I just bought an 8 GB Toshiba Performance X300 drive. It cost me just under US$200. I got it to use for backup, but also to consolidate holdings from a bunch of smaller disk drives currently installed on my production PC. Just for grins, I compared the total time to back up that system today, using a Startech Dual mSATA SSD to 2.5″ RAID Adapter with two Samsung EVO 850 250 GB SSDs plugged in and the Toshiba drives as points of comparison. Imagine my surprise — it’s no exaggeration to say I was floored — when the Toshiba backup ran FASTER than the backup to the SSD-based device. Both were plugged into the same dual drive dock (my Inatek FD-2002), so I think that puts everything else except the storage devices on the same footing, performance-wise.
Given that it’s USB 3, the real-world transfer rate of about 1.1 Gbps totally swamps the speed differences between solid state and hard disk storage.
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What the Numbers Say
Best case results for the Toshiba backup were 10:50 (650 seconds), versus 11:22 (682 seconds) for the Startech SSD RAID device. The difference is less than 1%, so I think it’s fair to observe that the speed of the USB channel is what makes the difference, not the underlying speed of the storage device being accessed. Thus, even though the Startech device smokes the Toshiiba when running CrystalDiskMark (by an order of magnitude or more), things are more or less on par when running Macrium Reflect over around eleven minutes.
This does not surprise me, because backup is just a relentless, continuing sequence of data transfers from the imaging program (Reflect) to a target storage device. Over time, the speed of the channel (USB) is what predominates the data transfer rate, not the speed of the device. This tells me a number of interesting things:
– If you want the fastest possible backup, buy a second NVMe drive to match your system drive and use it for backup.
– If you want the best bang for the buck, use the fastest external storage bus available. Right now, this would be USB-C/Thunderbolt. I’m guessing I could cut my backup time in half (or better) by switching to a faster communications channel.
– It’s OK — and I’m quite relieved to prove this to myself — to use large conventional HDDs for backup, especially if you’re backing up via USB (no matter if its USB 2, 3, C, or something still faster).
As I was researching this story, I saw that you can buy an HGST Ultrastar 7K4000 3TB 7200 RPM hard disk right now from Amazon for a measley US$40. That makes it an absolute steal IMHO. I wanted the 8TB drive to see if the greater storage was worth the added expense. I’m relieved to learn it doesn’t impose a performance penalty on USB-attached backup. But if I were in the market for more storage right now, I would buy the 3 TB device (US$13.33 per TB) instead of the 8TB device (US$25 per TB) all day long. You might consider doing likewise yourself, especially considering that Backblaze rates both Toshiba and HGST drives at failure rates below 1 percent. To be absolutely transparent, it’s also the case that Toshiba appears in the latest Backblaze ratings exactly once while HGST appears 5 times (out of a total of 13 items).
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.