LaCie 301103EK 500GB review
Whether you simply need extra storage space or a large-capacity disk to back up your existing files, an external hard disk can be the convenient option. It’s also cheaper than a NAS drive of the equivalent capacity, and most offer faster transfer speeds, as a direct USB, FireWire or eSATA connection has vastly more bandwidth than a 10/100 Ethernet network.
Freecom’s FHD-3 uses an almost identical design to the FSG-3 WLAN NAS drive, and for good reason – you can stack several FHD-3s on top of an FSG-3. However, the FHD-3 suffers from the same fan-noise problem as the FSG-3. In fact, the FHD-3 is even worse, as it’s noisy enough to drown out any hard disk seeking noises.
And despite costing £182, the Freecom doesn’t offer any exceptional features compared to the others here. There are both USB and dual FireWire 400 interfaces on the rear, but no integrated PSU. Transfer speed over USB and FireWire was fine for large files, but small files brought it to a crawl at under 1MB/sec. Reading small files, it managed 10MB/sec over USB and 13MB/sec using FireWire.
Nevertheless, we can’t recommend the expensive Freecom when the similarly performing Buffalo DriveStation Duo costs £44 less, and offers the option of RAID thanks to two 250GB hard disks. It makes for a much bigger case, but the PSU is integrated, making it a neater option overall.
The Buffalo has USB and FireWire interfaces, but instead of Freecom’s two six-pin sockets, there’s one each of six-pin and four-pin, with cables bundled in the box. Using the RAID utility, you can choose striping or mirroring, and we’re pleased to see the disks are user-replaceable. The default configuration is simply two 250GB volumes, which show up separately in Windows Explorer. Performance was behind the Freecom over USB, with an average STR (sustained transfer rate) of just 22MB/sec. Using FireWire, it was just as quick, although it still suffered from a slow 1.2MB/sec write speed for tiny files. Plus, the writing seek noise was very noticeable, even if the fan noise was unobtrusive from the sizeable rear fan.
For £17 less, you can get the LaCie 301103EK, which is virtually silent since it has no fan. The F. A. Porsche-designed case isn’t much bigger than the 3.5in disk inside, so it’s the most compact on test. In fact, the 250GB version of this drive has been on our A List for almost two years, such is the competitive price. Features are minimal – you get only a USB interface and the tiny, recessed power button is on the rear, which can be awkward to reach. Also, you get only the ultra-basic 1-Click Backup software in the box, which doesn’t support drive imaging, unlike the A-Listed Acronis True Image.
Performance was only limited by the USB interface – we saw a constant 33MB/sec STR across all cylinders of the 500GB capacity. And, the LaCie proved the fastest at handling both large and small files over USB, managing to write our 100MB selection at 9MB/sec and read it back at 10MB/sec. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t need more than the USB 2 performance (or extra backup software), it’s a good-value choice.
But if performance is your priority, the Seagate ST3500601XS-RK should be top of your list. It’s one of the first we’ve seen to exclusively use an eSATA interface, offering a theoretical 300MB/sec bandwidth. The £166 price even includes a Promise eSATA300 TX2 PCI card with two ports, and an eSATA cable. We expected great performance and weren’t let down. Our big file was read at a blistering 57MB/sec and written at 52MB/sec, making this an ideal choice for video workstations. Our small files were read at 18MB/sec and written at 14MB/sec – less impressive, but still field-leading figures. Bundled software only comprises a basic backup app, but the near-silent running and affordable price make up for this. Although you won’t be able to use it with a laptop, the Seagate is a great choice for anyone who needs the extra speed.