The Seagate 2TB Ultra Slim+ and Linux

📅 June 1, 2016
ultra01What’s this? A slim 2TB USB drive?

Seeking more storage capacity for your portable data? Here is a device that works well with Linux: The Seagate Ultra Slim+

While 2TB external drives have been available for a while, this is unique because it packs a full 2TB (1.8 TB after formatting) of storage space in a small, silent, thin package that connects via USB 3.0.

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Seagate 2TB Ultra Slim+ with box and instruction manual. A short USB 3.0 cable (not shown) is also included. Available in silver and gold colors. Shown here is the gold version.

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Seagate Ultra Slim+ connected to a Linux computer via the included USB 3.0 cable. The cable is a standard USB 3.0 micro connector. When the drive is connected, a thin white LED glows as shown in the image.

“Is it Compatible with Linux?”

Yes. The drive is preformatted with NTFS, and you can plug and play with Linux and Windows. I experienced absolutely no problems with Linux Mint 17.3. It works out of the box.

Linix Mint 17.3 Disks utility detects the Seagate Ultra Slim+ fresh out of the box. While Disks reports 2.0 TB of space, this refers to the total capacity, not the usable, formatted space.

Linux Mint 17.3 Disks utility detects the Seagate Ultra Slim+ fresh out of the box. While Disks reports 2.0 TB of space, this refers to the total capacity, not the usable, formatted space.

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Windows 7 properties for the Seagate Ultra Slim+. The drive is formatted to NTFS by default.

However, with Linux, I recommend formatting to ext4. You will lose Windows compatibility, but ext4 is a superior file system that supports Linux permissions.
“Do you really get 2TB of usable storage space.”

No. This is a hard drive like any other, so no matter what file system you use, the usable storage capacity will be 1.81TB, which is about 7% less than the quoted 2TB on the box.

In the case of ext3/ext4, extra space beyond 7% will be reserved, so less formatted space will be available by default. These reserved blocks are probably useless on an external data drive, so set them to 0 by running sudo tune2fs -m 0 /dev/sdx, where x is the ext3/ext4 partition.

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After formatting to ext4, Linux reserves 100GB of space. This is useful for a shared system drive, but unnecessary for a data drive.

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Setting the reserved blocks to 0 allows you to use all available formatted space.

“Is any software included with the drive?”

Yes, but it is Windows-only software that I have no use for, so I never tried it. I formatted the drive to ext4 and performed my own encryption using Veracrypt.

Here is what the default directory listing looks like in Windows 7:

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Windows 7 listing of the software that is preinstalled on the Seagate Ultra Slim+. None was useful to me.

“Where did the custom icon come from in Windows 7?”

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Windows 7 automatically shows an icon of the Ultra Slim hard drive in Windows Explorer.

Have you ever wondered how to make a custom device icon appear in Windows Explorer? The drive ships with an icon named UltraSlim.ico in the drive root. The Autorun.inf file points to this icon file.

[autorun]
icon=.\UltraSlim.ico

This custom icon does not appear by default in Linux Mint 17.3, but it is there in case you want to convert it to PNG for use of your own.

“Is this drive really small or is that a gimmick?”

Yes, the Ultra Slim+ earns its name since it is only 9mm thick. It measures 75mm wide by 113mm long. The top feels like a thin type of metal, possibly aluminum, while the rest of the case is black plastic. The top features large golf ball styled dimples.

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The drive measures 75mm x 113mm x 9mm (thickness). It is also fairly lightweight, but not feather light. It possesses slight “heft,” so you can tell that there is a hard drive inside.

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The underside of the Seagate Ultra Slim+ is black plastic. There are no rubber feet.

To get an idea of the size, here is a comparison with the Weme USB hard drive enclosure and the shock-proof Silicon Power A80:

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Weme enclosure (left), Seagate Ultra Slim+ (middle), Silicon Power A80 (right).

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Side view. Weme (left), Ultra Slim+ (middle), A80 (right).

The small size and light weight make this drive easy to carry around. However, the Silicon Power A80 feels much more sturdy and durable.

“Does the drive get hot?”

No. While some warmth might appear during operation, it never becomes noticeably hot. Even after 14+ hours of continuous use, the drive only becomes slightly warm.

The drive is also practically silent. I could not hear any whirring or clicking noises. I had to press my ear against the drive, and even then, I only heard the faint sound of a spinning platter.

Benchmarks

The drive wins physically, but what about performance?

CrystalDiskMark

First, I tested this drive with CrystalDiskMark 5.1.2 in Windows 7 since it was already formatted as NTFS.

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Seagate Ultra Slim+ CrystalDiskMark 5x100M.

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3x1G benchmark yielded higher numbers, but keep in mind that these are only benchmarks intended to help us understand the drive’s capabilities. Real-world performance usually differs.

Linux Mint 17.3 Disks Benchmark

Next, I formatted the drive to ext4 in Linux Mint 17.3 and tested the drive using the Disks benchmark.

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Disks benchmark in Linux Mint 17.3. The 3x1000M test yielded higher numbers closer to CrystalDiskMark, but the 100x10M test revealed more accurate real-world performance.

Even though the tests show a maximum of 117-133MB/s for reads and 115-130MB/s for writes, the drive seemed closer to ~90MB/s for reads and writes during everyday usage. It really depended upon the size of the files being copied. Regardless, I found this drive to be sufficiently fast. Keep in mind that these numbers are obtained using USB 3.0, not USB 2.0.

This is a Mechanical Drive

Note that the Ultra Slim+ is a mechanical, spinning drive, NOT a solid state drive. Treat it gently, and do not expect blazing 500+ MB/s transfer rates.

Veracrypt

When using a portable external drive such as this, you will want to protect your data from prying eyes. This means encryption. Dumping the bundled software, I preferred Veracrypt.

But how does the drive perform using Veracrypt? Yes, the data is protected, but as what speed cost? Here is a Disks benchmark comparison using whole-drive Veracrypt encryption.

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Veracrypt with Seagate Ultra Slim+ viewing performance with one/two/three-level encryption.

Veracrypt does affect read/write speeds. Even when measuring real-time I/O performance with sudo iotop -o during real file transfers, data reads and writes slower using Veracrypt than with an unencrypted drive.

This is not a flaw of the Seagate Ultra Slim+. All hard drives — even SSDs — have slower read and write speeds when using encryption. This is normal.

The purpose of this test is to give an idea of what to expect when using Veracrypt with the Ultra Slim+.

Disks comparison chart. The 1st run and 2nd run show some Linux caching at work, so it was tricky to produce identical results. Usually, an unencypted drive has higher reads and writes than a Veracrypt-encrypted drive, but this test shows that Veracrypt AES reads are faster than unencrypted reads. Multiple tests produced similar results. I suspect that the system might be inflating the numbers.

Disks comparison chart. The 1st run and 2nd run show some Linux caching at work, so it was tricky to produce identical results. Usually, an unencypted drive has higher reads and writes than a Veracrypt-encrypted drive, but this test shows that Veracrypt AES reads are faster than unencrypted reads. Multiple tests produced similar results. I suspect that the system might be inflating the numbers.

Conclusion

I am immensely happy with this portable wonder, and I am pleased with my purchase. The small size, flawless Linux compatibility, silent operation, almost zero heat, and large capacity make this an excellent external drive.

This drive is still new, so time will test its reliability. Other external drives that I have used over the years, such as the Silicon Power A80, continue to operate reliably even though their warranties have expired, so it would be great to see the Seagate Ultra Slim+ perform as well (the Ultra Slim+ has a two-year warranty). We shall see.

So far, this is a superb performer and recommended for those who enjoy carrying vast treasure troves of data.

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