Having fun with super-fast storage drives

By , Network World |  Storage, hard drives

In my role as multimedia content editor for IDG Enterprise, I find myself with lots of video footage, which takes up a ton of storage capacity. Backing up that footage to external storage drives can take a long time, especially if you're using older transfer technologies, such as USB 2.0. Fortunately, there are some faster devices and transfer connections now available, here are two recent drives (and a docking station) that can help speed up your personal file storage transfer dilemmas:

The scoop: G-Dock ev With Thunderbolt, by G-Technology, about $750

What is it? This "expandable storage solution" is basically a hard drive enclosure that connects via Thunderbolt to your Macintosh computer system to give it the extra speed boost for storage transfers. The unit we tested came with two removable, 7200RPM external hard drives, which slide into the docking enclosure, but can also be removed and used as separate USB (3.0) devices.

Why it's cool: The ability to connect via Thunderbolt to provide faster transfer speeds is great but I also like how the system enables USB 3.0-support for the removable drives if it's away from the docking station. The dock itself is designed to sit on your desk, but the removable drive is something that you can take along with you on the road. The data speeds are quite impressive in my tests (with a 2011-era MacBook Pro), I got about 130MBps of write speeds with the Thunderbolt connection. This was quite impressive, considering a write speed of about 62MBps via the MacBook Pro's internal hard drive. This speed also blows away my tests of a USB 2.0-enabled hard drive (albeit an older model, 5400 RPM drive), which delivered about 27.4MBps of write speeds.

Some caveats: The increase in speed via Thunderbolt might be a bit misleading because of the older system I was testing on. In tests of the USB 3.0-enabled removable hard drive on a faster MacBook Pro system (courtesy of Computerworld's Lucas Mearian), I achieved an average write speed of about 122MBps. The speed limitation here seems to be the 7200RPM drive, which indicates that a Thunderbolt connection with an even faster drive would produce much faster transfer speeds.

Also, the $750 price tag (for the two 1TB drives and enclosure) might be steep for customers not looking for the Thunderbolt speed boost you could likely find a lower price for two separate 1TB external storage drives (with a USB 3.0 connection).

Grade: 5 stars (out of five)

The scoop: Aegis Portable 3.0 solid state drive, by Apricorn, about $400

What is it? Most solid state drives I've seen so far have been internal drives that you'd install into a notebook or desktop computer this was one of the first I've seen that acts like a portable external hard drive. With a built-in USB 3.0 cable, the Aegis Portable 3.0 provides you with a solid-state drive that you can pack into your laptop bag for data transfers on the road.

Why it's cool: Because solid-state drives have no moving parts (compared with external hard drives) speeds are typically much faster. In my speed tests on my older MacBook Pro system (utilizing a USB 3.0 connection via the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock see below), I achieved an average of 113MBps of write speeds, compared to an average of 28MBps via the USB 2.0 port on the same system. Even more interesting was the test with the newer MacBook Pro system with a built-in USB 3.0 port and faster processor, the Apricorn Aegis achieved screaming speed on average I got about 306MBps of write speeds.

Some caveats: As my tests indicated, achieving the faster speeds would likely mean upgrading other parts of your system from the computer's processor to the internal ports (getting an external dock with USB 3.0 ports helped, but it was nothing compared with an internal USB 3.0 port).

In addition, the SSD nature gets you far less capacity this $400 unit gave us 256GB, compared with 1TB or more from other external hard drives. The SSD might give you faster speeds, but less capacity. It's a tradeoff you need to think about is 256GB (or 512GB for  $600) enough space for your needs?

Grade: 5 stars

The scoop:Thunderbolt Express Dock, by Belkin, about $300.

What is it? A handy docking station that can help free up connections to your MacBook notebook this unit provides two Thunderbolt ports (one to connect to your computer, the other one to add to a Thunderbolt daisy chain or add an extra Thunderbolt device), as well as three USB 3.0 ports. The dock also includes a FireWire port, Ethernet jack, headphone and microphone jack.

Why it's cool: The additional jacks and ports help free up the number of cables you need to connect directly to your MacBook Pro. For example, before I used this device, I had four cables connecting to my MacBook Pro in my office the power cable, a Thunderbolt cable (for my second monitor), the Ethernet jack and a USB 2.0 hub that connected to an external keyboard and mouse. With the dock, I've reduced that down to two cables the dock-enabled Thunderbolt cable (which daisy chains with the external monitor and the G-Dock ev for extra storage), and the power cable. Plus I get the additional FireWire port and two additional USB 3.0 ports (for future device attachments).

Some caveats: Connecting this to my older MacBook Pro unit required a $20 upgrade to Mac OS X Mountain Lion (10.8.4 or higher), as well as a Thunderbolt cable (an extra $40).  But the jump from USB 2.0 to 3.0, as well as the other additional ports and cable-free convenience, should be worth the additional costs.

Grade: 4 stars

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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