StarTech Encrypted Hard Drive Enclosure review

For business users, securing data isn't really an option – it's mandatory. That's never more true than for portable devices that are taken from the four walls of the business premises, especially laptops, phones and tablets. But portable storage must also be encrypted to comply with company policies or even the Data Protection Act 1998 if personal data is involved.

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We've tested keypad-operated portable hard drives before, notably the Apricorn Aegis series which is rebranded in the UK by iStorage as the diskAshur drive. Like those drives, the StarTech Encrypted Hard Drive takes a 2.5in SATA drive, with data scrambled by an on-board encryption engine, and is unlocked by a PIN code of your choice, set when first using the drive.

The principle difference is that StarTech.com supply this drive as an empty enclosure, so you can use any 2.5in drive – hard disk or solid-state – so long as it's of 9.5mm profile or thinner. Most such drives are this height, with just the super-high-capacity types of 1TB-plus sometimes taking 12mm or thicker forms.

Besides its versatility as an empty enclosure, the StarTech drive also differs from press-button models by having a touch-sensitive keypad. It's a capacitive type so doesn't require much pressure, unlike older resistive panels.

Overall construction quality is very good, with tough plastic case to the front and polished stainless steel back, just like an original iPod. It is supplied with a soft stretchy nylon pouch which will keep it clean when packed in your carry bag.

StarTech review: Features

S2510BU3PWBesides the configuration with your own PIN code there are various other options available, all read out from a tiny OLED display at the top of the front panel. From here you can check HDD temperature (although not available with our choice of drive), as well as HDD usage time; which USB protocol is in use; and enable write protect. User info can be stored, that is a name in block caps and a phone number.

For its security, the StarTech enclosure uses AES-256 encryption and all data is scrambled when copied to a fitted drive. If the drive is removed it cannot be read when attached elsewhere, even if installed in another StarTech enclosure, we're told, although we couldn't test this. See also: Group test: what's the best SSD?

StarTech review: Performance

The unit is USB 3.0 compatible, using a Fujitsu MB86C311 USB 3.0-SATA chipset, and although this should allow USB-attached SCSI protocol (UASP) for decent throughput, it is already limited to the old SATA Revision 2 standard. As it happened we also found that UASP mode was not available when used with our MacBook, which was surprising as OS X has UASP compatabiltiy baked in with no need for third-party drivers.

We lab tested the StarTech enclosure with different SSDs, including a Samsung 840 Pro to test its very best performance. The unit was found to be capable of sequential transfers up 255 MB/s, for both read and writes. That's plenty fast for most applications, if less than half the speed the drive inside can actually support. As importantly, small files could be read and written quickly, as noted by our random read/write test which averaged 123 and 152 MB/s respectively for files between 4 kB and 1024 kB.

For security, you'd be advised to use the supplied microfibre cloth to wipe the front clean frequently, as tell-tale fingerprints really highlight which numbers comprise the chosen PIN code, reducing the number of permutations a cracker need try. The AES 256-bit standard is still regarded as secure cryptographically, and certainly enough to keep out most business-level adversaries, although the unit carries no US government FIPS rating, for example. And even if it did it would likely be backdoored for easier access by state intelligence services. (See all storage reviews.)

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StarTech 2.5in USB 3.0 SATA Hard Drive Enclosure with Touchpad Encryption: Specs

  • Secure hard drive enclosure
  • takes 2.5in SATA drives, up to 9.5 mm thickness
  • SATA Revision 2 interface
  • 256-bit AES hardware encryption
  • USB 3.0 cable
  • mini screwdriver and screws
  • soft carry pouch
  • cleaning cloth
  • 123 x 77 x 14 mm
  • 94 g
  • Secure hard drive enclosure
  • takes 2.5in SATA drives, up to 9.5 mm thickness
  • SATA Revision 2 interface
  • 256-bit AES hardware encryption
  • USB 3.0 cable
  • mini screwdriver and screws
  • soft carry pouch
  • cleaning cloth
  • 123 x 77 x 14 mm
  • 94 g

OUR VERDICT

The StarTech.com 2.5in Encrypted Hard Drive Enclosure is a well-made case to hold your choice of internal drive, with data all locked down with 256-bit encryption. The touchscreen control works well, with the added bonus of a small display to make setup and subsequent use even easier.

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