|Introduction and LaCie Porsche P9220|
|You have to appreciate a good external hard drive that faithfully ferries important data from one place to another, while safely stashed on a drive that’s wrapped inside a slick-looking, durable chassis. These days, the storage capacity on a typical and relatively inexpensive external hard drive is large; 1TB is a standard size, and it isn’t at all uncommon to see 2TB drives, too.
We looked at a few external hard drives with similar specs from some major manufacturers to see how they stack up against one another. All three of the units in our test bank employ the speedy USB 3.0 interface, which is a standard option for many drives, and of course they’re all backwards compatible with USB 2.0. They range from 750GB to 1TB in size and, as it happens, all three are compact and highly portable.
Much of what differentiates devices such as these, particularly when they’re similarly-spec’d--they won’t be blowing the doors off of any benchmarks here--is the software that’s on board, which is something we’ll look at in the following pages.
LaCie Porsche P9220
This LaCie external hard drive was created in collaboration with Porsche Design, and that high design flavor permeates the device. The chassis is built from 3mm-thick aluminum with a beautiful brushed finish and there’s a black strip that juts out down the two long sides. When the drive is active, a narrow sliver of LED light glows around the top edge. Otherwise, the LaCie Porsche Design P9220 is unmarked save for a small amount of branding on one side.
The drive makes use of a USB 3.0 interface (and includes a thick, 18-inch SuperSpeed USB 3.0 cable in the box), and it will work with Windows XP/Vista/7/8 as well as Mac OS X 10.5 (Intel only) and later. The actual disk inside the LaCie chassis is a Seagate Momentus 2.5-inch model that features an 8MB DRAM cache, SATA 3Gbps, and a spindle speed of 5400 RPM.
With a capacity of 1TB, there’s ample storage on the LaCie Porsche Design P9220. At 9.2 ounces, there’s a tiny bit of heft to the drive, which measures 3 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches.
LaCie included quite a bit of software with this unit, including Adobe Reader Link, Genie Timeline Free (LaCie’s automatic backup software), LaCie Desktop Manager (which lets you manage all your LaCie devices with one interface including any and all on your network), LaCie Private Public (AES 256-bit encryption for the drive’s contents), the Porsche Design P9220 documentation, and the Wuala app (secure online storage, which is owned by LaCie.)
To install the software and format the drive to your liking, you have to run the LaCie Setup Assistant, which takes you through a wizard to configure everything and register the drive with LaCie if you so desire.
The LaCie Desktop Manager includes an Eco Management function to conserve power consumption; the disk will remain in standby mode after a user-determined amount of time until you access it.
LaCie Public/Private is a handy tool, as it lets you create a private area of the external hard drive of virtually any size for protected files. Thus, you can freely use the LaCie Porsche P9220 for anything you like, such as photos, documents, and videos while also maintaining a secure area for more sensitive items.
Genie Timeline Free is easy enough to use. You first select a backup drive, and then you choose either what types of documents (email, pictures, music, and so on) to back up using the Smart Selection tab or manually choose specific files and folders to back up. You can also restore to a certain point in time, manage existing backups, create new backups, and more.
|Toshiba Canvio Connect|
|The diminutive Toshiba Canvio Connect is the smallest of our three external hard drives (it’s a hair thinner and smidge deeper than the WD My Passport Ultra but is otherwise nearly identical in size), and it sports an Apple-like glossy white chassis design with a light gray rim around the edge for better grip. The included USB cable is also white and stretches to about 12 inches.
The drive employs a USB 3.0 interface and offers 750GB of storage capacity. The drive itself has a 5400RPM spindle speed and the unit is compatible with Windows XP/7/8 (the documentation doesn’t mention Vista, but presumably it works on that as well) and Mac OS X Snow Leopard / Lion / Mountain Lion.
It's MSRP is $109.99--same as the LaCie Porsche P9220--but street prices for the 750GB model are as low as $65. We should also mention that the drive comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
As for included software, the Toshiba Canvio Connect includes NTI EZ Backup, Pogoplug PC, and a 30-day free trial of muvee Reveal (which is a video-making and sharing tool).
With Pogoplug, you can set certain files and folders to be remotely accessible from anywhere, easily share files and folders, stream to a mobile device (if the given device is equipped with a Pogoplug app), and back up the data on your mobile device. Pogoplug also offers 10GB of free cloud storage, and the $29.95 Pogoplug PC license comes gratis with the drive.
For NTI EZ Backup, you’ll run through a setup wizard, and after the software scans your system, you’ll be greeted by a screen that lets you choose the type of backup you want to perform, where to save it, how often, and which files and folders to backup.
|Western Digital My Passport Ultra|
|The Western Digital My Passport Ultra looks identical on the outside to the My Passport Edge we reviewed some months ago. It has the same cool gray finish with silver edging and a black band around the middle, a small footprint, and rounded edges. The newer Ultra model boasts some better specifications, however.
In addition to the USB 3.0 interface, the Ultra offers 1TB of capacity and a 5400 RPM hard drive. The device is compatible with Windows XP through Windows 8 as well as Mac OS X. It’s about as small as the Toshiba Canvio Connect, and it weighs about half an ounce less. There’s a 12-inch cable included with the drive, as well as a soft carrying pouch.
The first time you connect the WD My Passport Ultra, you have to run WD Apps Setup and click through an installation wizard to install the software that ships on the drive. Like the My Passport Edge, this unit has WD Drive Utilities, WD Security, and WD SMartWare.
WD Drive Utilities and WD Security appear to be identical to what we’ve previously seen. Drive Utilities includes diagnostics, a sleep timer, Drive Erase functionality, and registration of the product. The Security tool basically allows you to set a password so that only you can access the drive.
The WD SmartWare backup tool is also nearly identical to the version we saw before (v.1.6.2), although this one (v.2.0) has been updated somewhat. We were actually prompted to update the software to version 2.0 when we initially set up the WD Apps, so the version that ships on the drive is out of date.
SmartWare 2.0 has some minor tweaks and a slightly cleaner UI than the previous version. One difference appears to be the ability to set backup frequency, which you can do under the Backup tab, where you can set continuous backup or opt for a scheduled backup. Under the Setting tab, you can now update the software, and if you like, it appears that you get a free upgrade to WD SmartWare Pro, which lets you “back up to and retrieve from WD Elements, non-WD external devices, and the cloud via Dropbox".
|Test System and SANDRA|
|Our Test Methodologies: Under each test condition, the drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with an SSD for the OS and benchmark installations. Our testbed's motherboard was updated with the latest BIOS available as of press time and AHCI mode was enabled. The drives inside the external storage unit were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO, PCMark 7, and CrystalDiskMark benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.
First we ran SiSoft SANDRA, the the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run without formatting and read and write performance metrics are detailed below.
All three of these drives delivered a nice balance of read and write speeds. The LaCie Porsche P9220 delivered the strongest score of the trio, but both of the other entrants were close behind.
|ATTO Disk Benchmarks|
|ATTO is a "quick and dirty" type of disk benchmark that measures transfer speeds across a specific volume length. It measures transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart. We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes and a queue depth of 6 over a total max volume length of 256MB. ATTO's workloads are sequential in nature and measure bandwidth, rather than I/O response time, access latency, etc. This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with default NTFS partitions in Windows 7 x64.
The LaCie and the WD drives were just about neck and neck throughout both the read and write test, although the former performed slightly better at smaller transfer sizes; both had an odd but brief dip in performance in the write test at larger transfer sizes. The Toshiba drive wasn't far behind, but it was decidedly trailing the other two.
|CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark that tests both sequential and random small and mid-sized file transfers. It provides a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to drive performance, best case being larger sequential transfers and worse case being small, random transfers.
In the sequential transfer test, it was the WD My Passport Ultra leading the way by the smallest of margins, although the Toshiba drive once again trailed the pack. In fact, the WD drive handily beat the LaCie and Toshiba in each of the CrystalDiskMark tests with its write speeds; there was less of a delta between the three competitors' read speeds.
It's also worth noting that the Toshiba drive performed better than the LaCie in the 4K and 4K QD32 transfer tests.
|PCMark 7 Storage Benchmarks|
|We really like PCMark 7's Secondary Storage benchmark module for its pseudo real-world application measurement approach to testing. PCMark 7 offers a trace-based measurement of system response times under various scripted workloads of traditional client / desktop system operation. From simple application start-up performance, to data streaming from a drive in a game engine, and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel more comfortable that these tests reasonably illustrate the performance profile of a hard drive in an end-user / consumer PC usage model, more so than a purely synthetic transfer test.
Once again the scores were relatively close, so there's not much of a discrepancy between the three drives in the Secondary Storage overall scores, although the Toshiba Canvio Connect was once again at the back of the grouping. In the more detailed benchmarks, you can see that the drives took turns taking the top spot in each sub test.
|Our Summary and Conclusion|
|Summary: We chose the LaCie Porsche P9220, Toshiba Canvio Connect, and WD My Passport Ultra for this article because they all had similar specifications and features, and in our benchmarks, we could see a relatively tight cluster of scores that reinforced that fact. Even so, the WD and LaCie drives more or less took turns delivering the best performance, while the Toshiba drive--although it did beat the other two in a couple of sub tests--mostly trailed the pack by a small margin.
All three drives offer included bonus software, some of which feels like bloatware and some of which can be valuable to the end user. For example, all three offer included backup software so users can easily schedule and manage regular backups.
All three drives offer plenty of storage capacity (1TB, or in the case of the Toshiba, 750GB), and they're all compact and easily portable. We like the design of each; they're all quite different but offer an attractive look and style that doesn't get in the way of the usability of the device itself.
We should note that the drives are all just 5400 RPM and could argue that a slight bump up in specifications to 7200 RPM would offer notably better performance. That's true, but because all three drives are the same spindle speed, it's not a valid criticism within this context and durability could take a turn for the worse at higher speeds. Besides, these drives are designed to offer an easy backup solution that's also portable, and once initial large backups are made, a slower spindle speed won't impact smaller, incremental backups as much. If you want blazing performance, you need a different class of device altogether.
Further, all three have reasonable price tags that jibe with their performance relative to one another. The LaCie and WD drives retail for $89.99 currently and the slightly lower-performing and smaller-capacity Toshiba Canvio Connect comes with a notably lower cost of $65 with 1TB models at the same $89.99 price. Considering the price for performance of these three drives and the handy software that comes with each (which you can wipe out easily enough if you prefer), all three are good deals.
We do, however, give a firmer collective nod to the WD My Passport and Lacie Porsche drives, as they tended to edge-out Toshiba's product performance-wise. Still, depending on the deals you can find at the time, all three products could be considered a veritable toss-up and you really can't go wrong either way.
LaCie Porsche P9220
Western Digital My Passport Ultra
Toshiba Canvio Connect