There are two things about the ESD200 USB 3.0 Portable SSD, Transcend's new external solid-state drive, that impressed me: Its speed and its diminutive size.
Conversely, there was one thing that I didn't like about the drive: The somewhat kludgey backup software that you're required to download (rather than it being included on the drive).
A little smaller than a playing card and weighing just 1.9 oz., the ESD200 packs either 128GB or 256GB of storage into a small form factor that also has data management and backup software.
Transcend ESD200 USB 3.0 Portable Solid State Drive
The SSD is 3.6 x 2.4 x 0.4 in. and fits nicely into a shirt or pants pocket. A dual-color LED indicator in the top corner of the drive tells you whether your system is using USB 3.0 (blue) or USB 2.0 (green) to connect to it. It ships with a USB 3.0 cable (which was missing from my review unit).
The drive has a one-touch auto-backup button that activates the Transcend Elite data management software, which is also usable on the company's JetFlash USB flash drive and StoreJet external hard drives.
The ESD200 uses MLC NAND flash memory with a lithography size of 21 nanometers. According to Transcend, it boasts a rating of one million hour meantime between failures.
I'm going to be candid about my feelings with regard to "one-touch" backup drives. I don't like them. They're typically not intuitive to set up.
Unfortunately, the Transcend Elite free backup software doesn't come pre-installed on the drive. You have to go onto Transcend's website, download the backup application, transfer it to the drive, open it and go through more than a half dozen steps to create your first backup. After that, you can use the physical one-push button on the drive to perform subsequent backups.
The software offers 256-bit AES file encryption, so as you back up and compress your data, it can also be encrypted.
The application lets you back up various types of files and organize them in different categories with a user-customizable Backup Tasks feature. You can also compress large files or encrypt private data simply by adjusting the settings of your existing Backup Tasks. Backups can also be scheduled, and once an initial backup is performed, the rest are incremental -- only the changed data is stored.
Like Apple's Time Machine automated backup feature, Transcend's Elite software is meant to allow you to restore data from any point in time.
The main menu of the Elite backup software has icons for backup, encryption and data restore as well as for managing your data. The management interface allows you to compress, encrypt, move or delete data that has already been backed up.
Once you choose to back up your drive, the task screen will ask you to name your new backup, describe it and then either back it up or back it up and compress it.
Next you'll be asked to pick a source and create a list of files to be backed up. Each file must then be selected in a separate step. Once the list is created, you have to then choose the destination by using a system browser in order to determine where the data will be stored. (Yes, you must pick the Transcend SSD as a backup target; this is what happens when a drive doesn't come in installed with backup software.)
Once the source and target of the backup have been selected, you need only choose "next" and the backup will be created. If you want the one-touch backup button on the SSD to work, you must then click on a circle icon next to the file to indicate that action.
The Elite software has the capability to schedule daily, weekly or monthly backups. The application must be running and the SSD must be connected to your computer and powered on in order for the automatic backup scheduling to work. Manual backups are possible by using either the management interface or the one-step physical button.
A closer look at the Transcend ESD200 USB 3.0 Portable Solid State Drive
If you're using a Mac computer, then you'll have to remember that there are file size limits, due to the fact that the Transcend SSD comes in Windows format MS-DOS (FAT32). So, before you can back up larger files, you must reformat the SSD from FAT32 format to HFS+.
As luck would have it, I use an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion. Nevertheless, I used my laptop, which has 4GB of RAM and a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor, for performance benchmark tests.
To measure data read/write performance, I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmark software.
I tested the 128GB version of the Transcend SSD (Model TS128GESD200K). The SSD is equipped with a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 (5Gbps) interface that provides 10 times the bandwidth of USB 2.0 (480Mbps). You'll appreciate that when you go to transfer a large file, such as a movie.
In its press release, Transcend claims that a 4.7GB DVD movie can upload to this SSD in just 15 seconds. My 5.67GB DVD took 39 seconds to upload to the SSD.
I tried a lower-resolution movie that was only 2GB in size and it took 14 seconds to upload from my desktop the Transcend SSD. By comparison, I uploaded the same movie to a recently released 8GB Lexar JumpDrive S23 flash drive; it took 2 minutes, 22 seconds. The JumpDrive, which also uses USB 3.0, boasts read/write performance of up to 100MB/sec. and 15MB/sec., respectively.
Next I used the Elite software to back up that same 2GB movie, and it took 1 minute, 4 seconds. The larger 5.67GB DVD took exactly 3 minutes to back up.
The Transcend SSD's specs boast of read speeds up to 260MB/sec. and write speeds of up to 225MB/sec. While my tests didn't see anywhere near those speeds, the performance was nevertheless impressive. My benchmarking software rated the drive at an impressive 130MB/sec. maximum write speed and 206MB/sec. maximum read speed.
At a Glance Transcend ESD200 USB 3.0 Portable SSD
TranscendList price: $406Pros: Great performance, small and lightweight, works on Windows and OS X systemsCons: Doesn't come with backup software installed, backup software takes seven steps to configure
Admittedly, it's a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. The Transcend SSD is a higher-capacity SSD with multiple channels to its flash chips and sophisticated, performance-boosting firmware. The JumpDrive is a typical single-channel flash drive. But the comparison illustrates the point that you can't use a cheaper flash product and get anywhere near the same performance.
The 256GB model of the ESD200 is available for $406 on Transcend's site. It can be found on etail sites for about $275 to $306. The 128GB model lists for $223, but can be found online from $160 to $173.
One-touch backup drives can be convenient, but most consumer backup software can be set to automatically back up daily, weekly or monthly, so placing a button on a drive doesn't seem like a big advantage to me.
That said, Transcend's new external SSD is a small, lightweight and slick-looking backup drive. The fact that it's an SSD with no moving parts to break makes it particularly durable for mobile use. So if you're in need a decent capacity drive that's very portable and fast, this is definitely an option I can recommend.
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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