MicroStation Portable Silicon Disk review

One of the many interesting features of the MacBook Air is that you can buy it with an optional solid state drive (SSD), instead of a conventional hard disk drive. Solid state drives are a bit like Flash memory sticks in that they don’t have any moving parts. This means that they’re more rugged and reliable than ordinary hard drives. They also require less power and, theoretically, should be faster, as you don’t have to wait for any drive mechanism to ‘spin up’.

The disadvantage of SSD drives is that they’re relatively limited in capacity, and spectacularly expensive as they’re still a very new technology. So while it might make some sense to use SSD drives in top-of-the-range laptops such as the MacBook Air, the technology hasn’t yet found its way into the mainstream in the way that those little Flash memory sticks have.

Prices are starting to come down, though, and Buffalo is one of the first companies to produce an external SSD drive that you can use as a backup device for your laptop. The most obvious advantage of the MicroStation is its size and weight. It’s about half the size of other portable hard drives, such as Buffalo’s own MiniStation, and weighs a mere 60g, so it can easily slip into a pocket. The USB 2.0 cable wraps around the body of the unit and slots into a little groove in the casing, so you don’t even have to worry about carrying a separate cable with you.

However, the USB interface does represent a potential bottleneck and, in practice, we found that backing up files onto the MicroStation didn’t provide significant performance advantages over using a conventional USB 2.0 hard drive. In fact, if speed is your main priority, a hard disk with a FireWire interface, such as Seagate’s FreeAgent Go, is probably a better option.

The cost is also a bit of a problem. Our review unit had 32GB capacity and costs £82.99, whereas Buffalo’s MiniStation hard drive costs £49.99 for 250GB. That works out at hefty £2.59 per gigabyte for the SSD MicroStation, compared to 20p per gigabyte for the MiniStation. There are 64GB and 100GB models available, priced at £169.99 and £249.99 respectively.

OUR VERDICT

At that sort of price, the MicroStation is obviously too expensive to appeal to most people, and can only really be justified if you need to travel light and put a premium on portability. However, full marks to Buffalo for being one of the first to put this new technology on sale. We dare say that it won’t be long until prices fall and provide a real challenge to conventional hard disk drives.

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