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The Buffalo MiniStation Cobalt USB 3.0 is a great deal for a USB 3.0-ready computer. If your computer lacks USB 3.0, however, you won't be able to take advantage of the drive's fast speed. At around $130 (the 500GB version) or $180 (the 640GB version), the MiniStation Cobalt USB 3.0 is one of the most affordable USB 3.0-based portable hard drives on the market.
Nonetheless, if your laptop doesn't support USB 3.0, yet, which most of the existing one don't, you'll be possibly better off going for the slightly more expensive Seagate BlackArmor PS110 USB 3.0 that includes a USB 3.0 PC card. If you want something that also supports FireWire, check out the new Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex, which comes with optional adapters that collectively support all existing types of storage connections.
Design and features
|Drive type||2.5-inch external USB hard drive|
|Connector options||USB 2.0, USB 3.0|
|Size (WHD)||5.0 x 3.4 x 0.6 inches|
|Available capacities||500GB, 640GB|
|Capacity of test unit||640GB|
|OSes supported||Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista, 7), Mac OS 10.4 or higher|
|Software included||Buffalo Backup Utility, TurboPC for Windows|
The MiniStation Cobalt is a sleek-looking yet frills-free portable storage solution. The device is housed in a glossy black chassis with rounded corners. It has four tiny rubber feet on its bottom to keep it grounded on any surface but is compact enough to fit in any pocket.
The drive has only one mini-USB 3.0 port on its back end and comes with a USB 3.0 cable that serves both as data and power cable. This is a standard cable with one end that works with any mini-USB 3.0 ports and the other that fits in any computer USB port. The drive only supports USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, not the legacy USB 1.1, as these newer ports can provide enough juice to power the device.
On top, the Cobalt has a little LED indicator that flashes blue to show drive activity. There's also a white Buffalo logo that lights up when the drive is plugged in.
There's nothing to setting up the external drive. All you have to do is plug it into a computer using the included USB cable. The computer will then recognize the drive, and you can use it as you would any internal hard drive.
The Cobalt is preformatted using FAT32 file systems. This means that out of the box, it works with both PC and Mac for both read and write. However, there's a huge drawback: with this file system, the drive can't take files that are 4GB or larger in size. In order to support larger files, you'll need to convert it to NTFS. The conversion is fast and easy, or you can reformat the drive, in which case you might want to move its included software over to another place first.
The drive comes preloaded with a set of software utilities, including the TurboPC for Windows that supposedly boosts the copying speed up to 25 percent. However in our trials, the software actually made the system run slower, possibly because it put too many applications running constantly in the background. We tested the drive using Windows 7 64-bit, by the way; its software might work differently with other editions of Windows.
The included Buffalo's Backup Utility is also rigid and limited. It backs up the entire system and doesn't give the user any control over any of its functionality.
In all, we found that the best way to use the Cobalt is reformat it into either a NTFS (for Windows) or HFS+ (for Mac OS X) file system and forgo all of its included software.
The Buffalo MiniStation Cobalt's performance met our expectations in both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0.
When tested via a USB 3.0 connection, the drive scored 534.9Mbps in write speed and 734.7Mbps in read speed. While these are noticeably slower than the 688.2Mbps and 842.6Mbps of the Seagate BlackArmor PS 110 USB 3.0's write and read speeds, respectively, it's still easily more than double the speed of even the fastest USB 2.0-based drive.
In test with USB 2.0, the Cobalt also did decently at 199.0Mbps for write and 319.4Mbps for read. These are comparable to those of other USB 3.0-based external hard drives.
Service and support
Buffalo backs the MiniStation Cobalt with a one-year warranty, which is very short for a hard drive. Though there won't be much support needed for the drive, the company's toll-free tech support is available 24-7 for the entire life of the device. At the company's Web site you'll find a download section, a knowledge base, a forum, and other support-related materials.