I thought my external drive buying spree was over, but this week, I came across a promotion where a Seagate Expansion Portable 3Tb drive was on offer for AU$139 at Officeworks. At that price, it represented the best value amongst the group of three, and a compromise capacity between 2Tb and 4Tb, so I decided to get one and try it out. After all, who doesn’t need more storage?
The unit comes in a cardboard box, sealed with Seagate holographic seals at both ends. The package claims to be fully recyclable with a plastic hanger tag, and warranty details printed on the top. Luckily for us in the Asia-Pacific region, we get 3 years of warranty, whereas those in the Americas are stuck with just 1. It’s the same product though …
The Seagate Expansion series seems to be aimed at low-cost “basic” add-on storage for a PC, and thus the packaging is consistent with other Expansion series members in being relatively “plain” colour cardboard packaging without the “bubble plastic” windows of the Maxtor and Toshiba offerings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s definitely better for the environment.
The box has the capacity labelled on the front with a stick-on label, and claims compatibility with computers (probably to recommend other drives for gaming consoles). Compatibility with USB 2.0/3.0 and Windows 7 to 10 is indicated on the side.
The design of the cardboard box allows for the box to stand self-supported. The barcode and serial number information is provided on a label on the underside. The drive assembly and the assembly of the drive were both made in China.
As usual, the inclusions are limited to a quick-start guide, the drive (wrapped in plastic for protection) and a short USB 3.0 lead.
The drive body is made of a relatively-thin plastic case with a faceted design and a more “boxy” profile. The case flexes upon application of pressure, which is similar to that of the other two drives reviewed. The plastic has a fine-smooth matte finish with the brand moulded in on the front, and a label with the details on the rear. The casing omits any “rubber feet” and thus, has a propensity to slide around on a desk.
The texture is mostly uniform even around the sides, and the vertical profile shows that it utilizes a “thick” 15mm style drive.
This drive weighed 236.88g which is about 4.28g lighter than the Maxtor 4Tb, and 29.36g heavier than the Toshiba 2Tb. It’s likely that the drive contained within has the same “configuration” as the Maxtor product based on the weight.
Testing was undertaken on a Lenovo E431 laptop running the latest version of Windows 10. This is the same test platform used to evaluate and commission the other two drives. Write caching was turned on, as explained in the Maxtor review.
Upon plugging in, the drive is detected as a UASP capable device with VID 0BC2 PID 2322. This allows for command queueing and should improve performance on USB 3.0 chipsets with drivers supporting UASP (e.g. on machines running Windows 8 and above).
The drive was pre-formatted in NTFS for use with Windows based machines. The drive had a volume label pre-applied and some pre-loaded files.
The files loaded are listed below, but includes a Warranty document, an icon file with autorun.inf to allow the system to associate the icon with the drive, and a Start_Here_Win.exe which is likely a tool to facilitate installing Seagate software to further configure the device and utilize special features offered by the drive.
As most users (including myself) would only be interested in utilizing the unit as bulk storage, I did not pay any attention to the included software.
As with the two other tested drives, it appears that most newer external drives that have been made after the end-of-life for Windows XP do not use the awkward 4kB “native” sector translation on the USB interface. This unit correctly reports a 512 byte sector addressing on a 4kB native sector drive running as 512e. This should facilitate recovery and direct-transplants to internal ports without needing to reformat/lose the data (although this was not attempted).
Because the system did something strange when the drive was initially attached, I needed to restart the machine, and as a result the initial count shows more power cycles and a single power-off emergency retract. The drive passed all commissioning testing with no adverse effects. The drive appears to have its own “parking” algorithm, and 499 cycles were used in 48 hours – this appears to be quite similar to the other tested drives.
The drive internally identifies as an ST3000LM016-1N217V. This drive belongs to the same series as the Maxtor M3 Portable 4Tb drive, and features a large 128Mb cache, 5400rpm spindle speed, 6Gbit/s SATA interface and 200g weight. From this, we can deduce that the 3Tb is likely to just be a “cut down” 4Tb drive in some way, either a head “switched off” or not fitted, slightly lower recording density or artificially capacity constrained. It features the same power consumption figures – 1.2A maximum spin-up current, 1.9W read, 2.1W write and 1.1W idle power. The bare drive itself features a 2-year warranty if purchased separately, which is less than that of the whole assembly.
As with the Maxtor M3, the bridge chip appears only to support the drive a 3Gbit/s (as reported by CDI) even though the drive is capable of 6Gbit/s. This is unlikely to be a big issue as the drives’ sustained throughput is below that of the ~300MB/s on offer, but may hamper cache throughput slightly.
The drive started with a maximum sequential read throughput of 126.8MB/s, falling to a minimum of 54.3MB/s. Its average throughput was 94.6MB/s. All three figures fall below the Maxtor M3 4Tb model, which suggests that the drive probably uses slightly lower density recording to achieve its 3Tb capacity. The access time is only slightly less (18.9ms vs 19.2ms), which suggests that the drive is probably not being “short stroked”. The variances could indicate the use of a different bridge chip. Compared to the Toshiba, it also loses out.
The sequential write performance was very similar, achieving a maximum of 125.8MB/s, a minimum of 52.7MB/s and an average of 93MB/s. Access times were unrealistically low, as the drive may be acknowledging writes prior to actually writing them (due to caching).
Random access tests seems to show read IOPS being quite limited and “all over the place”, achieving a peak figure of just 56IOPS. This is about half that of the Maxtor 4TB drive. The write IOPS are more impressive (probably because of caching), peaking at 1896IOPS which is similar to the Maxtor. I don’t expect consumer 2.5″ drives to be particularly good at random-access, and it seems this is the case.
The extra tests are included just for completeness, but they seem to show unusual speed perturbations which are also seen in the Maxtor, which suggests that the read cache effectiveness may be somewhat limited, and the write performance is a bit inconsistent. For these metrics, I prefer CDM/ATTO results.
CDM results show a surprising “reversal” of the results in HDTune, where it seems that the sequential read and write results actually fared better than the Maxtor M3. The 512kB write also fared better, whereas the read was neck-and-neck. When it came to 4kB accesses, CDM favoured the Seagate Expansion Portable for queued and unqueued reads, as well as queued writes. The Maxtor was favoured on unqueued 4kB writes. In all, it seems that the drive really does achieve similar results to its larger sibling. However, when compared with the Toshiba, it appears the Toshiba offering provides better sequential rates.
The ATTO benchmark showed really odd variation in the results. Accesses of 16kB and larger generally saw the full performance of the drive, with a drop-off reaching 8MiB. At 8kB, it seems it’s good for read but not as good for write, whereas this trend is reversed for 4kB and less. This unusual pattern mirrors the results achieved with the Maxtor M3.
No verification errors occurred, both on the original test platform and my main desktop with an NEC Renesas USB 3.0 controller without UASP. The resulting throughput was less than the expected figures, likely due to processing overhead.
The Seagate Expansion Portable 3Tb hard drive offers the best price-per-gigabyte in the 2.5″ retail market at the moment, utilizing the same family of drives as used in the Maxtor M3 series of portable drives. It targets no-frills storage expansion, and has less fancy packaging and a case without rubber feet. However, it does offer competitive performance and value, and equivalent warranties (in Australia) to the other drives I’ve recently purchased and tested. I suppose if you need the best value, you can opt for this model – but if aesthetics, capacity or capacity-per-weight is your priority, the Maxtor M3 appears to be the better deal. It’s a bit odd that Seagate are yet to offer a 4Tb Expansion Portable model, given the drive used inside is their own anyway.