Review: Toshiba 500GB USB external hard drive

Drive has sleek design and fits easily in a pocket; performance a bit below average.

Toshiba Corp. recently sent in its new 500GB USB external disk drive for review. While the 2.5-inch device is a slick-looking drive with its diminutive size and shiny-black plastic case, I took issue with a couple of things after using it.

As far as high-capacity external hard drives go, the Toshiba one - officially known as model HDDR500E03X - has a convenient size to go along with its good looks. The drive, which was introduced in January, is 3.2 inches wide, 5 inches long and .65 of an inch thick, and it weighs 6 oz. At those dimensions, it's small enough to easily fit in a pants or shirt pocket.

The Toshiba drive also performs relatively well, though a little below average for such devices. I tested it on my ThinkPad with a 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M processor, 2GB of memory and the Service Pack 2 version of Windows XP Professional 2002. I ran two performance tests using Version 3.0 of Simpli Software's HD Tach, a low-level hardware benchmark application, and the HD Tune v2.5 hard disk utility from EDF Software.

I found myself running the HD Tach test over and over again because I kept getting widely varying results. But the bottom line is that this drive is no speed demon. The average read rate was 27.7MB/sec., the burst-read speed was 33.8MB/sec. and the average access rate was 17.7 milliseconds.

The amount of CPU cycles that the drive used also was all over the place. Its processor utilization rate started at 22%, dropped to 5% and seemed to level off at 10%. Still, I felt the utilization levels were too high. Anything over 20%, I find, will have an impact on other applications that you're running.

The results of the HD Tune tests were very similar to the HD Tach ones, in that the average read rate was 26.6MB/sec. Average random access time was 18.5 milliseconds, and the CPU utilization was 10.1% on average. The only number that differed greatly from the HD Tach results was the burst-read rate, which was 26.3MB/sec. with HD Tune.

I also copied to the drive a 4GB folder that contained 1,669 files consisting mainly of photos and videos. That took 11 minutes and 23 seconds - decent enough performance.

By comparison, earlier this month, I tested the Apollo Expert, a similar 500GB USB external drive from Imation Corp. My testing of that device with HD Tach showed an average read speed of 31MB/sec., a sequential read speed of 38MB/sec. and a burst-read speed of about 90MB/sec.

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