Introduction

Modern external storage drives come in myriad shapes, sizes, and capacities, choosing one can be difficult.  Recently I wanted several 2tb external storage drives, and I also wanted to upgrade several of the internal 2tb drives on my workstation to 3tb drives.  Other requirements included a small attractive enclosure, USB 3.0 interface for fast file transfers, high reliability, and of course I wanted them to be as inexpensive as possible.  With these requirements in mind I set of on an on-line shopping trip which for me normally includes Amazon, Newegg, and Buy.

A quick browse through these sites ‘best deal’ areas revealed a plethora of external storage drives, but one caught my eye.  An no thrills 3tb external USB 3.0 storage drive from Seagate.  It’s sleek black enclosure wouldn’t take up much desk space and it would easily stack, the storage capacity was perfect, and the USB 3.0 port promised great transfer speeds.  The $119 price with free shipping didn’t hurt either.  I ordered two.

 

Seagate Expansion 3 TB USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive

Two days later the drives arrived and they were exactly as advertised.  Small, black plastic enclosures with a green activity light on the front next to the Seagate logo, and the box included a power adapter and USB 3.0 cable.  But I wanted to know more.

 

A quick browse through these sites ‘best deal’ areas revealed a plethora of external storage drives, but one caught my eye.  An no thrills 3tb external USB 3.0 storage drive from Seagate.  It’s sleek black enclosure wouldn’t take up much desk space and it would easily stack, the storage capacity was perfect, and the USB 3.0 port promised great transfer speeds.  The $119 price with free shipping didn’t hurt either.  I ordered two.

 

With a small flat bladed screwdriver inserted between the two pieces of the enclosure I carefully twisted until I heard the catch release.  I did this in 6 more locations and the case separated revealing the internals.  I could immediately see the actual drive was a 3TB Seagate Barracuda ST3000DM001 SATA 6gb/s hard drive.   The type normally used in high quality NAS servers.

 

With a small flat bladed screwdriver inserted between the two pieces of the enclosure I carefully twisted until I heard the catch release.  I did this in 6 more locations and the case separated revealing the internals.  I could immediately see the actual drive was a 3TB Seagate Barracuda ST3000DM001 SATA 6gb/s hard drive.   The type normally used in high quality NAS servers.

 

This is a 7200rpm drive with a 64mb cache and the new SATA III/6gb/s interface,  their newest 3 platter (1tb per platter) top of the line Barracuda XT drive.  A quick search revealed this drive normally sells for $179 in a bare bones configuration!  How they can sell this for $119 with a USB 3.0 enclosure/cable/adapter is beyond me, but this drive would work fine in my workstation case and I could move my old 2tb drives into these USB 3.0 external cases.  Nice!   UPDATE:  It took a few weeks after the bare internal hard drives increased in price, and now the Expansion has also increased to a current $159 (as of 11/31/2011) on Amazon.  Seagate’s newest 3tb USB 3.0 Goflex has this same ST3000DM001 drive inside it’s case and it’s price on Amazon is currently $159 (as of 11/31/2011) as well.

 

Installation and Performance

Before I switched out the drives I tested them first.  Connecting the drive to my USB 3.0 port with the included cable was straightforward.

 

Before I switched out the drives I tested them first.  Connecting the drive to my USB 3.0 port with the included cable was straightforward.

 

I then tried transferring a 28gb video file from my current storage drive to the Seagate Expansion 3 TB USB 3.0 Desktop Hard Drive and the speeds immediately went to 90mbps, but soon settled down at 25-30mbps.  Slow.  A quick visit to my motherboard manufacturer revealed a firmware update for my USB 3.0 chipset.  With the update installed the speeds were now at 45-50mbps.  Still not as fast as I expected, but I noted it was as fast as my internal 2tb drives transferred this file type, so possibly the bottleneck was my old 2tb drive.

I moved the 28gb video file over to my SSD and then transferred the file from the SSD to the Seagate via USB 3.0.  Now I was getting a sustained 190-198mbps which is very fast for a SATA hard drive, in fact the fastest I’ve ever tested.  And it’s a great deal faster via USB 3.0 than a standard USB 2.0 connection.

Keep in mind there are many factors which influence the speed of any peripheral.  Ports, connections, firmware versions, file types, how much of the drive is being used, Windows versions, and which one is being used with which.  And the speed of internal SATA hard drives have really increased over the last few years, so a drive which is barely 18 months old like my WD 2tb Black drives could barely manage 45-60mbps, and that’s faster than a 2 year old version of this same drive which was moving files at 35-40mbps.  Progress with hard drives has been rapid, if you have a year old hard drive chances are it’s a great deal slower than the current version of the exact same drive.

 

Keep in mind there are many factors which influence the speed of any peripheral.  Ports, connections, firmware versions, file types, how much of the drive is being used, Windows versions, and which one is being used with which.  And the speed of internal SATA hard drives have really increased over the last few years, so a drive which is barely 18 months old like my WD 2tb Black drives could barely manage 45-60mbps, and that’s faster than a 2 year old version of this same drive which was moving files at 35-40mbps.  Progress with hard drives has been rapid, if you have a year old hard drive chances are it’s a great deal slower than the current version of the exact same drive.

 

Next I removed the Seagate 3tb Barracuda from the USB 3.0 enclosure and connected it to a SATA II port in my workstation.  I then transferred 1.6tb of image files from my 2tb internal SATA drive to the new Seagate 3tb Barracuda.  Speeds settled in at 45-50mbps and it took a full 17.5 hours to complete the full 1.6tb’s.

I then opened the second Seagate Expansion 3 TB USB 3.0 External Hard Drive and connected it to my USB 3.0 port.  I started the transfer of the same 1.6tb of files from the internal SATA II connected 3tb Seagate, to the 3tb external via USB 3.0, and after a few minutes the speed settled in at a fast 104mbps and the transfer took only 3.5 hours to complete.  That’s a full 14 hours faster!  What a difference.  I then brought up Lightroom and started moving between files, making sure to import new files, generate new 1:1 previews, and I couldn’t believe how much faster it felt.  Seat of the pants estimates would be a 2-3x faster.

For my next test I removed the second 3tb Seagate from its enclosure and mounted it in my workstation case and connected it to a SATA II port.  I set up the 1.6tb of files to transfer from one 3tb Seagate to the other 3tb Seagate, and the transfer ran at 145-150mbps through the entire transfer which now took only 2 hours!

 

For my next test I removed the second 3tb Seagate from its enclosure and mounted it in my workstation case and connected it to a SATA II port.  I set up the 1.6tb of files to transfer from one 3tb Seagate to the other 3tb Seagate, and the transfer ran at 145-150mbps through the entire transfer which now took only 2 hours!

 

This tells me a SATA II to SATA II connection is faster than a SATA II to USB 3.0 connection.  This shouldn’t be the case as 150mbps is only about half of a USB 3.0 ports rated speed.  Either the USB 3.0 equipped enclosure is lacking, or perhaps it’s just that my motherboard is old.  It was the first desktop motherboard equipped with USB 3.0 and it’s now had several firmware and even more driver updates.  I’m getting in a brand new z68 motherboard later this week and I’ll test these drives with it to see if it’s the motherboard or the supplied enclosure and USB 3.0 port.

I then connected both drives to SATA III/6gb/s ports and as expected, at these transfer rates there was no difference.  198-200mbps is fast for a hard drive, but slow for an SSD the SATA III ports are currently used for.

 

Summary

Overall performance is great.  I’m getting double the speed of my 2tb SATA II drives which are only 18 months old, even when using the USB 3.0 port.  Reliability with the Barracuda drives is roughly as good as most other hard drives if you go by statistics available on-line for such things.

 

Overall performance is great.  I’m getting double the speed of my 2tb SATA II drives which are only 18 months old, even when using the USB 3.0 port.  Reliability with the Barracuda drives is roughly as good as most other hard drives if you go by statistics available on-line for such things.

 

I was pleased the Seagate Expansion 3 TB USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drives had fast screamer SATA III drives, which were perfectly suited for my needs as internal SATA drives for my main workstation.  I also had no issues using my old 2tb WD Black drives in the new USB 3.0 enclosures.

USB 3.0 is great.  For all but the very highest end SSD equipped external RAID arrays USB 3.0 should provide sufficient speed.  It’s also convenient, the cables are plentiful and inexpensive, and I’m sure we’ll see more and more USB 3.0 devices come on line during this next year.  Already, the newest motherboards are coming with mostly USB 3.0 ports and only including a couple USB 2.0 legacy ports in the event there is compatibility issues.  My current but old motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports and 2 USB 3.0 ports. The new z68 board due to arrive this week will have 10 USB 3.0 ports, and 2 USB 2.0 legacy ports.  The trend is clear.

The enclosures are attractive, small, and flat and sturdy enough to stack 4-5 high if you desire.  The included USB 3.0 cables are 1 meter in length which should be long enough for most applications.  Seagate supplies a really nice backup and syncing application for free, but I only took a glance at it as I use Norton Ghost 15 for my backup needs.  Still, it’s a nice value.

Finally let’s talk about the price.  For $119 including free shipping  you won’t currently find a better deal.  And if you want to buy them just for the 3tb Barracuda drive to put in your RAID box or workstation, you’re saving about $60 a unit over buying them separately.  Maybe you could sell the USB 3.0 enclosures for another $10-$20 each.  Next January I’ll be buying a 12 bay RAID box.  At a $60 savings per unit, that comes to a $720 savings.  This is a significant amount of money, even on a 12 bay RAID box project.  A 3 year warranty adds further value.

I’m not seeing any downsides with this drive.  It’s transfer speeds are right there at the top with its competition from Western Digital and Hitachi, the warranty is 1 year, and the price is as good as it gets.  If you need a 3tb drive, either external or internal, the Seagate Expansion 3 TB USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive is an very attractive choice.

 

I’m not seeing any downsides with this drive.  It’s transfer speeds are right there at the top with its competition from Western Digital and Hitachi, the warranty is great, and the price is as good as it gets.  If you need a 3tb drive, either external or internal, the Seagate Expansion 3 TB USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive is an very attractive choice.

 

Warranty Discussion:  This is a new drive not yet sold as an boxed internal drive (though there are bare versions of this being sold from different non-authorized sources).  Normally internal drives are not subjected to frequent moving and knocks nor are they dependent on the case electronics, cables, and other high failure items, so Seagate offers a 5 year warranty on this same drive when sold as an internal drive.  This really shows Seagate’s confidence in this high quality drive.  In their cheapest external case (the Expansion) you get a 1 year warranty, and in their better external case (Goflex) a 2 year warranty.   Same drive, different intended uses, different supporting electronics/cases/cables, different warranty lengths.  Obviously the 1 year warranty on the Expansion external which is the focus of this review has absolutely no bearing on the actual quality of the internal drive.  We shouldn’t necessarily equate a low price nor a shorter warranty period with a cheaper product.  Obviously in this case this isn’t true.  There are often reasons which might not be apparent until we put some thought into it.