by Andrey Kuznetcov
03/09/2005 | 04:44 PM
Last June Seagate made some really impressive progress having announced 12 new products at a time. The echo from that announcement is still wandering around the market getting materialized in actual products.
Today we would like to introduce to you a very illustrative representative of a new external hard disk drive family from Seagate: a USB 2.0 Portable External hard Disk Drive. The product line for this family includes models ranging from 40GB to 100GB storage capacity (these solutions are based on Momentus HDDs).
USB 2.0 Portable Hard Disk Drives occupy a sort of intermediate niche between two solutions we have reviewed earlier from both – physical dimensions and storage capacity points of view. These solutions are: USB 2.0 Pocket hard drives (see our article called Seagate ST650211USB: External Hard Disk Drive to Fit into Your Pocket) and USB/FireWire hard drives (for details see our article called Seagate External 200GB Hard Disk Drive Review).
The case of this portable storage device is made of aluminum alloy and is painted with attractive black and gray colors. The specific design of the device prevents the internal 2.5” hard disk drive from any external physical damage. The relatively small size and rounded shape of the case corners make it very convenient for carrying around in the jacket pocket. There are ventilation slits along both sides of the case, which look like some decorative ornament at first glance. At the back panel of the drive there is a USB 2.0 port.
The hard disk drive we got hold of boasted 100GB storage capacity. The solution was based on ST9100823A HDD and featured an 8MB buffer. The spindle rotation speed equals 5,400rpm. The drives can resist up to 5,000G of non-operating shock. Another essential peculiarity of this device is its extremely quiet operation: it produces only 23dB of noise, which is comparable to a quiet whisper, according to the manufacturer. This low noise level is mostly achieved due to SonicSoft motor used in the device designed on fluid-dynamic bearings.
The drive’s size is 25mm x 94mm x 127mm and it weighs 292g. The drive supports USB 2.0 interface, which makes its theoretically capable of transferring data at up to 60MB/s. It also belongs to the Plug’n’Play type of devices.
The accessories bundled with this drive include a USB cable, a quick installation guide and a CD disk with the software.
This storage solution is now selling for about $230 for a 100GB model, according to pricewatch.com.
We used the following software during our test session:
We ran all benchmarks on the following test platform:
For our tests we formatted the drive for FAT32 and NTFS file systems with the cluster of default size. Portable External hard Drive worked via the USB 2.0 port of the mainboard.
Since we haven’t yet tested any hard disk drives of the kind, we will be comparing the performance of our today’s hero with that of Seagate ST910023A. We posted a review of this drive not so long ago (please see our article called Seagate Momentus 5400.2 2.5” Hard Disk Drive Review). However, for that review we used an engineering sample of the drive. This might be the reason why we were not that much impressed with the results of the drive that time. For our today’s comparison we will have a retail Momentus 5400.2 HDD tested. And as you will see in just a little bit, the retail HDD has no performance issues any more. As well as our today’s hero: Seagate Portable External HDD. :)
The low-level Intel IOMeter benchmark was used to test the linear read and write speed of the drive. During the test session there is a stream of read/write requests sent to the drive with the queue depth=4. the data block size changes every minute. As a result we can see the dependence of the linear read/write speed on the adapt block size.
On the first graph you can see the read speed of the drives. We see that the portable hard drive is almost running at its maximum speed starting with 64KB data blocks. Its lag behind the ST910023A is pretty significant when the data blocks are relatively small and is less noticeable when we hit the above mentioned threshold. This situation is quite logical I should say, and the lower maximum read speed than what we have expected can easily be explained by the “smoothing effect” of the actual USB 2.0 interface bandwidth.
The second graph with the results obtained during linear write speed testing is somewhat similar to the previous one in terms of lower maximum speeds demonstrated by the portable drive starting from the 64KB data blocks. Again we see that there is a significant slow down of the portable drive when we process small data blocks.
We will start our discussion of the classical Winbench99 results from the read speed from the surface of the portable drive:
A pretty long horizontal line of the transfer indicates that the drive cannot use its entire potential speed because of the limitations imposed by the actual bandwidth of the USB 2.0 interface. It is the first time we see a maximum value of 34MB/s, the data transfer rate along USB 2.0 interface is usually just a little bit above 30MB. This way we should point out that Seagate drive uses the most efficient IDE-USB 2.0 controller of all external solutions we have already tested in our labs.
Let’s compare the performance of our testing participants in FAT32 file system. On the diagram below we see that the external solution is defeated by the standard drive in both major subtests: Business and High-End Disk WinMark.
When we switched to NTFS file system we saw a noticeable performance drop by both hard disk drives. The portable solution demonstrated the biggest performance reduction in Business Disk WinMark. Like in the previous case, Portable External hard Drive is considerably slower than the opponent.
Now let’s take a look at the practical performance of our today’s hero. As usual, we used FC-Test tool to check the actual performance of our drives in real applications. The results should be regarded as credible, because of the highly efficient algorithms used in this test set we developed for HDD testing. The main idea of FC-Test is to measure the time the hard disk drives need to create (write), read and copy different file sets, which differ from one another by the type, size and number of files. Then we calculate the practical; performance of the drive basing on the time measurements.
As you remember from our previous HDD reviews, Windows and Programs patterns include a large number of smaller files, and the remaining three patterns – ISO, MP3 and Install – work with a limited number of larger files. For copy operations each drive is formatted into two 32GB equal partitions. The patterns are copied either within the same partition or from one partition to another.
Let’s start with the results obtained in FAT32 file system. During file Creation (Writing) our hero fell quite far behind the regular drive in all patterns.
The next diagram shows the results for reading speeds of the tested drives. Again we see that the portable device is quite far behind the ST910023A in any of the five considered patterns.
File copying within the same partition doesn’t change anything. The external drive from Seagate again turns out slower than its internal fellow. It lost in all patterns.
The last diagram for FAT32 file system shows how fast the files can be copied from one partition to another. The portable drive again failed to win against its internal counterpart everywhere.
Now let’s see how the use of NTFS file system affects the performance of our testing participants. The first diagram offers the results during file creation (writing). Of course, if we compare these results with what we have just discussed for FAT32, we will still see the overall performance drop here, but it will not be as dramatic as in case of the FAT32 file system. Nevertheless, the external drive creates and writes files slower than the traditional HDD.
The file read speed diagram once again shows that the portable device is falling behind the internal hard drive in all five patterns.
File copying within a single partition makes the gap between the external and internal solution even bigger. The only exception is the MP3 pattern, when the performance difference between the two is not that dramatic any more.
The last diagram shows the file copy speed from one partition to another. The situation is very similar to what we have just seen in the previous case. The portable drive loses to its opponent in all five patterns. Again in MP3 pattern, the performance difference between the two is minimal.
I have to admit that the overall impression left by Seagate Portable Hard Drive was highly positive. The stylish and original case design distinguishes this drive from similar solutions designed by Seagate’s competitors. So, if you are a happy owner of Seagate Portable Hard Drive you will always feel special with a drive that no one else has. USB 2.0 interface allows you to connect the drive to any contemporary PC, and compact size of the solution makes it very easy to carry around with you every time you need some 100GB of storage space.
The performance measurements show that this drive is slower than Seagate ST910023A HDD. Of course, I have to confess that it was not a totally unexpected result. If the drive we tested is based on exactly the same model as the internal St910023A, then it appears absolutely clear that it could not be faster anyway. Additional bridge-chips which ensure proper data transfer between the HDD and the computer via the USB 2.0 interface are none other but an extra stage, which the traditional internal HDDs don’t have. No doubt that this additional stage slows down the overall device performance a little bit, so that it gets beaten by a standard ATA drive.
Our today’s comparison shows that the portable drive is slower than its internal analogue. Nevertheless, the performance of our today’s hero is quite high for a device of this type, so if you are planning to get one, you will not be disappointed.
Of course, the success of this product in the market will depend a lot on its retail price, because the competition here is going to become ever worse.