Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC review: Fast and secure with easy encryption unlocking

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The Good The Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC can have its encryption quickly unlocked via near-field communication The drive is also fast and rugged.

The Bad This portable drive is expensive and bulky and the included security software doesn't work with some older Windows computers. Turning the security feature on or off requires deleting all data the drive contains.

The Bottom Line While owners of NFC-enabled phones will benefit from the MiniStation drive's convenient encryption unlocking feature, there are cheaper and faster options available for those with simpler needs.

7.8 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

The Buffalo MiniStation Extreme is a portable drive like no other. Not only is it fast, the drive includes protection against shocks and drops and is water-resistant. What's more, it has a secure data encryption feature that can use a near-field communication (NFC)-enabled device -- such as a smartphone -- as the key to unlock it for quick access. There's also an integrated wraparound USB cable that saves you from having to carry a separate one along.

There are a few catches, though. The drive is bulkier than most portable drives on the market and is also noticeably more expensive, at about $130 and $200 for 1TB and 2TB capacity, respectively. (That converts to about £85 and £130 pounds, or AU$165 and AU$255.)

In testing, I also found out that its security software did not work with some older Windows computers.

Clearly, the Buffalo is not for everyone, but if you're looking for a device that can protect your data against mishaps and most importantly safeguard your privacy, this is an excellent buy, especially for those with an NFC-enabled phone. On the other hand, those needing a drive for straightforward storage expansion or data backup, check out the alternatives on our list of top portable drives on the market.

The Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC includes a smart card to wirelessly open it when used in secure mode. Josh Miller/CNET

Slightly bulky but for a good reason

Measuring 3.51x5.04x0.71 inches (8.91x12.8x1.77 cm) this drive is quite large, almost twice the volume of a typical portable drive, such as the Seagate Expansion or the WD Elements. This means you won't be able to easily tuck it away in your pocket. The drive is not large enough, however, to be categorized as a desktop external hard drive -- it's still quite portable.

The reason for this bulkiness is because it has layers of protection. Buffalo says the MiniStation Extreme features US military standard shock protection with a rugged chassis and specialized internal bumpers designed to absorb and transfer shock away from the internal hard drive on the inside. As the result, the drive can survive drops from up to 1.2 meters (4 feet). It's also compliant with the IPX3 standard for water resistance, meaning it can handle water spray at a up to 60-degree angle, and the IP5X standard for dust resistance, meaning it's close to dust-proof.

The MiniStation features an integrated USB 3.0 cable that's permanently attached to its body. The cable wraps around the drive edge in a groove that neatly hides it when not in use. When need be, you can just pull the cable out and plug into a computer's USB port. This built-in cable device means you won't need to carry one along but if the cable breaks, which is rare, or gets cut off, you will need to replace the drive, too.

Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC specs

Drive type Bus-powered portable hard drive
Connector options USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Available capacities 1TB and 2TB
Internal drive speed 7,200rpm
Capacity of review unit 1TB
Dimensions 3.51 inches by 5.04 inches by 0.71 inch (8.91x12.8x1.77 cm)
Weight 8.12 oz ounces (230 grams)
Software included Security software
OSes supported Windows XP or later; Mac OS 10.4 or later
Warranty 3-year

Plug and play, optional encryption

Out of the box, the MiniStation is preformatted in NTFS and will work right away with a Windows computer, just like most portable drives on the market. You can use it like that or reformat it into HFS+ for Mac or exFAT to support both platforms at the same time. This is the drive's default open mode, but it can also work in the secure mode.

The drive is preloaded with a piece of software called ModeChanger for both Windows and Mac. ModeChanger's function is to change the drive from the open mode to secure mode and vice versa. Switching between the two modes requires the drive to be reformatted, so make sure you do this before putting information on the drive. I found it took about 30 seconds to change from one mode to the other.

In the secure mode, the drive supports 256-bit AES Full Disk Encryption (FDE) to protect your data from unauthorized access. As with any other portable drive that has this security feature, you will need to pick a password, which you'll need to enter each time you you plug the drive into a computer. Once the secure mode is turned on, when you first plug the drive in, it appears as a small partition called Utilities that contains an Open_HS program; run this program and it will prompt for the password before the main partition of the drive can be unlocked and mounted.

Typing in the password can be a tedious process, so the MiniStation gives you the option to register an NFC device as the key. The drive includes an NFC key card but you can also use a mobile device that has the NFC function, such as a smartphone, as the key. In this case, instead of entering the password, all you have to do is put the key device near the drive and it's unlocked, quick and easy. Note that only one NFC device can be registered as the key at a time.

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