The Buffalo DriveStation TurboUSB External Hard Drive is a 500GB external hard drive that claims to be faster than its rivals.

When you're handed a box with a 500GB external hard drive inside, it's a gift. When, according to the writing on the box, the drive inside is "up to 37 percent faster" than most other external USB drives, it becomes a challenge for this reviewer to disprove. That's the gauntlet Buffalo Technology threw down with its DriveStation TurboUSB External Hard Drive.

Of course, it couldn't be true. A hard drive is a hard drive, and whether SCSI, PATA, SATA or SAS, they each have a rated data-transfer speed. Split open the case of the Buffalo drive and you'd find a SATA 3Gbps (gigabits per second) hard disk inside. We could discuss the huge inaccuracies of rating hard drives by their burst speeds, but if we deflate all of the fantasy in the world, it would become a dull place indeed.

The DriveStation attaches to your PC via a USB 2.0 port and that's a 480Mbps pipeline. So, logically, whichever is the slower of the two, the drive or the connection to your PC, will be the limiting factor, and it will always be that way. Well, at least that's the way it would be if we weren't surrounded by magic - or, as some would like to call it, software.

Included on the setup disc (which really isn't because the drive requires no setup; it's plug-and-play) is Buffalo's TurboUSB application. There is some mystery surrounding exactly what it does, but the premise goes something like the following. You install it on your computer, you enable it when the Buffalo drive is connected, you go on about your work.

The Turbo application, according to Buffalo, "adjusts" the amount of overhead required by the standard USB driver, trimming away some of the redundancies and USB delaying tactics (protocols) that normally slow down USB communications.

If you're technically paranoid, that will sound frightening to you. Interfere with the normal operation of the universe!? Why, that's heretical! On the other hand, whether you call it advanced technology or magic, it does appear to work with no obvious side effects.

Without TurboUSB enabled, the DriveStation is fairly mundane. Its 14 percent CPU utilisation and 29.6Mbps average read speed parallels the results achieved by a SimpleTech external USB drive, which scored a 12 percent CPU utilisation and 28.9Mbps average read. Even their burst speeds were relatively the same at 32.1Mbps for Buffalo and 30.3Mbps for SimpleTech. (Both drives were tested using SimpliSoftware's HDTach benchmark.)

Enable Turbo mode and the DriveStation suddenly swings up to 35.2Mbps average read while its burst speed goes through the roof at 1,783.7Mbps. Given that result, and even without knowing the exact details of the process (Buffalo doesn't seem ready to divulge them), you can probably depend on the burst level - where data is sent from the disc to the drive interface-being the point at which the speed-up shenanigans are being applied.

That's the good news. There's no real bad news except that Buffalo's software works only with Buffalo devices. So if you have a lineup of external USB drives that aren't sending out a Buffalo ID, nothing is going to happen - even if you enable the boost software, disconnect the DriveStation and plug in someone else's external hard disk really quickly.

You can't buffalo the Buffalo software. Once enabled, you also can't disable it unless the DriveStation is online and that's a bit unnerving. But, as it won't do anything when it doesn't find the correct drive ID present, you're just wasting a little memory.

Beyond that, the DriveStation TurboUSB is pretty much a regular Joe when it comes to external USB drives: black case with aluminum side panels acting as heatsinks and convection cooling vents in the top and bottom of the case for airflow. According to Buffalo, there is an optional fan available should you think it's necessary.

Included with the drive is Memeo Autobackup software that not only offers a backup regimen that wanders down to the file level if you so choose, but will also help you to manage the files you have. It's actually simple to use and seems to work effectively. Lastly, there's SecureLockWare if you want to encrypt your backup files and keep them safe from prying eyes - something often overlooked on a hard drive that can be picked up and carried away.

Buffalo DriveStation USBTurbo: Specs

  • SATA hard drive: 320GB, 500GB, 750GB or 1TB
  • rotational Speed 7500RPM
  • USB 2.0
  • USB Series A connector
  • data transfer rates: Max: 480Mbps (High Speed Mode), 12Mbps (Full Speed Mode)
  • 46x200x163mm
  • 1,270g
  • power consumption:Max. 25W, Average 17W
  • OS support: Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Me, Windows 98SE
  • power supply: external, AC100-240V 50/60Hz
  • SATA hard drive: 320GB, 500GB, 750GB or 1TB
  • rotational Speed 7500RPM
  • USB 2.0
  • USB Series A connector
  • data transfer rates: Max: 480Mbps (High Speed Mode), 12Mbps (Full Speed Mode)
  • 46x200x163mm
  • 1,270g
  • power consumption:Max. 25W, Average 17W
  • OS support: Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Me, Windows 98SE
  • power supply: external, AC100-240V 50/60Hz

OUR VERDICT

Available in 320GB, 500GB, 750GB and 1TB versions (where a fan is reportedly included), the DriveStation will set you back anywhere from about £79 to around £250 RRP. The 500GB model will tap you for around £79 online, and that's certainly competitive. If you look at component pricing, you'll probably find that you can buy a drive, an external enclosure, and a screwdriver for slightly less and build your own. But you won't get Memeo, SecureLockWare and a faster-than-the-average USB drive if you take that route. The DriveStation TurboUSB package is worth the extra few bucks.

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