by Aleksey Meyev
07/05/2007 | 11:14 AM
As computer-related devices are progressing more and more, many of us now have a mobile hard disk in our pocket that can keep as much data as you need for an entry-level or even better PC. It has even become a necessity since designers, folks from IT departments and people who work with images or video files often find the capacity of flash drives not sufficient for their needs.
3.5” external enclosures used to be the only solution for such users, but now the manufacturers are offering mobile 2.5” hard disk drives which storage capacity has already exceeded the psychologically important 100GB mark. “Compact, but capacious” is the marketing slogan for devices of this form-factor.
One of them, the 120GB Handy Drive from Fujitsu, is going to be discussed in this review.
The size of the package is somewhat alarming as it could have easily accommodated a 3.5” drive. Fujitsu just took care that the drive came to you undamaged. The device is surrounded with packaging cardboard and there are shock-absorbing cardboard partitions on every side between the drive and the external box.
The drive itself doesn’t try to impress you with its looks. It is a simple gray box the size of a cigarette case and weighing 200g. The metallic container with a manufacturer logo on the top panel has a rough surface and gets less soiled with use than glossy-surfaces models. As least you won’t see your fingerprints on this case unless you’ve just been dismantling a petrol engine.
The front and rear panels of the container are fastened to the sides by means of screws. The set of connectors is surprisingly scanty because there is actually only one connector here. It is a mini-USB located at the rear panel near a LED indicator of operation mode. There is no additional power connector although you can spot a hole for it, covered with a sticker that is the same color as the case. This may be regarded as a drawback but the 4200rpm hard disk installed into the Handy Drive requires so little power that you are unlikely to find a computer that wouldn’t provide the necessary current via the USB. We had no power-related problems during our tests. By the way, you can’t learn the power consumption of the device in its specifications, but the specs of the Fujitsu MHV2120AT installed into this Handy Drive say that it has a peak consumption of 4.5W when spinning up its platters and needs a mere 1.6W in other operation modes. And if you open the 280-page description of the HDD, you can also learn that its operating temperature range is 5 to 60°C and its MTBF is 300,000 hours. You can also find a description of all disk interface commands there if you want to know them.
The included accessories are modest and typical: a USB cord, a user manual, a pouch, and a CD with an electronic copy of the user manual in PDF format, Windows 98 drivers and a disk formatting utility. The pouch has a special compartment for the interface cord but lacks a strap to be attached to your belt or wrist.
That’s about all we wanted to tell you about this device prior to testing it. We will compare it with other 120GB models: a HD-227FW and U2 with FireWire and USB interfaces, respectively, a Transcend StoreJet, and a Western Digital Passport. You can learn more about these drives in our earlier review called 2.5-Inch External Hard Drives with 120GB Storage Capacity. Take note that the opponent devices are based on 5400rpm HDDs whereas the Fujitsu Handy Drive has a 4200rpm disk, slower but more economical (which is important for notebook owners). So, we’ll have a chance to see if the difference in the spindle rotation speed means anything for mobile hard disk drives.
The following testing utilities were used:
We installed the generic OS drivers for the drives and formatted them in FAT32 and NTFS as one partition with the default cluster size. For some tests 32GB partitions were created and formatted in FAT32 and NTFS with the default cluster size, too.
IOMeter is sending a stream of read and write requests with a request queue depth of 4. The size of the requested data block is changed each minute, so that we could see how the drive’s sequential read/write speed depends on the size of the data block. This test is highly important for mobile storage devices as it emulates their most frequent operation mode.
The Fujitsu Handy Drive performs well in the sequential read test. Among the USB-interfaced models it is a little slower than the WD Passport on small data blocks and, after a minor slump on 32KB blocks, takes the lead on 64KB and larger data blocks, delivering a speed of over 30MB/s.
The Fujitsu looks worse at sequential writing. The results of the WD Passport, not to mention the HD-227FW with a FireWire interface, are much higher while the Fujitsu performs exactly like the other, slower, drives.
In the Database pattern the HDD is processing a stream of requests to read and write 8KB random-address data blocks. The ratio of read to write requests is changing from 0% to 100% throughout the test.
We built three diagrams for different request queue depths to illustrate performance of the HDDs in this test: for 1, 16 and 256 outstanding requests.
The WD Passport fails this test completely. The Handy Drive isn’t that poor overall, but is lagging behind the others at 100% read requests. As the percentage of writes is growing up, the Fujitsu finds itself bringing up the rear of the group of HDDs with similar speeds.
Nothing changes much when the request queue becomes 16 requests long. The HD-227U2 is in the lead, and the Passport is the outsider. The Fujitsu is the second worst again.
It’s somewhat different at a 256-request-long queue. The Western Digital still cannot catch up with the others, but the Transcend has a performance slump at 20% write requests and then gains the lead at 100% writes. The Handy Drive is the second worst until 80% writes but then makes a rush for the second best at 100% writes.
These patterns simulate the load typical of the disk subsystem of File and Web servers. The drive’s performance rating is calculated in this test by averaging its speed at request queue depths of 1, 4, 16 and 64.
The File-Server pattern comes first:
The HDDs are ranked like in the Database pattern at a request queue depth of 1: the HD-227U2 is the winner and the Passport is the loser. The Handy Drive is fourth but close behind the StoreJet.
The Fujitsu finds itself behind its opponents in the Web-Server pattern. It is slower at every request queue depth as you can learn from the table. Well, perhaps it doesn’t suit for hosting a web-sever, but there can’t be many users who have this application in mind for their external HDD. More importantly, this test indicates that the Fujitsu works poorly with multiple requests to read and write small data blocks. We’ll check this out in other tests shortly.
The Workstation pattern simulates a typical workstation load at request queue depths up to 32. This test is performed on the full capacity of the HDDs as well as on a 32GB partition created on them.
To calculate the overall performance rating of a HDD in this test, we use the following formula:
Performance = Total I/O (queue=1)/1 + Total I/O (queue=2)/2 + Total I/O (queue=4)/4 + Total I/O (queue=8)/8 + Total I/O (queue=16)/16 + Total I/O (queue=32)/32
When the entire capacity of the HDD is in use, the HD-227U2 is the leader and the Passport is the loser. The Handy Drive is fourth, yet its overall score is close to the StoreJet’s.
There are no great changes as we reduce the address space to 32GB. The order of the HDDs hasn’t changed and the Fujitsu is fourth still.
The multi-threaded tests simulate a situation when there are from one to four clients accessing the hard disk at the same time. The depth of the outgoing request queue is varied from 1 to 8. We’ll discuss diagrams for a request queue of 1 as most representative of real-life operation modes.
This is quite different from what we’ve seen in the previous tests. When reading a single thread with a request queue depth of 1 the Handy Drive takes second place, being only slower than the FireWire-interfaced HDD. The distribution of positions in this pattern is identical to the results of sequential reading of large data blocks. The Western Digital is superior when processing more than one data thread while the Fujitsu slows down under such load, even though not as heavily as the FireWire-interfaced drive does. As a result, the Fujitsu takes third place at four data threads.
It’s also interesting with multi-threaded writing: the WD Passport wins the single thread test but sinks to last place when there are more threads to be processed, and the HD-227FW takes the lead. The Fujitsu is the slowest of all at processing a single thread and only faster than the Passport in the other cases.
First, you can have a look at the data-transfer diagrams of the drives:
Fujitsu Handy Drive
Western Digital Passport
The Fujitsu surpasses the other USB-interfaced drives at the beginning of the disk, reaching 32MB/s and being only slower than the FireWire-interfaced model. This indicates a good and fast USB-ATA adapter. However, the horizontal stretch of the graph is short and the Fujitsu is slower than the other USB models from the 40GB mark due to its lower spindle rotation speed.
And now we will run WinBench 99 on a 32GB partition created on the drives and formatted in FAT32.
The Fujitsu is the slowest of all in High-End Disk Winmark, scoring 2000 points less than the leader Transcend StoreJet. But then the Handy Drive takes fourth place in Business Disk Winmark, outperforming the HD-227FW.
It’s somewhat different in NTFS: the HD-227U2 takes the lead while the Fujitsu takes fourth place in both tests, leaving behind the FireWire-interfaced HD-227FW that performs poorly here. The latter did well in IOMeter, but doesn’t look good in the practical test.
Let’s examine the data-transfer speeds now.
As was to be expected from the data-transfer diagrams, the Fujitsu shows a high speed at the beginning of the disk, second after the HD-227FW, but its end-of-the-disk speed is too low in comparison with the others.
The access time is poor as you might have expected from a 4200rpm HDD. The Fujitsu is slower than its faster opponents by 1.5 seconds and more. It is the poor access time that explains the low results of the Fujitsu Handy Drive in synthetic benchmarks.
Now we will check performance of the hard disk drives with the FC-Test program. Two 32GB partitions are created on the drives and formatted in NTFS and then in FAT32. After that a file-set is created of the hard disk. It is then read from the disk, copied within the same partition and then copied into another partition. The time taken to perform these operations is measured and the speed of the drive is calculated.
To remind you, the Windows and Programs file-sets consist of a large number of small files whereas the other three patterns (ISO, MP3, and Install) include a few large files each.
We’ll discuss the FAT32 results first.
The Fujitsu is on the losing side in this test, taking last place in every file-set. Creating (i.e. writing) files is not its strong point.
The Fujitsu does much better at reading: its high read speed at the beginning of the disk shows up here. It equals the Transcend in four file-sets, being only slower than the FireWire model (and also slower than the Western Digital in the ISO file-set).
The low write speed of the Handy Drive drags it down to last place in the Copy Near test. Top place goes to the FireWire-interface model which enjoys revenge for the defeat in WinBench 99.
The Copy Far results are no different from the Copy Near ones: the same leaders and the same losers.
Now, let’s see how the HDDs perform in the same tests when formatted in NTFS.
The HD-227U2 outperforms its FireWire-interface brother thanks to the change of the file system. The Fujitsu is indifferent to the file system type: it is still the slowest device with every file-set.
The read test in NTFS produces the same results as in FAT32: the Fujitsu is as fast as the Transcend and both are outperformed by the Western Digital in the ISO file-set. The FireWire-interfaced drive is in the lead again.
The HDDs take the same places in the Copy Near test. The Fujitsu is the slowest of them while the HD-227FW is the leader. Its brother HD-227U2 outperforms it on small files, though.
The change of the file system does not affect the standings of the HDDs in the Copy Far test.
The effective bandwidth of the USB interface proves to be a bottleneck for 2.5” hard disk drives with a spindle rotation speed of 5400rpm, but it is not for 4200rpm drives. Our tests of the Fujitsu Handy Drive show that performance of 4200rpm drives is largely determined by their own capabilities rather than by the interface. The 1200rpm difference in the rotation speed is easy to see and the slower HDDs deliver lower performance indeed.
So, if you need the highest possible sequential read/write speed, you should find an external enclosure with a FireWire or eSATA interface and install a 7200rpm HDD into it (7200rpm drives of 2.5” form-factor are already available in shops). Keep it in mind that this interface has minor problems with small files and multiple threads, yet these problems are not as big as to make you worry about them.
But if you are looking for a large-capacity external HDD with low power consumption and low price from a renowned brand, and its speed characteristics are not very important, you may want to consider the Fujitsu Handy Drive as a possible buy.