As more and more business travelers depend on portable hard drives to both back up their data and carry it around with them, the technology has been consistently improving. Even with the proliferation of cloud data services, hard drives are often considered more private and secure (and are especially useful where there is no wireless connection).
Hard drives are getting larger (in volume) while simultaneously getting smaller (in size). As a concession to consumer tastes, they're getting prettier too, often coming in a choice of style-minded colors. And they're getting smarter, with cloud-savvy features for added backup protection and file-sharing simplicity. Some drives have even cut the cord, relying on Wi-Fi to not only read and write files wirelessly, but also stream photos and videos to mobile devices.
In this roundup, I've tried out seven of the latest models, all of them compact enough to ride in a pocket (and certainly a carry-on).
Two of the drives -- the Corsair Voyager Air and Patriot Aero -- are equipped with compelling Wi-Fi features. The five other drives -- the Buffalo Technology MiniStation Slim, the Seagate Slim, the Silicon Power Diamond D20, the Toshiba Canvio Connect and the Western Digital My Passport Ultra -- incorporate USB 3.0 interfaces and, as a result, promise lightning-fast file transfers (though some units were definitely faster than others).
I worked with them using three different platforms: an Acer Aspire 8950G laptop running Windows 7, an AT&T iPhone 4S and a Verizon Wireless Samsung Galaxy S4. To benchmark performance, I used the ATTO Disk Benchmark tool and ran the tests on files ranging from 1MB to 8MB. (You can see the scores from the tests using an 8MB file at the end of this article.)
Which mobile drive is the best for you? It depends on a number of factors -- read on and find out.
Capacity/price: 500GB for $89.99 (direct)
True to its name, this is one skinny drive, measuring a scant 0.3 in. in depth and weighing just 4.9 oz. Only the Silicon Power Diamond D20 weighs less, and that's by a fraction. Even the most overstuffed carry-on bag can accommodate a Slim.
It's an attractive addition, too, modeled in your choice of silver or black, with an aluminum shell that feels more than solid enough to withstand everyday dings and drops. However, the status LED is inconveniently located at the rear of the drive, where it's difficult to see unless you angle the drive away from you.
The 500GB Slim -- currently Buffalo's only available capacity for the drive -- delivered average performance in benchmark testing, outpacing the Silicon Power and Toshiba drives but running a distant fourth to the USB 3.0 speed-demons from Corsair, Seagate and Western Digital. At least it has both functionality and security in its corner, with a solid suite of Buffalo tools for backup, encryption and password protection.
Buffalo's $89.99 price tag is a bit higher than what you'll pay for other 500GB drives in the group, making its so-so performance all the more acute. It's a lightweight and versatile companion, to be sure, but not exactly the top value.