! This means that the interfaces like Firewire 800, USB 3 and Thunderbolt really didn’t matter much if they all outpaced the speed of the drive itself. I bought a Buffalo Tech 1TB Thunderbolt/USB 3 portable drive. I couldn’t wait to see how “fast” this new drive would be? I was disappointed as it was no faster than my Firewire 800 or USB 3 drives. The problem wasn’t Thunderbolt or something that Buffalo Tech did wrong, the problem was that 1TB drives didn’t spin any faster than 5400 RPMs.
HGST shipped a 1TB 7200RPM Travelstar 2.5″ Drive!
I noticed that I was seeing NEW Drives from OWC and G-Tech that stated that the drives were 1TB 7200 RPMs. This meant that there had to be a NEW 7200 RPM 1TB internal drive that I wasn’t aware of. I did some research and found that HGST (a Western Digital company) had in fact shipped a 1TB 7200RPM 2.5″ drive.
Upgrading my existing drives
Rather than run out and buy a couple new drives, I decided that there was nothing wrong with my enclosures. I figured I could just buy the new bare drive and swap out the slower drive in the enclosures that I already owned. Great idea, but it really depends on the enclosure. Some enclosures are really easy to open and others aren’t. Almost in ALL cases you’re going to void your warranty on the original drive/enclosure.
It was clear that the Buffalo Ministation Thunderbolt/USB 3 enclosure was NEVER intended to be opened by the consumer. This is probably one of the hardest cases I’ve ever had to open. You pretty much have to “pry” it open to get to the drive and it won’t look pretty when you’re done. Not only is the case secured by internal tabs, but the internal drive tray is “glued” in place. That makes it even harder to open because the glue is fighting against you to. I was determined to swap this drive out and I wasn’t concerned about the cosmetic appearance of the case once I was done. If you want it to still look pretty, don’t try to open this case. You will leave pry marks no matter what.
On the other hand my Oyen Digital Firewire 800/USB 3 case opened up very easily by simply removing the screws on the bottom and sides of the drive. I swapped out the drive and it went back together just as easily.
The Speed Tests
As I suspected, the new 7200 RPM drive was MUCH FASTER than the 5400 RPM ones. There was still virtually no difference in speed between the Thunderbolt and USB 3 interfaces. This could be due to several factors, but in all cases both drive enclosures tested faster than they did with the slower drives.
The Bottom Line
Until SSD drives go up in capacity and come way down in price, these traditional hard drives are still going to be useful for backups and transporting large amounts of data. Now that this drive is out I expect all the drive manufacturers to start making it available in their enclosures. If you’re not a do-it-yourself kinda person, then I would either wait for the Buffalo Minstation to get an upgrade or I’d go with this G-Technology 1TB G-DRIVE mini Portable USB 3, Firewire 800 Drive. If all you need is USB 3, then you’re better off just ordering the bare HGST 1TB 7200 RPM drive and low cost portable enclosure like this one.