by Tom Streeter

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt Review

The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt/USB portable HDD is a relatively inexpensive way of carrying a lot of data in a small package without having to worry too much about how you're going to connect it to your computer. It was previewed last summer and is clearly aimed at Mac notebook users with its styling, the fact that it's formatted with HFS+ by default and the inclusion of the Mac-centric Thunderbolt interface. The drive retails for $209, though street prices are closer to $180.

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt/USB Portable HDD Specifications

  • Capacity:
    • 500GB (HD-PA500TU3-US)
    • 1TB (HD-PA1.0TU3-US)
  • Thunderbolt Interface: x1
  • USB Interface: x1 USB3.0
  • Dimensions (W x D x H): 3.2 x 5.1 x 0.9 in. / 80.5 x 130 x 22.5mm
  • Weight: 9.17 oz. / 260g
  • Power Supply: DC 5 V (Bus-powered)

Design and Build

The drive's design is taken directly from the minimalist playbook with the rounded corners and curved edges favored by Apple. The top is an uninterrupted white, while the sides and bottom are a metallic silver color with the Buffalo's name tastefully stenciled along one edge. The enclosure itself is heavy plastic made to resemble metal and has a texture that's easy to grip. The plastic feels substantial and the unit's weight feels appropriate to its size. The only interruptions around the edge of the enclosure are the Thunderbolt and USB3.0 ports along the back. The edges curve seamlessly into the bottom of the unit. A white activity light is positioned at the front in such a way that it's only visible as a reflection on whatever surface the drive is sitting. The bottom of the drive features two rubber strips that are curved to match the radius of the corners, extending the styling to a part of the drive that's not supposed to be seen in everyday use.

The drive is bus-powered and has no option for a separate power supply. When plugged in there's a small, but discernible vibration from the spinning mechanism. The enclosure gets warm to the touch after extended use, though it's in no way uncomfortable. It's difficult to hear the drive spinning unless you hold the unit to your ear.

One of the attractions of the Thunderbolt interface is that it's possible to daisy-chain units together. There's only a single Thunderbolt port on this drive, so it has to be the last device in a chain. Since this is a portable drive that's a safe assumption, but it's something to keep in mind if you want to use this drive with another device (like a monitor) that also expects to be the last chained device.

Performance

The hard drive mechanism in the unit we tested is a Seagate Samsung ST500LM012 HN-M500MBB. That's a 5400RPM 2.5" drive with an 8MB cache. We tested the unit using the PC consumer testing platform using IOMeter over USB3.0. The drive registered 115.1MB/s on both the sequential read and write tests. The large-block random access speeds measured 46.3MB/s for reads and 49.1MB/s for writes. These speeds won't stress either the Thunderbolt or USB3.0 interfaces, but they're quite respectable for everyday use.

Conclusion

The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt/USB is is a low-cost physically attractive middle-of-the-road drive that features both state-of-the-art peripheral interfaces. Format the drive as an NTFS volume and it makes for a good drive for passing large files between Macs and PCs. The drive's speeds are technically within the bounds of what's necessary to support video editing applications, but it's not really suited to more than occasional use. It's a perfectly good choice to transport or archive large video files, however, or for other backup or archiving tasks.

Pros

  • Pricing
  • Styling, especially for Mac users
  • Everyday portability and cross-OS capable

Cons

  • Single Thunderbolt interface complicates daisy-chaining
  • Thunderbolt and USB3.0 interface overkill for drive speed 

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt at Amazon.com

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