No matter if you’re looking to preserve important documents or cherished photos, the act of backing up vital data is essential. Fortunately, hard drive prices are swiftly falling, so users can safeguard up to a terabyte of data without taking out a mortgage. Buffalo, like other storage manufacturers, is now offering 1TB of storage for less than $300. With the DriveStation Combo 4, Mac and PC users get more than just a ton of real estate to house files; they get fast performance, a plethora of connections, and strong encryption, a combination no other external drives at this size and price can match.
Measuring 9.0 x 5.0 x 1.5 inches, the 3.2-pound DriveStation Combo 4 (4 pounds with its power brick) is almost two pounds heavier than the Iomega eGo Desktop Hard Drive (2.4 pounds), but a full pound lighter than the Western Digital My Book Mirror Edition (4.2 pounds). It sports a silver, brushed-metal body that makes it a perfect external storage solution for MacBook Pro users as it matches the color scheme of those machines quite nicely. The front of the drive features the Buffalo logo, while on the rear are the power switch, AC adapter port (as with other 1TB external drives, a power supply is required), and USB 2.0, FireWire 400, two FireWire 800 ports, and eSATA connections.
Transferring a 5GB folder of mixed media (music, video, photos, and documents) to the Combo 4 via the USB 2.0 connection took 4 minutes and 7 seconds, or a rate of 20.7 MBps. In terms of read speed, the Combo 4 achieved an excellent 22.2 MBps. When we installed the included Buffalo TurboUSB software, we saw read speeds increase to 25.2 MBps (one of the fastest speeds in the 1TB space), but write speeds didn’t see an improvement, hovering near the 20-MBps rate with a 19.8-MBps mark.
Like the LaCie Hard Disk and Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus, the Combo 4 contains twin FireWire connections. Unlike those drives, Buffalo’s offering differentiates itself by including both a FireWire 400 and a FireWire 800 port (LaCie’s and Maxtor’s models only have FireWire 400). The FireWire 400 write speed notched a 15.9-MBps mark, which was blown away by the Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus’ 23.4 MBps. The Combo 4’s 26.5-MBps read speed slightly trailed LaCie and Maxtor’s offerings, which notched 29.9 MBps and 29.0 MBps, respectively.
Although FireWire 800 isn’t all that common yet, if you have a system that contains the port, we recommend using it over all others—at least when reading data. The Combo 4 saw an incredible read and write speeds of 49.7 MBps and 40.3 MBps when tested on a MacBook Pro. The eSATA connection provided the best all-around performance with its speedy 37.9-MBps read and 36.8-MBps write speeds.
Memeo’s intuitive AutoBackup is available for Windows users who want an easy-to-use solution for copying vital data to the Combo 4, and the PC-only SecureLockWare (featuring 256-bit AES encryption) lets you keep information away from prying eyes. Mac users are also accounted for; the bundled Memeo LifeAgent software let us back up data with ease—even across multiple external storage drives. Considering that Buffalo provides OS X support out of the box, we would’ve liked to see the inclusion of an application similar to MacDrive 7 (featured on the LaCie Hard Disk), which lets users store PC and Mac files to the same external drive.
Although it sports an MSRP of $579, the Buffalo DriveStation Combo 4 is available for as little as $230 through online retailers. For the price, you get a one-year warranty (which is a bit skimpy compared to the Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus’ impressive five-year coverage), excellent transfer speeds (particularly with eSATA), and a nice selection of ports for those who use more than USB connections. LaCie may offer a comparably priced product with its $229 Hard Disk, but the Buffalo DriveStation Combo 4’s encryption provides peace of mind that the security-conscious will appreciate.