The market isn’t exactly short of external hard drives, but the latest product from Buffalo is a nice addition to its growing lineup of USB 3.0-packing storage solutions. The MiniStation Extreme (89×18x128mm) not only supports the latest USB 3.0 and Buffalo’s TurboPC EX technology to deliver theoretical data transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps (as long as your computer has a compatible port), but is enclosed in a highly shock-resistant chassis that meets U.S. Military Standard MIL-STD-810F 516.5 Procedure IV. Plain speaking, the MiniStation Extreme should survive a drop of up to 2.3m and inevitable every day knocks and bumps.
The MiniStation Extreme is available in 500GB (£74) and 1TB (£134) varieties, with a choice of either piano-black, silver, or red colour options. It’s also kitted-out with an integrated USB 3.0 cable, which tucks in snugly to the side of the drive.
The downside to this convenience is that the cable is short, which is why Bufflo includes a rather unsightly cable extension. Overall, it’s a cumbersome and unattractive solution for connecting to a computer. On the plus side, the drive is powered by USB so you’d don’t need to carry a weighty AC adapter.
The cable design also raises some quality issues. Unclipping the cable from the top of the drive results in the almost impossible task of reattaching it. I was also concerned about the flimsy metal plate which sat too close to the now-exposed USB port—I expect that over time the metal place could shift slightly and prevent the cable from attaching (see photos and video below). The cable on my review sample never seemed to fit back quickly as tightly as before, either, which is worrying.
There’s a light at the top of the drive which illuminates green when powered by USB 2.0 and blue by USB 3.0, and also flickers when the drive is accessing data. Sadly there’s no power switch, a real pet hate of mine, so you’ll have to physically unlatch the drive from your computer to turn it off.
Rubberised parts and a shock resistant body help to make the MiniStation Extreme the most robust MiniStation to date, but Buffalo hasn’t neglected the equally important prerequisite of data security. Supplied with 256-bit AES encryption (not supported on Mac OS and Windows Server) that supposedly meets the US government’s standard for security, globe trotters can rest assured that their password-encrypted data is unavailable to prying eyes. Furthermore, The MiniStation Extreme’s fixed hard disk drive also means it’s pretty obvious to see if it has been tampered with.
Hardware-based full disk encryption (FDE) is available from many hard disk drive vendors. The crux of the technology is the symmetric encryption key, which is maintained independently from the CPU, thus removing computer memory as a potential attack vector. The biggest benefit is that it’s transparent to the user and the drive operates just like any drive with no degradation in performance. There is no complication or performance overhead, unlike disk encryption software, since all the encryption is invisible to the operating system and the host computers processor.
An encrypted MiniStation Extreme is recognised by the computer as a virtual CD at startup. When you attempt to access it, a window is displayed asking for the preset password. If you forget your password, you can kiss goodbye to your data as you have to restore the drive to factory defaults, which will erase all data and passwords.
Technophobes shouldn’t let the seemingly complicated subject of encryption deter them. The MiniStation Extreme is an easy to use drive that comes preformatted for immediate use with Windows (NTFS and HFS+ support) and Mac. Simply plug the drive into a spare USB port and the operating system does the rest.
The drive also comes with Buffalo Tools, a decent software suite of Windows-only tools that allow you to back up one or multiple computers with a single Buffalo external hard drive and conserve energy by regulating the power usage of the MiniStation Extreme at predetermined times. For Mac users, the MiniStation Extreme works perfectly with Time Machine to back up a Mac computer.
Buffalo is a bit of a storage guru, but I’m left disappointed by the MiniStation Extreme. The drive looks great on paper, but iffy build quality and an irksome software install process that dumps Google software onto your computer isn’t great. It’s not a bad choice for globetrotters who travel with their PCs and require a robust portable HDD for transferring and sharing videos, large digital photo collections, music files and other data-intensive content, but Mac users are left short-changed.