⌚ June 12, 2013
You are hiking through the mountains with a walking stick in one hand and your portable hard drive in the other. Just as you take another step to gaze upon the natural beauty surrounding you, disaster strikes! You stub your foot on a slab of granite beneath you, lose your balance, and your hard drive drops about one meter below you where it bounces off the rocks and lands in a small pool of water.
Oh, no! Is the data safe?
With the Silicon Power A80 1TB external hard drive, it might be. The A80 is a USB 3.0 portable hard drive designed to withstand shocks, drops, pressure, dust, and water immersion.
Given the vulnerability of portable hard drives, these features sound like something good to have when carrying a drive from point A to point B, so let’s have a look at the A80.
The A80 is well-packaged in a small box showing the drive itself through a clear window. The box even reads “PHD” on the front to let you know this hard drive possesses intelligence. (Pun intended.)
The contents include a 1TB drive, two USB 3 cables (one short and one long), and an instruction sheet written in eight languages which tells you nothing that you cannot figure out for yourself. This is a portable hard drive, after all.
The short USB 3.0 cable is not shown because it is tucked neatly inside the drive case.
The back of the box proudly lists the operating systems this drive is designed to work with, and Linux 2.6.31 (or later) is listed among them.
There are no drivers to install. Simply plug and play. Even in Linux. I used this drive with Ubuntu 10.10 (kernel 3.4.0) and Linux Mint 15 (kernel 126.96.36.199), and it performs perfectly. I never experienced any problems or data loss.
The A80 is built with a very sturdy plastic case, and it feels solid. The sides are sealed with think plastic, and the cover is one continuous, dark blue plastic. There is nothing “cheap” about the build quality. Holding this in the hands is a joy, and the ends are rounded to make it easier to grab from a table.
Size and Weight
The drive measures about 9cm x 14cm x 2cm, so the size is slightly larger than a regular external hard drive, but it can still be carried in a pocket.
The weight is also a tad heavier due to the solid construction, but it still feels lightweight. Nothing burdensome.
USB 3.0 / USB 2
There is one USB 3.0 port on the side of the drive that allows the drive to connect to a computer, and it is backward compatible with USB 2.
A note about the cables: You must use A-to-A type USB cables. You cannot use an A to Micro-B or miniUSB without an adapter. Two cables are included, so you are good to go out of the box.
The shorter cable neatly fits into a recess in the side of the drive case itself, making a cable readily accessible at all times.
1 TB (that is one terabyte) is labeled on the package, but is that true? Actually no. Only 930 GB of usable space is available after formatting no matter the filesystem. This is not a fault of the A80. Every hard drive I have used exhibits this behavior. In fact, the reduced available space compared to the advertised space is so consistent, that it turns out to be about 7% less than the advertised capacity.
If formatting with ext3 or ext4, be sure to set the reserved blocks to 0 or else you will end up with even less usable space.
To do this, first format the drive, and then find the device using fdisk.
sudo fdisk -l
The A80 should appear as something like /dev/sdb. The, run tune2fs.
sudo tune2fs -m 0 /dev/sdb
(Replace /dev/sdb with the device found using fdisk. -m 0 sets reserved blocks to zero.)
Furthermore, keep in mind that hard drive marketing considers a terabyte to be a power of ten as in 10^12 (1,000,000,000,000 bytes), not a binary terabyte as in 2^40 (1,099,511,627,776 bytes). Both are called a “terabyte” in marketing, but 2^40 (also known as a “tebibyte” TiB) is much larger.
Running sudo fdisk -l showed my A80 offering 1,000,204,886,016 bytes of total space, but after formatting with ext4 and setting the reserved blocks to 0 with tune2fs, only 930.6 GB were available for actual use. Again, this is normal and not a fault of the A80.
Is the drive fast? Since durability is probably the main reason for purchasing this drive, speed is most likely not much of an issue, but it would be nice to know this drive’s data throughout under everyday operations.
USB 3 will be faster than USB 2, but other factors play a role, such as the speed of the other hard drive, SATA2, and the overall speed of the computer. I used a 2.3GB file of random data (experiment with dd and /dev/urandom) to check the transfer rate to and from the A80. Nothing fancy. Here are my results:
Transfer rates for a 2.3GB file --------------------------------------------------- A80 (USB 3) to SSD (SATA2) 57 MB/s 29 seconds SSD (SATA2) to A80 (USB 3) 18 seconds A80 (USB 3) to 5400 RPM 2.5" 33 MB/s
In all of these test, all drives (A80, SSD, 5400 RPM) were formatted to ext4.
The formatted filesystem plays an important role. Ext4 is faster than NTFS.
NTFS Transfer Rates ------------------------------------------- A80 (USB 3) NTFS to/from 5400 RPM 20 MB/s A80 (USB 3) Ext4 to/from 5400 RPM 33 MB/s
By default, the A80 is preformatted with NTFS. I ran a few tests and then reformatted it to ext4 with excellent results. These tests might not be lab quality, but they tend to be consistent with everyday usage on the systems I use.
Now, let us look at the main feature of this hard drive: Durability!
The packaging claims to be anti-pressure, water resistant, and shockproof, but no mention is made as to how much. Other online reviews and videos claim the drive will survive a drop of about one meter. This seems to be true because in my zeal to extricate my new friend from its plastic prison, I dropped it on the floor where it landed with a thud. Oh, no! Will the drive still work? Yes, the drive survived the drop and performed as if nothing happened.
As for water resistance, the drive is definitely sealed tightly. There are no holes or vents, and the USB port is covered with a rubber fitting. I did not perform an immersion test, but online videos show others submerging the A80 in water and then demonstrating the drive in working condition. Knowing that the A80 can withstand shallow pools of water is a benefit and will definitely survive spills and moisture.
The box also states “US military standard,” but nowhere in the packaging or manual can I find exactly what kind of standards besides water resistant and anti drop-test standards. From evaluating the solid construction of the drive, I would say that the A80 can withstand reasonable bumps, shocks, and spills that go a little beyond everyday mishaps, but extreme trials might break it.
For example, I doubt the drive would survive ten years at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but it might survive ten minutes in the shallow end of a swimming pool. The drive might not survive a drop from an airplane onto pavement below from an altitude of 10,000 feet, but it will most likely survive a fall of one or two meters onto concrete or hard rocks…or possibly someone stepping on it by accident. It might even survive a car driving over it…maybe (not tested).
Given what the A80 is designed for, this is plenty good, and I would say it meets these conditions well.
I am very pleased with this purchase. This is one product where I feel like it is money well spent. The drive lives up to its advertised durability given my everyday use, and it performs well.
The USB 3 allows faster transfer rates than USB 2 when used with USB 3 computers, and the drive can withstand shocks and drops on the go and still keep the data safe. Given that this 1 TB drive costs about the same price as 1 TB portable drives of lesser build quality, there is little reason to purchase any of the others besides smaller physical dimensions and a slightly lighter weight.
Overall, an excellent product and worth recommending!
- Solid construction
- USB 3 cable holder in side of case
- USB 3 / USB 2 compatible
- Linux compatible
- Drop proof and shock proof up to short distances
- Waterproof in shallow water
- Includes two USB 3.0 cables
- The USB 3 A-type port on the drive requires an A-to-A type cable, which might not be readily available. However, this is a minor issue.