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Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt review: Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt

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The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 drive is the second Thunderbolt bus-powered portable drive (one that doesn't require a separate power adapter) on the market, the first being the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD. But the similarity between the two drives ends there.

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 (1TB)
8.2

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt

The Good

The bus-powered and affordable <b>Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 drive</b> offers fast performance via both Thunderbolt and USB and includes both a USB and a Thunderbolt cable.

The Bad

The Buffalo MiniStation comes with just one Thunderbolt port.

The Bottom Line

Versatile, good-looking, and fast enough for most applications, the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 makes an excellent buy for those looking for a portable Thunderbolt storage device.

The Buffalo is also the first Thunderbolt drive that offers USB 3.0 connectivity and the first that houses a regular platter-based hard drive, as opposed to a solid-state drive. And there's more, it's also the first I've seen that comes included with a Thunderbolt cable. This is a big deal since the cable itself can cost another $50.

Performance-wise, the Buffalo is limited by the speed of its internal hard drive. Still, it's very fast in my testing, enough to justify its $240 price for 1TB (or $200 for the 500GB capacity). 

If you're looking for a good-looking portable drive to accompany your Thunderbolt-enabled portable computer, or any portable computer for that matter, the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 makes an excellent choice, and the fact that it won't break the bank is just one part of the reason.

Drive type External Thunderbolt hard drive
Connector options Thunderbolt, USB 3.0
Available capacities 500GB, 1TB
Product dimensions 0.9 x 3.2 x 5.1 inches
Weight 9.3 ounces
Capacity of test unit 1TB
OSes supported Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later, Windows 7 or later

Design and features
The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 looks very nice and is as compact as most portable drives that are based on 2.5-inch internal hard drives. It's slightly larger than the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD but not by much. Measuring 0.9 inch x 3.2 inches x 5.1 inches and weighing just 9.3 ounces, it can be tucked away easily in your  backpack.

Housed in a white aluminum case with a glossy plastic top, the drive feels solid and looks expensive, similar to the look and feel of an Apple product. On the bottom there are two large curved rubber feet to keep it on a surface. There's also a label that reads "Made in Japan," which separates it from the herd of products that are made in China.

On one side, the drive comes with one Thunderbolt port and one standard Micro-USB 3.0 port. The fact that there's only one Thunderbolt port means that the drive can only be at the end of a chain in a daisy chain setup, since you can't connect another Thunderbolt device to it. Since this is a portable drive, the lack of the second Thunderbolt port is not a big deal, however.

The Buffalo has no power port since the drive draws power from the data port that's plugged in. It comes with one USB 3.0 cable and a short Thunderbolt cable. Note that the drive works only with one cable at a time, but if you, by mistake, connect it to a computer using both the USB and Thunderbolt cable, you won't break it. In this case, it only works with the port that's plugged in first.

Since the Thunderbolt standard offers up to 10Gbps bandwidth, it generally doesn't makes sense to make a single volume drive since the internal hard drive, even the fastest one, offers just 6Gbps. In the case of the Buffalo, it totally makes sense thanks to its USB 3.0. The USB 3.0 standard's top speed is just 5Gbps. The addition of the USB port means that the drive will also work with all existing computers on the market since USB is ubiquitous. Supporting USB 3.0, the Buffalo, however, also works with USB 2.0 ports in my trials.

There's nothing to setting up the Buffalo MiniStation. Out of the box, it's preformatted in HFS+; once connected to a Mac via Thunderbolt, it's immediately available to the computer, with an icon automatically appearing on the desktop and the Finder. You can also use it with a PC, but first, you'll need to reformat it into NTFS file system, which is a very easy task. The drive doesn't come bundled with any software.

Performance
I tested the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt with both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 and stacked it against other portable drives and Thunderbolt drives.

Obviously, it can't compare with other multiple volume Thunderbolt drives in terms of performance, since they come with RAID setups that can manipulate their internal drives to offers speeds faster than that of each individual drive. However, the Buffalo still did very well.

For the Thunderbolt standard, the test machine was a 2011 MacBook Pro running OS X Lion, on a SATA 3 (6Gbps) SSD, which is the same standard as the hard drive used inside the Buffalo. The drive scored 105MBps and 110MBps for writing and reading, respectively.

For the USB 3.0 test, I used a Windows 7 computer, powered by a second-generation Core i7 processor. In this case, it scored 92MBps and 106MBps, for writing and reading respectively. These are among the top performances of USB 3.0 drives.

The Buffalo worked very well in my testing. I noticed the bottom of its aluminum casing got slightly warm after extended operation but this is to be expected since the casing is designed to also work as the drive's heat-sink.

CNET Labs' Data Transfer Scores/Thunderbolt vs. Externa
(Measured in MB/Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  

Promise Pegasus R6 (RAID 5)
177.53 
210.5 

LaCie Little Big Disk SSD
186.8 
184.71 

Promise Pegasus R4 (RAID 5)
171.1 
150.47 

Elgato Thunderbolt SSD
168.97 
120.61 

Buffalo backs the MiniStation Thunderbolt drive with a three-year warranty, which is very good for a storage device, though not as good as a five-year warranty. Chances are you don't need any other support for the drive, other than the warranty. In this case, Buffalo delivers more than the Elgato, which comes with just a two-year warranty.

Conclusion
The Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 makes an excellent portable drive for a Thunderbolt-enabled computer, thanks to its affordability, its support for USB, and its decent performance.

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt HD-PATU3 (1TB)
8.2

Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 8Performance 8Support 8