by Brian Beeler

Lenovo ThinkPad eSATA 500GB Secure Hard Drive Review (57Y4400)

The Lenovo ThinkPad brand may be synonymous with with well-built laptops, but Lenovo has a long series of computing products under the ThinkPad brand, including the secure eSATA 500GB external hard drive (57Y4400). By secure, Lenovo doesn't just mean standard password protection for the drive; they bring AES 256-bit encryption and an integrated 10-digit keypad to the drive, capable of recording a 16-digit password. 

Lenovo ThinkPad eSATA 500GB Secure Hard Drive

ThinkPad eSATA/USB 500GB Secure Hard Drive Specs:

  • Connectivity via either the USB or eSATA interface
  • All stored data is fully encrypted using the AES 256-bit security encryption algorithm
  • Real-time encryption with no read/write speed impact
  • Shock-mounted 500 GB 5400RPM hard drive
  • Integrated high quality metal dome switch keypad for entering an 8 to 16 digit password for 1 user ID and 1 administrator ID
  • 3-year warranty
  • Performance specifications
    • USB 2.0 - Reads up to 35 MBps, Writes up to 28 MBps
    • eSATA - Reads up to 50 MBps, Writes up to 48 MBps

Aesthetics

Lenovo ThinkPad eSATA 500GB Secure Hard Drive bottom

The ThinkPad Secure Hard Drive lives up to its name, and fits in perfectly with other products from the ever-popular business notebook line from Lenovo. The case is a sturdy black box with the same black, rubbery paint covering the entire thing. The buttons also share the same color and texture, although instead of being hard plastic, they are soft to the touch. The case feels rugged and durable in your hand, with the internals also being kept out of harm’s way. Lenovo shock mounts the internal circuit board and hard drive with a rubber bumper to help absorb impacts from an accidental drop.

Lenovo ThinkPad eSATA 500GB Secure Hard Drive side

One of the most interesting features (besides on-the-fly encryption) is the fact the ThinkPad Secure Hard Drive supports so many forms of data and power connections. You can power the drive through a dedicated 5v power cable, a single mini-USB connection, or even through the eSATA port. Lenovo was smart enough to include a combo eSATA/USB port on the drive itself, to take advantage of notebooks with the matching combo port. The supplied eSATA cable worked as intended, letting you power the drive and connect at native SATA speeds over a single cable.

Lenovo ThinkPad eSATA 500GB Secure Hard Drive ports

Security

The ThinkPad Secure Hard Drive supports AES 256-bit encryption through a clever pairing of a FDE (Full Disk Encryption) hard drive and a lock/unlock interface. The Lenovo supplied case allows the user to enter in a password to unlock the drive regardless of what system it is connected to, and tell the drive to decrypt its data. In our testing the drive worked with everything we plugged it into. This included Windows desktops and notebooks, a newer Apple MacBook Air, a Synology NAS, and a QNAP NAS. Basically anything that supports a USB hard drive will be compatible.

Outside of trying to crack the drive’s encryption, one simple method may exist for unlocking this drive without knowing the code. The rubberized black paint picked up marks from oily fingers and over time, buttons used frequently to enter a passcode would show up as bright and shiny versus clean and matte. One way to counteract this would be pick a passcode with repeating numbers to throw off any guessing, or rotate passwords regularly. 

While we didn’t exactly try to “hack the Gibson” to test the AES 256-bit encryption, we did take the hard drive out of the enclosure to see how it would interact with another computer in its locked state. Being a FDE-enabled drive, when locked it would just show up as an unformatted drive, until it was unlocked. No matter if you are transporting family photos, top secret government documents to sell to another country, or even important financial records, the ThinkPad Secure Hard Drive should keep your information safe.

Benchmarks

We were pleasantly surprised by the performance of the 500GB ThinkPad Secure Hard Drive, seeing absolutely no performance hit when it came to peak transfer speeds over USB 2.0 and eSATA. Generally whenever you add on another layer between the data source and your target, things drop in speed. This isn’t the case with FDE-compatible drives, which are able to handle all encryption and decryption on-the-fly.

Lenovo listed the peak sequential transfer speeds as 35MB/s read and 28MB/s write over USB 2.0 and 50MB/s read and 48MB/s write over eSATA. In our tests we pretty much matched those figures for USB, and far surpassed those claims for eSATA.

USB 2.0 IOMeter Results

  Read Write
2MB Sequential Transfer MB/s 34.6MB/s 25.9MB/s
2MB Random Transfer MB/s 26.4MB/s 25.0MB/s 
4K Random Transfer MB/s 0.20MB/s 0.49MB/s
4K Random Transfer IO 50.28 IOps 125.85 IOps
4K Write Latency 7.94ms  161.77ms 

eSATA IOMeter Results

  Read Write
2MB Sequential Transfer MB/s 87.0MB/s 74.0MB/s
2MB Random Transfer MB/s 42.9MB/s 32.5MB/s 
4K Random Transfer MB/s 0.19MB/s 0.51MB/s
4K Random Transfer IO 49.20 IOps 129.34 IOps
4K Write Latency 7.7ms  135.7ms 

Warranty

Lenovo offers a 3-year warranty on the ThinkPad Secure Hard Drive, although under normal conditions this drive is pretty well protected against daily abuse and should last quite a long time.

Conclusion

Lenovo made quite the storage device with the ThinkPad eSATA Secure Hard Drive. The design is based heavily on their ThinkPad family as the name implies, with two levels of data protection. On the passive side the drive is shock mounted inside t he enclosure to prevent drops from damaging the internals. In terms of active protection, Lenovo used an AES 256-bit FDE-enabled hard drive to encrypt and decrypt sensitive data. This helps give the user peace of mind knowing their data is safe from accidental damage or invasive searching. Users looking for high-transfer speeds will love the high eSATA performance, reaching 87MB/s read and 74MB/s write in our tests, well above the Lenovo estimates. 

Pros

  • AES 256-bit encryption with no performance hit
  • Up to a 16-digit passkey
  • Works with everything we plugged it into

Cons

  • Oily fingers may give up clues about your password
  • Double the price of a non-encrypted hard drive.


Bottom Line

The Lenovo 500GB ThinkPad eSATA/USB Secure Hard Drive offers high speed data transfers even with AES-256 bit full disk encryption working in the background. If you need to know your data is safe when you travel and need more capacity than a thumb drive offers, there is no better option than the 500GB ThinkPad eSATA/USB Secure Hard Drive.

Storage Review Editor's Choice

Product Page

Discuss This Review