Buffalo USB 2.0 External Portable Hard Drive with Bus Power Boos
Buffalo's USB 2.0 External Portable Hard Drive with Bus Power Booster lets you pack a lot of data into an economical and fairly portable package. Moderately priced, it's a good value for a portable drive, and it includes a unique Mobile Assist Cable for machines that can't power the drive on their own. On the downside, it has mediocre throughput, lacks encryption and backup software, and is a tad chunky.
The black Buffalo USB 2.0 External Portable Hard Drive with Bus Booster measures 0.6 by 2.9 by 4.7 inches and weighs 6 ounces. Think of it as the little brother to the LinkStation line of desktop hard drives. It's larger and heavier than the Lilliputian Apricorn EZ Bus Mini or the Transcend StoreJet, however, because it houses a 5,400rpm, 2.5-inch Western Digital Scorpio hard drive instead of a 1.8-inch drive, as the other two products have. The upside of the bigger drive is its top capacity of 80GB--20GB more than smaller drives. A single LED on the outside glows green when ready and orange when the drive is in use. Curiously, even though it uses a USB connection for power, the Buffalo External Portable Hard Drive has an input jack for power; however, the seven-page manual doesn't mention it, and Buffalo doesn't sell a specific AC adapter for it. Our only real qualm on that score is that the included 3-foot USB cable can be awkward when used with a notebook. You might think about getting a shorter one.
The Buffalo USB 2.0 External Hard Drive is operating-system agnostic, but it doesn't come with drivers for Windows 98 systems (nor could we find any on the company's Web site). Formatted in FAT32, the 40GB drive we tested had 37.2GB of usable space; we quickly reformatted it as an NTFS drive. Paired with a ThinkPad R50, it read our 400MB mix of files at 83.5Mbps and wrote at 76.1Mbps, putting it behind the faster EZ Bus Mini and slightly ahead of the StoreJet. Due to its high speed, the unit is something of a power hog, draining the R50's battery 41 minutes faster than the notebook's native drive and 16 minutes faster than the EZ Bus Mini. Along the way, it never got more than warm and didn't produce the annoying clicks and hums that other drives do. We were disappointed by the lack of encryption and backup software, which competing drives provide.
The Buffalo USB 2.0 External Hard Drive comes into its own with older notebooks that lack the power to run an external hard drive without an AC adapter. The included Mobile Assist Cable (also called the Bus Power Booster) can increase the notebook's output enough to keep the drive going. Just plug in the small box between the computer and the drive. While the device is charging, its Boost light glows red for between 15 and 20 seconds. The light then glows orange when the Booster is ready and green when it's powering the drive. Rather than acting like a battery, the Mobile Assist Cable is a power conditioner; however, it won't work with a USB hub, and it delays access to the drive's contents until the green light fires up. On the downside, the Bus Power Booster adds nearly two ounces to the drive and makes for awkward packaging.
Like other Buffalo storage systems, the USB 2.0 External Portable Hard Drive with Bus Power Booster comes with a one-year warranty, which doesn't measure up to Apricorn's three years of coverage or Transcend's two years. The company's support site has a downloadable product sheet, general FAQs, and an online registration page, but not a chat room to discuss problems with a technician. Unfortunately, neither the company's knowledge base nor its FAQs mention the drive. Should a problem arise, you can always send Buffalo's technicians e-mail and expect a reply within 24 hours. You can also call the 24-hour toll-free help desk.