Buffalo 320GB MiniStation TurboUSB Review

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$179

Pros: Very fast transfer speeds; Compatible with Mac OS, Windows XP and Vista; Lots of storage space; Backup software included

Cons: Encryption software not intuitive; Software comes on CD, not preloaded on device

Verdict: Speedy performance, lots of storage space, and included backup and security software make this portable hard drive one you can count on.

Typically, transferring a few gigabytes of pictures and music to an external hard drive can easily leave you enough time to catch an episode of Scrubs. The Buffalo 320GB MiniStation TurboUSB aims to cut down on the waiting time with its TurboUSB technology. This device is a lightweight, portable storage unit that makes backups on both Mac and PCs fast and secure. Its encryption tool is less than intuitive, but overall we recommend this drive for its first-class speed.

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MiniStation TurboUSB Design

The 6.7-ounce Buffalo MiniStation TurboUSB is a plain-Jane external hard drive; it comes only in matte black, and its rounded edges give it a dull look. On the plus side, we like its sturdy and lightweight feel, and at 5.0 x 3.3 x 0.8 inches, the 320GB drive fits easily into a laptop bag or a coat pocket. The shock-resistant chassis is durable and survived a week at the bottom of a laptop bag without any external or internal damage.

A green power indicator embedded in the top of the case doubles as a drive-activity indicator, and dual USB ports are housed on the front of the device. One USB 2.0 port can simultaneously power the drive and exchange data with a notebook. Notebooks with USB 1.1 ports, however, will require the use of the other USB port to power the device. When not in use, the included USB cord wraps around the unit and clips into place. The drive is also available with 120GB, 160GB, 250GB, and 500GB capacities.

Not Quite Plug and Play

The MiniStation TurboUSB was instantly recognized by a MacBook Air running Mac OS X Leopard and a Sony VAIO FZ running Vista. We had no problem dragging and dropping files onto the drive. But unlike with most external hard drives, the included management software isn't preinstalled on the device. Instead, it came on a CD. Installation was easy, but we could have done without this extra step.

TurboUSB Lives Up to its Name

MiniStation's TurboUSB utility, which Buffalo claims can increase write speeds up to 25 percent over standard write speeds on its 5,400-rpm USB hard drive, makes this portable hard drive one of the fastest on the market. After installing the TurboUSB utility to your notebook, you must turn on the function. Writing a 5GB folder of music, photos, and video with TurboUSB turned off took 3 minutes and 50 seconds, or 22.26 Mbps; with it enabled, the same transfer took 3 minutes and 16 seconds, or 26.12 Mbps. That works out to a 17 percent increase.

Regardless, both of these times were faster than the $133Iomega eGo, which managed 19.3 Mbps; the $99.99Maxtor OneTouch 4 Mini, which saw a transfer rate of 17.4 Mbps; and the $169Western Digital My Passport Elite, which offered only 11.3 Mbps.

When we ran an HD Tach test on the MiniStation, we got a read speed of 41.5 Mbps compared with 31.5 Mbps and 55.6 Mbps on the Iomega and Western Digital units, respectively. Again, we didn't see anything close to the 25 percent increase promised, but Buffalo's speeds still held their own against the competition.

Buffalo's Safety Nets

The drive also comes with Memeo's AutoBackup software ($29.95 retail value), which lets Windows XP, Vista, and Mac users automatically back up documents to the drive in case of a system crash or virus attack. After installing the utility on our computer with the CD-ROM, selecting the files and folders we wanted automatically backed up was easy. And with 320GB of storage space, we didn't have to be too choosy.

Security-conscious PC users will appreciate the MiniStation TurboUSB's AES-grade encryption and the inclusion of SecureLockWare, which creates a password-protected folder that users can easily drag-and-drop files into. However, because the encryption software isn't installed on the drive itself, you have to configure it specifically for the external drive. We had trouble getting it to work properly, though; the software repeatedly tried to encrypt our laptop's hard drive. Once we got past that hurdle, we were unimpressed by the bland interface of the software.

Buffalo 320GB Ministation TurboUSB Verdict

Encryption could be handled better, and we wish all of the necessary software was installed on the drive itself, but the MiniStation TurboUSB's quick read and write speeds make it a very good companion for those who need to transfer information quickly on the go. Those eyeing a portable external storage device with more intuitive security options will find solace in the less expensive Maxtor One Touch 4 Mini or the comparably priced Western Digital My Passport Elite. Nevertheless, this is still a very solid sub-$200 choice for those who value speed over all else.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Capacity 320GB/5,400 rpm
Read/Write Speed 41.5 Mbps/25.51 Mbps
Ports USB
Size 5.0 x 3.3 x 0.8 inches
Weight 6.7 ounces
Company Website http://www.buffalotech.com