Sony HDD HB Portable Drive review: Durable, but overpriced

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THE GOOD

The Sony HDD HB portable drive includes Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 connections, delivers solid performance and is highly durable and dirt-resistant. It works with both Windows and Mac right out of the box.

THE BAD

The portable drive has nothing new compared with its competitors, is expensive and includes unnecessary software.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Though a decent drive for those working in rough environments, the Sony HDD HB has nothing new to justify its hefty cost.

The HDD HB is sorely lacking innovation. There’s nothing new or creative about the external hard drive. Even its name, which is short for hard disk drive, is disappointingly generic.

I also find the drive’s bulky design counterintuitive and even somewhat annoying. What’s more, the drive’s included software isn’t necessary (and when used actually makes the drive worse.) At $189 for 1TB and $273 for 2TB, the HDD HB is also expensive.

To be fair, the HDD HB did well in my testing with a sustained copy speed close to what Sony claims. Still, compared with other hard-drive-based portable drives on the market, its performance didn’t really stand out. In all, if you want a rugged Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 portable drive, I’d recommended the LaCie Rugged, which is better in every way and some $20 cheaper. Or if you don’t care about Thunderbolt, the SiliconPower Armor A60, which costs just a third of the price, would also make a better buy.

For more excellent choice on portable drive, check out this list of top drives on the market.

The Sony HDD HB comes with a removable silicon casing that protect it from shocks and dirt.

Design

The Sony HDD HB is a straightforward portable drive with one Thunderbolt port and one micro USB 3.0 port, with a cable for each included with the drive. On the inside, it houses a low-power standard laptop hard drive that spins at 5400 RPM. The performance ceiling of this hard drive is just around that of USB 3.0 (5Gbps). Thunderbolt has a ceiling speed of 10Gbps. Which means it’s impossible for the drive to reach the performance cap of Thunderbolt, making the inclusion of the standard largely useless, at least from a performance perspective.

The drive is also compatible with USB 2.0 and the new Thunderbolt 2 and no matter which port you choose to use, you’ll at the very least enjoy a bus-powered experience. A bus-powered drive only needs one cable for both the data and power connections.

The portable drive is quite bulky and includes a silicone casing option. Without the silicone casing, the drive measures 3.5×1.12×5.9 inches (90×28.4×150.6 mm), noticeably larger than most portable hard drives. When the silicon casing is put on, the drive is now measure significantly larger at 6.5×1.4×6.9 inches (166x36x176 mm). In all, the drive is not huge, but it’s definitely not compact enough for you to tuck it away in your pocket or your purse.

The silicone casing only covers the front, back and sides of the drive, leaving the middle part uncovered. On the bottom, the casing has four little feet to help stabilize the drive on a surface. On its top the casing has four little grooves, just in case you wanted to stack another HDD HB unit on top. Sony says this stackable design is “for easy daisy-chaining with increased air flow between drives for less heat build-up.

” That might be true, but the HDD HB drive has only one Thunderbolt port. This means in a daisy-chain setup, the HDD HB could only be at the end of the chain (there’s no “connection out” option). So you can’t use more than one HDD HB unit in a daisy-chain setup at all. In other words, the stackable design is useless for the most part.

The HDD HB has a blue indicator light on its front that flashes constantly when there’s data activity and flashes randomly when the drive is idle. This is rather annoying since the light is bright and it’s quite big for a compact device. The HDD HB shares its power status with the host computer. It automatically turns itself off when the computer is off or in sleep mode, and back on when the computer is in use.

SONY HDD HB PORTABLE DRIVE SPECS

Drive type Bus-powered portable hard drive
Connector options Thunderbolt, USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 compatible)
Available capacities 1TB, 2TB
Internal drive speed 5,400rpm
Capacity of review unit 2TB
Dimensions Without protection: 3.5 x 1.12 x 5.9 inches (90 x 28.4 x 150.6 mm) / With protection: 6.5 x 1.4 x 6.9 inches (166 x 36 x 176 mm)
Weight 11.3 ounces (320 grams)
Software included Portable Storage Formatter
OSes supported Windows XP or later; Mac OS 10.4 or later
Warranty 3-year

Setup

Out of the box, the HDD HB is preformatted in ExFAT file system, allowing it to work with both Windows and Mac computers without any restriction. There’s nothing you need to do to get the drive up and running once it’s plugged in.

Unfortunately, the drive is preloaded with a piece of software called PSZF_Setup (for both Windows and Mac) which proved to be completely unnecessary, even harmful in my trial. The software requires a full installation process and once done, it becomes Portable Storage Formatter and has only one function: to format the drive. The problem is it can only format the HDD HB into one of three file systems: FAT32, NTFS (the native file system for Windows) or HFS+ (Mac’s native file system). The more versatile, ExFAT is not supported by the software. Which means that if you use this software, you will only make the HDD HB less flexible than it is out of the box.

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The included Portable Storage Formatter is redundant thanks to the built-in tools of Winodws or Mac OS.

On top of that, both Windows and Mac has built-in tools for drive formatting that are easier to use, require no installation, and support more file systems as well as other formatting options. Considering that, why Sony has created the Portable Storage Formatter is beyond me.

Performance

The Sony HDD HB performed well and it did better via USB 3.0 than via Thunderbolt. This is quite normal for a hard-drive-based external drive, since our tests for Thunderbolt is much more taxing than the one for USB 3.0.

Via USB 3.0, the HDD HB scored the sustained copy speed of 122MBps (megabytes per second) for writing and 128MBps for reading, among the top for hard-drive-based portable drives. I also tried it with USB 2.0 and the data rates were around 30MBps.

CNET LABS’ USB 3.0 EXTERNAL DRIVE PERFORMANCE

Samsung Portable T1 : (1) – 158.3 / (2) – 292.42

Seagate Backup Plus FAST (RAID 0) : (1) – 222.5 / (2) – 232.74

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain : (1) – 155.7 / (2) – 227.43

Brinell Drive SSD : (1) – 156.4 / (2) – 220.2

Seagate Backup Plus Desktop : (1) – 150.9 / (2) – 180.45

Sony HDD HB : (1) – 121.7 / (2) – 128.06

Seagate Expansion : (1) – 125.2 / (2) – 127.93

Seagate Backup Plus Slim (Summer 2015) : (1) – 118.8 / (2) – 125.35

Seagate Backup Plus (Summer 2015) : (1) – 114.48 / (2) – 120.84

Buffalo MiniStation Extreme : (1) – 110.3 / (2) – 118.82

Toshiba Canvio Slim II : (1) – 118.8 / (2) – 118.49

WD My Passport Ultra : (1) – 118.5 / (2) – 117.87

WD My Passport Ultra (Spring 2015) : (1) – 110.2 / (2) – 117.34

SiliconPower Armor A60 : (1) – 104.3 / (2) – 114.48

Seagate Slim : (1) – 110.4 / (2) – 111.49

LaCie Christofle Sphere : (1) – 105.5 / (2) – 111.43

ioSafe SoloPro G3 : (1) – 109.1 / (2) – 110.8

WD My Password Slim : (1) – 107.7 / (2) – 107.89

WD Elements : (1) – 95.7 / (2) – 102.15

LEGEND: (1) – Write / (2) – Read

NOTE : Measured in megabyte per second, longer bars mean better performance.

In testing with Thunderbolt, the drive did a bit worse with a write speed of 99MBps for writing and 110MBps for reading. Note that on the chart below, most other Thunderbolt drives support RAID configurations (where multiple internal drives are combined into one volume) and hence have significantly better performance.

CNET LABS’ THUNDERBOLT PERFORMANCE

G-Tech G-Studio R (RAID 5) : (1) – 259.67 / (2) – 455.96

Promise Pegasus2 (RAID 5) : (1) – 361.92 / (2) – 376.02

LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (RAID 0) : (1) – 213.51 / (2) – 183.76

LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 0) : (1) – 179.22 / (2) – 180.96

Promise Pegasus R6 (RAID 5) : (1) – 210.5 / (2) – 177.53

Promise Pegasus R4 (RAID 5) : (1) – 150.47 / (2) – 171.10

WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo (RAID 0) : (1) – 156 / (2) – 167.47

LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) : (1) – 126.96 / (2) – 147.2

LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) : (1) –  121.11 / (2) – 141.63

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt (via USB 3.0) : (1) – 92.29 / (2) – 112.23

Sony HDD HB : (1) – 99.32 / (2) – 109.99

WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo (RAID 1) : (1) – 107.73 / (2) – 109.15

Drobo Mini (via Thunderbolt) : (1) – 106.03 / (2) – 94.66

LEGEND: (1) – Write / (2) – Read

NOTE : Measured in megabyte per second.

Conclusion

The Sony HDD HB is a not a bad portable drive. In fact, it’s quite good drive for professionals who need to work in rough environments. However, it’s expensive and has a design that seems like an afterthought. I’d rather have it more compact than how large it is now with the mostly useless stackable design. And it’s the only drive I’ve seen that includes a piece of software that, if you decide to install and use, actually makes it worse.

That said, I don’t have any reason to recommend the HDD HB, especially when there are alternatives, such as the LaCie Rugged, or the SiliconPower Armor A60. Both are more compact and cheaper, the LaCie even has a much better design with a built-in Thunderbolt. But if you decide to get the Sony HDD HB or somehow are able to buy it for cheap, you won’t be disappointed with its performance or its quality, either.

(cnet.com)

 

 

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