The first two questions that you need to ask before buying a portable hard drive are: is it big enough and is it small enough? The Buffalo MiniStation should be big enough at 40Gb, and if it isn’t there’s a 80Gb version available for an additional £26.79. In fact the bigger version is by far the better value, the cost per Gb of storage drops from £1.68 for the 40Gb version to just £1.12 - and as the amount of data you move around always increases year on year that 56p per Gb saving isn’t to be sniffed at.
And to answer the second question, it’s just about small enough. Although 127 x 83 x 21mm doesn’t sound much, add the 210g weight and if you’re more used to carrying a USB memory stick or Compact Flash drive in your pocket you’ll quickly notice the difference. That said, it’s still a miracle of modern technology to shoehorn a Samsung 2.5-inch hard drive into such a small enclosure.
One reason for this is that by making it USB-powered it draws power from the PC it’s plugged into and so doesn’t need an external power supply, apart from when it does. When we plugged it directly into a PC or laptop it worked just fine, but things went pear-shaped when we tried it via an unpowered extension hub as there wasn’t enough current available for it. This isn’t an uncommon scenario, and it is perhaps the drive's biggest drawback unless you count the fact that while there’s a socket for an external power supply, Buffalo don’t actually provide one with the unit.
We are firm believers that you can always ask at least three questions about anything, and the third as far as the MiniStation is concerned has to be "how tough is it?". Buffalo are very keen to convince us that its shock resistant design will protect the drive from impact. Choice quotes from the press pack include “tough armoured case” and “shock absorbent inner floating structure” but sorry Buffalo, it didn’t work and we aren’t convinced.
That tough armoured case feels remarkably like flimsy plastic to us, with a worrying degree of flex towards the centre. We can’t comment on the floaty insides, but perhaps one last press pack small print quote sums our feelings up nicely “severe shocks or abuse may still damage the drive”.
If by abuse they mean dropping, from any height, we’d certainly not want to do that - in stark contrast to the Iomega Micro Mini or any USB memory stick which look, feel and are tough.
Having said all of that, in its favour it’s a relatively high speed drive for a portable device, spinning at 5400 RPM, so data transfers don’t feel too sluggish, especially over a USB2.0 connection. The drive is also pre-formatted for true plug and play usage, runs cool and is near silent in operation.
As well as a basic Windows backup application, the only software you get is SecureLockWare. This lets you encrypt either the whole drive or individual files, which from a security and privacy viewpoint is great.
From the performance perspective it sucks elephants through a straw, slowly. With encryption turned on we found it pretty much doubled the time taken to read and write data.
Obviously, it’s up to you to decide if you want security or speed, unfortunately you don’t get both.
Good value, especially in 80Gb guise, but like a cheap car interior the flimsy plastic feel doesn't inspire confidence.