Best 1TB external hard drive: 10 drives tested
28th Dec 2010 | 11:00
10 of the best desktop external drives on offer
Best 1TB external hard drive
These days, you can never have too much storage space. However much you have, you're bound to fill it sooner than you think. But what do you do if you want more?
Internal drives are all very well, but your PC doesn't have an infinite number of drive bays, and what if you want to transport your digital data as well as access it from your own PC?
For this test then, we're comparing external desktop hard drives that have a 1TB capacity.
A desktop drive is based on the 3.5-inch hard drive and is plugged into the mains, as opposed to portable external drives, which use smaller 2.5-inch HDDs and draw their power from their data connection cable, normally powered USB.
The main advantage offered by desktop drives over their portable counterparts is price. They can, of course, be unplugged and carried away should you wish to (for example) take data between work and home, but if your drive is likely to spend as much time in your bag as it does on your desk, a portable unit may prove a better option.
So you can compare like with like, we've benchmarked the drives by average random read/write speeds in MB/s under the ubiquitous USB 2.0 connectivity, though most drives offer faster methods, such as eSATA.
Hard drives on test
LaCie Starck 1TB - £89
Iomega Minimax 1TB - £116
Freecom Hard Drive XS 3.0 1TB - £91
G-Technology G-Raid 1TB - £156
Iomega Ego Desktop Hard Drive 1TB - £115
G-Technology G-Drive 1TB - £155
Hitachi LifeStudio 1TB Desk Plus - £95
Buffalo DriveStation 1TB - £74
Freecom Hard Drive Quattro 1TB - £116
LaCie D2 Quadra - £131
Iomega Minimax 1TB
This almost-square hard drive is clearly designed to sit under small-form factor machines. Of course, that also means it's fairly convenient to slip into your bag and carry from computer to computer.
Not as convenient as a portable drive, of course. It's bigger, and you need to carry the MiniMax's power supply as well as the drive. But if your need an external hard drive that will spend most of its life on your desk, but take the occasional trip to the office or your friend's house, this drive is well worth considering.
The MiniMax is very sturdy, and its large rubber base stops it sliding about on your desk. Its brushed aluminium sides and white top look great next to most PCs (small-form factor or otherwise), and its transfer speeds are very respectable.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, as well as a USB 2.0 and twin FireWire 800 ports (a cable for FW400 connections is supplied), there's also a three-port USB hub for connecting further peripherals. Just the thing if you want a USB hard drive, but are running out of ports.
LaCie Starck 1TB
If you're looking for an external hard drive that looks great next to almost any PC, you could do a lot worse than check out this one.
Designed by top industrial designer Philippe Starck, its sturdy aluminium casing and shiny, molten metal front look absolutely gorgeous. Starck's signature cross sign is projected onto the desktop as a drive status LED too, which is a nice touch.
The molten front panel is touch-sensitive, functioning as a shortcut button that can be set up to launch an application, open a file or mount and unmount the drive. Unfortunately, the configuration software that controls this function is a little flaky.
The Starck isn't LaCie's most versatile external desktop hard drive. It's USB 2.0-only, though it gave us reasonable speeds in our benchmarking tests. For even faster speeds, you can download a turbo driver, to boost USB speeds by up to 33 per cent.
Also bundled is 10GB of Wuala online storage, which is free for a year, and LaCie Genie Backup Assistant for an easy way to back up your files.
G-Technology G-Raid 1TB
This attractive, sturdy device holds two 500GB drives arranged in a hardware RAID 0 array for additional speed.
It offers USB 2.0 connectivity, twin FireWire 800 ports with a FireWire 800-to-400 cable for connection to a FireWire 400 port.For the fastest possible connection, there's also eSATA.
An Oxford 936 chipset is used for its out-of-the box hardware RAID 0 array. You can switch to a RAID 1 mirrored array, which copies your data to both of the drive's two discs, halving the unit's overall storage capacity but protecting your data against drive failure.
G-Technology doesn't exactly go out of its way to show you how to do this, though. You have to download an application called 'G-Tech Configurator' from the support section of its website, or search the bundled CD where it's only found under G-RAID Mini, a different product.
Unlike its stable mate, the similarly-styled G-DRIVE, the G-RAID uses a fan-based cooling system. Thankfully, it's based on a thermo-regulated smart fan that only kicks in when the temperature rises, and is pretty quiet in operation even when it's running.
It's also worth mentioning that the 4TB version of this external hard drive isn't compatible with Windows XP.
Freecom Hard Drive XS 3.0 1TB
Freecom's Hard Drive XS 3.0 is USB-only. As you'd expect from the name, it's compatible with the new USB 3.0 standard, which is up to ten times faster than USB 2.0 and fully backwards-compatible.
Although a desktop design (it's based on a 3.5-inch SATA drive format and plugs into the mains), it's clearly built with portability in mind.
Described as 'the world's smallest 3.5-inch external drive', the unit as a whole is barely larger than the drive it holds. It's also wrapped in a rubber sleeve to reduce vibrations and protect against minor knocks. This rubberised finish and its fanless construction make the Hard Drive XS 3.0 almost silent in operation.
Even when using a slower USB 2.0 connection, the XS 3.0 is pretty speedy. It's reasonably light at 862g too, and its power supply is a modest, pocket-sized affair. There's no enormous brick-like transformer to lug around.
Given its clear advantages as a semi-portable drive, we can't think why Freecom didn't bundle a carry case. It would've rounded off a very useful and keenly-priced package.
G-Technology G-Drive 1TB
This beautifully realised aluminium design from Hitachi subsidiary G-Technology is clearly conceived with the Mac user in mind, but it looks just as at home next to a brushed metal PC tower.
As well as USB 2.0, G-DRIVE offers eSATA for ultra-fast connection with compatible machines, and twin FireWire 800 ports. A FireWire 800-to-400 cable is bundled, so you can connect using the slower FireWire 400 standard if you've no spare FW800 port.
Like many of the drives on test here, the G-DRIVE offers a fanless cooling system. Instead, there's an aluminium heatsink between its supports that silently dissipates heat. At just under five centimetres tall it's got a very low profile, but it's certainly not designed to be vertically mounted.
It performed admirably in our speed tests, being one of the faster drives in our base-line USB 2.0 test, and at the front of the pack using FireWire.
The G-DRIVE isn't exactly awash with bundled software, though we wonder how many people actually use applications they get bundled with storage solutions. Despite its triple-interface connectivity options we feel it's a little expensive too, though the quality is very high.
Five more 1TB external hard drives reviewed
Iomega Ego Desktop Hard Drive 1TB
Iomega's popular eGo Desktop Hard Drive range comes in various fl avours. The silver model we're looking at here offers FireWire 400/800 and USB 2.0 connectivity and is Mac-formatted out of the box, but can easily be reconfigured for Windows.
Other variations of the drive include a jet black or midnight blue USB 2.0-only drive, or a charcoal enclosure offering USB 3.0 connectivity.
The eGo Desktop range boasts plastic enclosures, but they look as smart and attractive as any metal casing. They can be mounted vertically using the supplied stand, or horizontally.
You get two free software applications with the drive, though you have to download them – they're not on the hard drive itself or on a bundled CD.
Iomega QuikProtect lets you back up your data to an external or networked drive, according to a schedule or whenever a fi le changes. MozyHome Online backup service lets you back up your data to a cloud server. You get 2GB free with the drive, or you can sign up for MozyPro and buy more storage space for a monthly fee.
Buffalo DriveStation 1TB
This cost-effective drive from Buffalo is USB 2.0-only, but its transfer speeds can be enhanced using the bundled TurboUSB driver.
Windows users can enjoy full disk AES256-bit hardware encryption to keep your data safe and secure, encrypting all data as soon as it's written to the drive, and protecting it with a password.
SecureLockManager Easy remembers your credentials and makes logging-on a simple task when using Full Automatic Encryption, and there's a power saving mode that automatically switches off the drive when you shut down your PC.
Also included is Memeo AutoSync backup software and Google's Picasa software for photo and movie organising.
The DriveStation's shiny black plastic casing is fairly attractive, especially next to a glossy black tower system, but it picks up fingerprints faster than the CSI team. Thankfully, being a desktop drive, you won't have to pick it up often.
It's not the fastest of the drives on test here, but it's not the slowest either and its TurboUSB driver makes it a wise choice if you only plan to use USB 2.0 connectivity.
Hitachi LifeStudio 1TB Desk Plus
If you're looking for a big, dumb hard drive for data storage, look elsewhere. Hitachi's LifeStudio range, available in mobile and desktop form factors, is aptly described as 'the hard drive redefined'. It's far more than a bare storage device.
Its bundled management suite lets you find, organise and share digital content located on both your PC and your LifeStudio drive, view photos you've uploaded to social networking sites, access online content such as games, news, music and videos and auto-sync with the removable USB key mounted on the front of the drive.
This removable storage device uses a MicroSD card, which can easily be removed and replaced if you want to upgrade. It's all accessed through a gorgeous 3D browser too.
The LifeStudio Desk Plus isn't the fastest of drives, and it's USB 2.0 only, with no support for faster connectivity methods.
With its blue and black plastic finish it looks pretty good on your desktop, but the removable USB flash drive means you can't tuck it away out of sight and out of reach.
If you're only looking for a storage device, this isn't the drive for you, but if its lifestyle and management features appeal, it's excellent value for money.
LaCie D2 Quadra 1TB
This Neil Poulton-designed external hard drive is extremely versatile. It has four connectivity options (as suggested in the name); USB 2.0, twin FireWire 800 ports, a single FireWire 400 port and eSATA.
It can be vertically mounted using the supplied aluminium stand or used in a horizontal position, and up to four d2 Quadras can be installed together in a convenient desk rack (sold separately).
The D2 Quadra's casing is made from sturdy aluminium, and its ribbed surface provides a handy heat sink, which LaCie claims offers up to 60 per cent more surface area for heat dissipation compared to a more conventional, flat-sided external drive.
The drive light on the front of the unit also functions as a shortcut button. Using the supplied software (which is a little buggy – we hope a revision is in the pipeline), you can configure it to back up your data or launch a file or application of your choice.
Its speeds are very agreeable, it can be set to power down when you switch off your computer and there's bundled software too.
Freecom Hard Drive Quattro 1TB
This sturdy quadruple-interface drive is clearly built for function rather than aesthetics. While far from ugly, its uncompromising box-like form factor and no-frills design make no attempt to be decorative.
Build quality is superb, with a robust brushed aluminium casing and a rugged plastic facing. If you need a drive that can take the knocks, the Freecom Quattro is well worth considering. The Quattro's fanless design means it runs almost silently, making it ideal for desktop use, and it can be mounted horizontally, or vertically using the bundled rubber stands.
As well as the ubiquitous USB 2.0 port, the Quattro also boasts eSATA, twin FireWire 800 ports and even a FireWire 400 port, which is unusual. Most drives that offer FireWire 400/800 connectivity usually omit the FireWire 400 port, but instead bundle a cable that lets you connect a FW800 outlet to your system's FW400 port.
Although far from poor, the Freecom Quattro's transfer speeds were nothing special, putting in a mediocre performance under USB 2.0 and lagging behind some of the other FireWire-compatible drives when using FW800.
First published in PC Format Issue 247
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