Review: Maxtor M3 Portable 4Tb USB 3.0 External Hard Drive (HX-M401TCB/GM)

Seeing as I’m going to go on a holiday sometime next year, one thing I knew I would need is some portable external storage to keep all my experimental data and to backup the photos I will be taking. Not having purchased any external hard drives in a long time, it surprised me to see that the market had advanced to 4Tb 2.5″ portable drives. The unexpected part was that the largest capacity available also had the lowest cost per gigabyte, making it the best value for money. Traditionally, the largest drives tended to command a price premium, reflecting their desirability. As a result, I knew I would just have to have one.

Computer users of the early to mid 2000’s would probably not be fond of the Maxtor brand, as some of their models were somewhat unreliable. But since the Maxtor brand has been long acquired by Seagate and their factories integrated into the Seagate portfolio, the brand has been retained mainly as an alternative brand for external storage. As the Maxtor M3 Portable 4Tb drive was the most cost effective option, retailing at AU$209, I chose the product knowing in full confidence that internally, it would be very similar to the Seagate branded offering.

As every drive that enters service in my fleet undergoes “acceptance testing” for commissioning, I thought I might as well turn it into a review in the case anyone’s interested in just what’s inside and how it performs.


2016092217558589 2016092217558590

2016092217568591 2016092217568592The unit comes boxed in a glossy cardboard box with a cut-out that shows the drive inside, protected by a plastic bubble. The cardboard box has a blue, black and white colour scheme, with the front showing some of the features including a three year limited warranty. The contents is listed on the rear, with some of the included “features” enabled by included software that is preloaded onto the drive.

The side spine has a label with the barcode and serial number of the drive, with the cut-out extending to the other side showing off the thickness of the drive. This makes it clear to any potential customers that this is a thick drive with an internal height of 15mm – this makes it less useful to those who might want to squeeze it into an older laptop or game console.


A close look at the underside makes it clear that the drive is made in China, by Seagate, as expected.


Inside the package, we have the drive itself featuring a multi-faceted plastic top cover design which is somewhat similar to the Seagate Expansion Portable drives. It also comes with a USB 3.0 super-speed cable (A to microB).


2016092218008600The drive has a connector on one side, which is slightly mis-aligned, and a window for the blue activity LED. The “middle” wrap-around plastic is glossy and attracts fingerprints, unlike the top and bottom.

Rubber feet are fitted to the bottom, but the profile is very thin, thus if placing on top of another drive with a curved surface, it has no grip. The drive serial number is also on the bottom. The drive weight is 241.16g as measured by my set of scales, making it fairly weighty but also similar to other drives of this size.



Performance Testing

max4-uaspWhen the drive is plugged in, it was determined that the unit used a UASP capable chipset for better USB 3.0 performance with USB drivers featuring UASP capabilities (e.g. Windows 8 and above for most USB 3.0 controllers).

The hardware ID is VID 0BC2 PID 61B7. That VID is also used by other Seagate products.

The drive comes pre-formatted in NTFS and has software pre-loaded as promised.


max4-defaultformatThis review will not concern itself with the included software, as I don’t usually recommend its use anyway (often it’s just a good way to lock yourself out of your own data in case of problems).

The listing of files is below.


Because this is a more modern drive, released since the end of support for Windows XP, this drive doesn’t have that nasty 4k “sector translation” goof that other older drives did. As a result, it correctly reports 512 byte sector size with a 4096 byte physical sector size. This means that it’s likely that the drive can be “transplanted” from the enclosure to an internal SATA port with no compatibility issues.


cachepolicyDrive testing was performed on my Lenovo E431 (Intel Core i7-3630QM) laptop using onboard USB 3.0 ports and the latest Intel drivers with no other devices on the bus. The laptop is running the latest version of Windows 10 at this time (Anniversary Edition).

When I began testing, I found rates much slower than expected for write operations. This was because the setting for USB drives defaulted to quick removal, rather than better performance (which enables write caching).

max4-uncachedwriteWithout write caching, you can expect write speeds at most half that of the expected speed. Enabling write caching requires diligent use of the “safe removal” features and acknowledgement that larger amounts of data loss can occur in the case of unexpected unplugging or power loss. This is an acceptable trade-off to me, and I advise using the “Better performance” option with “Enable write caching on the device” ticked to ensure the performance of the drive.

The test results that follow are all based on having the write caching configured on.


max4-smartbegin max4-smartend

CrystalDiskInfo confirms that the drive contained within the enclosure is an ST4000LM016-1N2170, sometimes also sold as a Seagate/Samsung Momentus drive. This is a 5400RPM drive with 6Gb/s SATA interface and a whopping 128MB cache, consistent with that reported by the information above. The bare drive gets a 2-year warranty, so buying it in an external enclosure means it’s warranted for three. The weight is claimed as 200g for the bare drive, and it is revealed that typical power ranges from 1.1W (idle), 1.9W (read), to 2.1W (write).

Throughout the test regime, no SMART data failure indicators were recorded, indicating the drive is suitable for use.

HDTune Pro

max4-readThe drive achieved an average of 103MB/s across the drive, ranging from 132.7MB/s down to 58.2MB/s. This is an improvement over some older drives I’ve used, but doesn’t seem spectacularly fast especially considering the density increase over the older drives.

max4-cachedwriteWrite performance was marginally slower, but otherwise much the same. The lumpy but almost continuous curve suggests this drive is using head-adaptive density techniques similar to those used by IBM/Hitachi in their drives to squeeze more capacity and reliability by avoiding “fixed zone bitrate formatting” constraints. It seems that the drive does do “unusual” things by responding that writes have completed as soon as they hit the buffer, resulting in an unrealistically low access time reported by the benchmark. The uncached shows a higher access time, probably due to USB latency, but still is flat across the drive suggesting the drive is acknowledging writes before the write has “hit the disk”.

max4-randomread max4-randomwrite

Random access tests show that the drive’s read performance with random access is relatively limited, topping out at 95 IOPS over USB, whereas write operations seem more readily serviced, peaking at 1912 IOPS. I’m not too sure about this being actually consistent with long-term performance as caches can affect the accuracy of the result.

max4-extraread max4-extrawrite

The extra tests seem to show the read cache buffer might not be working as effectively as possible, showing only speed gains for the first 1Mb and not much more thereafter. The write cache result shows an unusual dip, which was not expected. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to these results – they’re only provided for completeness.


max4-cdmI tend to pay more attention to CDM results when it comes to file performance. It seems UASP does make a good difference with read performance of small-blocks, with queueing allowing the performance to almost triple. Queued small-block write improvements were not as drastic. Sequential accesses was in line with what was seen with HDTune, with 512kB accesses showing significant read performance drop-off, and less so with write. Small block performance remains a challenge for mechanical drives – no surprise here.


max4-attoATTO is a bit of an industry standard, so I decided to include it anyway. It seems that 16kB accesses are well serviced, and even 8kB accesses do very well. 4kB accesses seem to struggle, and due to some odd behaviour, the 8192kB accesses are also somewhat slower. Perhaps, the drive format “alignment” was not quite correct to optimize performance despite the claim of Seagate drives having “smartalign” technology.


max4-verifyokh2tw max4-renesasverif

The drive was tested with H2testw mainly as a data integrity check. On the test platform, it successfully passed with no errors, but because of the size and speed of the drive (and potentially overheads with generating/checking the data), it took almost 15 hours to fill and 11 hours to verify. It was transported to my main desktop with an NEC Renesas USB 3.0 controller where it performed flawlessly and verified the full dataset with no faults.


As expected, the Maxtor M3 Portable Hard Drive is very much a Seagate product at its core, sporting a Seagate hard drive internally. The design of the casing is similar, and the internals seem to use a UASP capable SATA bridge which ensures better performance. It performed flawlessly in testing, although its speeds were relatively “average” when it comes to external hard drives in my experience with a few performance oddities. For the price of AU$209, it’s the best value per gigabyte, and it’s the largest portable bus-powered hard drive at the moment, which is a combination of attributes that are hard to beat. With a three year warranty, it seems highly recommendable as a large external storage solution.

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15 Responses to Review: Maxtor M3 Portable 4Tb USB 3.0 External Hard Drive (HX-M401TCB/GM)

  1. Alex says:

    Can you tell us how many plates and how many heads this hdd has? Thank you.

  2. Apteryx says:

    Great article. I couldnt find anything better ! The Maxtor STSHX 3TB should be about the same i guess. With LESS cache.

  3. Jeff Merheb says:

    I have the choice between a brand new Seagate Expansion 1Tb and a ”new” (in the used websites) Maxtor M3 2Tb gor only 10$ difference. Which one do you recommend more based on performance and most importantly durability?

    • lui_gough says:

      Personally, I prefer the Maxtor because the case design is more rigid than the Seagate Expansion one, and because of the rubber feet which the Expansion Portable lacks. The rounded corners are more aesthetically pleasing to me, but each to their own. Maxtor and Seagate are one and the same – the drives inside come from the same company, and performance/specification/warranty wise, they are pretty much likely to be identical. As for the durability of the other components (e.g. connectors/cables, bridge board), it’s not easy to tell until they fail …

      – Gough

  4. John Tsougas says:

    How can I get the Maxtor M3 to be connected with an e-sata port of a Sony Vaio in order to get 6GB.Sec transfer rates from the laptop to the maxtor or vice versa?

    • lui_gough says:

      You cannot do that as far as I know. The unit is USB 3.0 only. If you open it up, you will probably either find a drive with a bridge-board (in which case you can remove the bridge board and use it as if it’s an internal laptop drive – for eSATA you will need to get an eSATA to SATA cable + a power cable to power from USB) or more likely, you will find the PCB of the drive has the USB port soldered onto it with the bridge on the drive itself. In that case, without very difficult modification (i.e. soldering to the SATA link coming into the bridge), it will not be possible to make it happen. eSATA unfortunately is a rare beast due to its very inconsistent implementation.

      Besides, there’s very little advantage of doing this given that USB 3.0 is able to run faster than the drive can. While SATA III is 6Gbit/s in link rate, the drive cannot sustain data transfer that quickly anyway as it tops out at ~130MB/s and UASP-based USB 3.0 bridges can push about 400MB/s.

      – Gough

  5. tomakrypodari says:

    My two Seagate ST4000DM000 drives have gone bad, just a week apart, 6 months after end of warranty. I need to replace them; what would you recommend?

    1) WD40NPZZ 2.5″ PMR drives inside the Intenso USB 3.0 product (enforces emulation though, so I’d have to “shuck” it and use different external case.
    It’s not 100% sure they are WD40NPZZ drives, mind you, since Intenso seems to use what is available, but ALL recent reports in my country verify the model.

    2) MAXTOR M401TCBM M3 Portable: a 2.5″ 4TB Seagate with 3y warranty + I read the case forces no emulation?

    3) WD Blue WD40EZRZ

    4) ST6000DM003: 6TB Seagate Compute inside a Seagate Backup Plus HUB enclosure

    5) ST8000DM004: 8TB Seagate inside a Seagate Backup Plus HUB enclosure (does this external case force sector emulation or encryption?)

    I am a little freaked out concerning the Seagates SMR now that my Seagate 4TB drives have presented multiple bad sectors just after warranty.

    I would like the lower noise of the 2.5″ drives, but if emulation by the controller is enforced, I’d have to unofficially break the warranty AND buy an external case, even if rarely use them as External
    …if Maxtor doesn’t indeed use emulation, it’s a good solution…notwithstanding the SMR drive, cause I would have 3years warranty + ability to switch between int / ext without worries about data or poor quality usb case.
    …One important factor becomes the ability to “shuck” the drive without permanently damaging the case / doing away with warranty.

    I would really love if it the Intenso’s have the WD PMR drive…but it does use emulation and I would 100% need to shuck the drives out.

    Should I just get the WD Blue WD40EZRZ drives and shut up, if I want PMR?

  6. definitio says:

    I bought a Maxtor M3 Portable 4TB drive and testing with h2testw 1.4 takes REALLY Long time.

    Connected to the USB 3.0 port of an Asrock B450 Fatality motherboard Writing Speed is limited to 20mb/s.
    I have now spent 40 hours testing and it estimates 16h more are needed to complete, just the Writing phase.

    What is going on?

    I tested an old Seagate 300GB hdd in an Orico 2.5″ case and I was getting 80mb/s.

    Does your Maxtor M3 say it is a “Self-Encrypting Drive” (SED) ? Mine is of this variety.
    It’s a ST4000LM024 drive.

    I am also using the included USB cable.

    Any ideas?

    • lui_gough says:

      May not be connecting in USB 3.0 mode. Try a different cable, or unplugging/replugging as sometimes some devices don’t detect fully in USB 3.0 mode if the A-connector is not pushed in firmly/quickly enough. Such low write speeds are abnormal.

      – Gough

      • definitio says:

        Thank you for your reply.

        The writing test of h2testw lasted 59h:32m at speeds ranging 17.6-20mb/s; during the last 3-4 hours the drive also made some clicking sounds (which I recorded) that got me really worried.

        Now, the reading test is progressing fast, at 125mb/s. I guess it must be connected in USB 3.0 mode, to reach those reading speeds.
        After h2testw is over, I will change cable and port and try again.

        – What test would you recommend I run to make sure the drive is functioning properly, apart from h2testw?

        Do you think it could be due to the drive being “Self-Encrypting” (SED) ?

        Would sending you the audio file of the clicking sounds be too much?


        • lui_gough says:

          If it is making concerning clicking noises, then your drive may be in trouble. It has nothing to do with being an SED drive – that just means the internal processor stores a key for the data and encrypts all writes allowing for rapid secure data destruction by changing the key. It doesn’t change its performance as the encryption is hardware based.

          You’re probably better off installing something that can read the drive’s SMART health status over USB (on Windows, CrystalDiskInfo is the one I would recommend most although other alternatives do exist with varying difficulty levels). Specifically, look for the drive’s count of reallocated sectors, reallocation events and pending sectors. Non zero values in these fields normally indicates the drive is problematic.

          Ultimately, it’s your drive – it’s your problem to solve. I’m not here to diagnose everyone’s issues, but I hope you do get it sorted, even if that means taking it back to the shop for a replacement.

          – Gough

          • definitio says:

            I have HD Sentinel installed, I am not seeing any problem with Realloced/Pending/Uncorrectable Sectors.
            It was making clicking sounds during the latest stage of the h2testw Writing Test; it is not making any such sounds at present.

            My question regarded a reliable HDD Test, I could run to 100% confirm or exclude a problem with the drive.

            – HDSentinel has various such tests, Short/Long/Conveyance tests, but also Surface tests.
            – I have seen people using HD tune to identify problematic sectors also.
            – Then, there is always Seatools.

            Since testing may take a considerable time, can you recommend a particular one?

            I understand and thank you for your input. I have paid with Paypal, so getting the drive back to the store isn’t a problem, but I want to make sure it is faulty.

          • lui_gough says:

            The test itself takes a long time purely because transacting the full amount of data to/from the drive takes a long time.

            Generally speaking, many tools that have surface tests perform ONLY a READ test which checks everything can be read but doesn’t do any writing to them. In fact, to do a write/read test in HDTune Pro requires using the Erase tool with Verify ticked.

            Using H2testW is a write-read test, but doesn’t cover the full surface and only tests the user-accessible file storage area (as the filesystem and partitioning does occupy some space).

            There are lots of tools and they can give you different results – this is all just down to the way the tool operates. Long/Short/Conveyance tests are standardized SMART-command based tests where the drive is told to perform a self test and report back the result (pass or fail, error log). Surface test can be done in the same way using a SMART command (e.g. BIOS based diagnostics) or by doing it via the interface and actually writing your own patterns to the drive (as H2TestW does). I normally regard doing the test over the full surface and via the interface (not via SMART command) to be most reliable, and examining the SMART data after the operation completes to see that the drive remains healthy.

            – Gough

  7. VWII says:

    I need an advice. Which one would you recommend?

    WD 3TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive WDBU6Y0030BBK-WESN


    Maxtor M3 4TB HX-M401TCB/GM ?

    I am asking because this is maybe my second time finding good review on Maxtor M3 4TB. Mostly is for WD Elements. Many people commented Maxto M3 crashed only after a month, or couple of months. There are some for WD Elements as well, but with negative commentary Maxtor wins.

    Thank you!

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