One of the solutions to the “can’t get enough storage” problems is to go with external hard drives. I personally have a hate of external drives because of their slowness, need for a powerpoint (sometimes several due to the size of the power brick) and additional cost. But once the case fills up with drives and controllers – there’s really no option.
In comes the Toshiba Canvio Desk 3Tb USB 3.0 external drive. This is an affordable external storage solution – just $139.36 from ARC Computers at the time of writing. This puts it under $10 more than a bare internal Toshiba 3Tb hard drive, and you get the external case, bridge chip and power supply! It is backed by the same 3 year warranty that the internal drive, and comes in a retail box. In fact, it seems so popular that I’m having trouble sourcing enough of these!
The drive itself is covered in a plastic wrap and is nicely boxed inside. The drive itself isn’t very extravagant – in black, it is two toned with a glossy part and a matte side and is fitted with rubber feet which allow it to stand vertically as well as lay horizontally.
The drive itself has quite a few vents to aid in cooling, however, looking in the vent reveals a metal shielding tray with only very few holes. The effectiveness of the venting is questionable. Stacking these drives is not recommended – I did try it and the bottom drive (in a stack of 2) reached 56 degrees C idling. The drives are built very solidly – one cannot see any screws or easy way to open the enclosure without damaging it severely, which seems to be a common trend amongst newer external drives.
The rear of the drive shows just a simple micro-USB 3.0 connector and a power plug. There are no power switches as the drive switches on and off automatically depending on the state of the USB 3.0 link. This drive was from the August 2012 batch.
The power supply is fitted with a US plug by default, with a full complement of switchable plugs. The power supply is from Asian Power Devices (APD) with a rating of 12v 2A (similar to those from Seagate external drives too). The plug is a larger plug, right angled, similar to that of laptops. Unfortunately, as it is a power-brick like construction with wings on the plug, closely spaced power points on some powerboards will not accommodate these side by side.
As for the drive itself, it turns out that the drive identifies itself to Device Manager as Toshiba External USB 3.0 USB Device. When the device is queried by CrystalDiskInfo, it reveals the inside drive as being a Hitachi HDS5C3030BLE630. In the future, you may see this ID change to the Toshiba variant of the model code. This is good as it means the USB 3.0 bridge used is capable of passing SMART data allowing you to diagnose the drive via USB 3.0. Unfortunately, the model code means the drive is a Green-model with reduced spindle speed of 5940rpm rather than the 7200rpm performance of their internal models (like the one I reviewed earlier).
The drive claims to be compatible with Windows XP and comes pre-formatted with NTFS. There is some pre-loaded software and manuals (but I trash them pretty quickly). Interestingly, the drive is partitioned as Master Boot Record (MBR) type but the partition is over 2.2Tb, which suggests that the bridge reports the drive with 4kB sectors, or is using some very unusual tricks.
The performance as reported by CrystalDiskMark
As can be seen, the sequential transfer rates are not as good as the 7200rpm drive reviewed earlier, plus, the USB transfers may hamper performance somewhat at the smaller block size. As I am not running Windows 8, I am unable to confirm if the drive is UASP capable.
The tests were all performed on a B75 motherboard’s onboard Intel USB 3.0 ports which clearly limited the write performance somewhat. Ignore the CPU utilization figure, as there were some background tasks running (remote control of the system) which would have influenced them. I would also question the write access time results which seem anomalous to being a possible bug in HDTune.
Retesting it on the NEC Chipset on my 890FXA-UD7 based system yields the following results:
Which of course, is marginally different but curiously seems to hit a transfer rate limit of 156Mb/s on the HD Tune Write Test. May be a limit of the USB 3.0 bridge solution, timing between controllers and hard drive, or something else? They were the only device on the USB 3.0 bus at the time of testing. Of course, these results are miles ahead of USB 2.0, and they are reaching close to the sustained drive capabilities, so the loss of using these drives through USB 3.0 rather than via eSATA/SATA is small in the case of large sequential bulk transfers.
The drive itself is a basic model without much to distinguish itself from its competitors apart from its very affordable price. For this price, you get what you are “promised”, and although the green-nature of the drive inside the enclosure is a bit disappointing for performance, it is by no means poor. I am not aware of any other external USB 3.0 3Tb drives in this price range to offer significantly better performance – and if I were to build my own, the costs of buying a 7200rpm drive and an enclosure would push the price up at least $20 higher than buying one of these. The three year warranty does offer peace of mind, although the true reliability of the device is only something time will tell.