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When out and about I want to be able to carry my data with me. The cloud is great but it can be unreliable and for data I really need when I’m not sure about my internet connection it might not cut it. This information might be anything from my Open University course textbooks (electronic of course), backups of the site, posts and assignments to confidential work documents so I need security.
It’s an external hard disk so I’m probably going to keep some video and music on there so I want something fast. Finally as I’m probably less careful with my bag than I should be I want something that is tough and convenient. Buffalo thinks they’ve got the answer with the Extreme Ministation and sent me one to try.
Security – Integrated 256-bit AES hardware encryption
Taking all my data on the road I want to make sure that it is held securely. There are ways to do this with third party systems like Truecrypt but the Extreme has AES 256 encryption hardware built in. Buffalo do not give all the details on how this is setup and works but in short when enabled all data going on to the disk and off runs through an encryption chip. If you remove the hard disk from the casing you would not be able to read it directly without the chip and without knowing the password. The software part of this is PC only so if you choose to enable this there is no Mac or Linux use possible.
Mil-Spec Shock protection
Carrying a hard disk around has one obvious drawback – physical damage. Drop your bag, damage your hard disk. The Extreme mitigates this problem with a series of internal shock protection buffers and protections. The milspec ruggedization specifies that the hard disk can be dropped from up to 2.3 metres on to a hard surface with no damage. In short it’s probably safe in your bag but throw it out of first story window and all bets are off. I’ve not drop tested the ruggedization – I don’t want to break it – but it seems very tough.
The drawback is that the padding makes the Extreme a little larger and heavier than most equivalent drives. The difference is small and I’d judge more than worthwhile for the extra protection.
Well specified external data storage
No mater how secure or strong a hard disk is the if it’s too slow it’s not going to be practical. Luckily the Extreme is not slow at all. Buffalo quote a maximum ideal speed of 5Gbps if using a direct USB 3.0 connection and while I received much less (exact figures below) the figures I did get are more than respectable. I’m reasonably sure the difference is my PC and hard disk and not the Extreme.
In addition to the encryption software Buffalo provide a suite of PC software. This includes a backup manager to automate and simplify backups, a eco manager to reduce power usage on the go and a virtual RAM manager that lets part of the Extreme be treated as RAM giving your system a boost. None of these have to be used and can be deleted for later re-download if you want to save the space.
Buffalo is a Japanese manufacturer of peripherals and focuses on consumer and enterprise NAS, routers and USB devices. Buffalo tend to work with other manufactures and assemble products with their own software on top. They regularly work with Intel, Broadcom, Nintendo and Microsoft.
They have a number of environmental polices which is not unusual considering the number of countries they operate in and pursue a generally environmentally and socially friendly path.
While it is possible to buy cheaper storage and even somewhat cheaper external storage the Extreme is competitively priced to other tough and hardened portable hard disks. Compared to keeping your data online on the go the Extreme is a much more cost effective option – a mifi data plan to download an equivalent of the Extremes storage would cost many times more.
Included in the box/price
Buffalo Ministation extreme with integrated USB cable, USB 3.0 50cm extension cable, quick setup guide and warranty.
Storage: 500gb or 1TB
Size: 1.8 x 8.9 x 12.8 cm
Item Weight: 231 grams including integrated cable
Connection: USB 3.0 with backwards compatibility to 2.0
Colour: Black or red
Material: Metal body with plastic wrap around top, rubber feet and integrated cable
Power: USB bus powered DV 5v max 3.1W
Specified Max speed: 5Gbps USB 3.0 or 480Mbps USB 2.0
Actual figures via CrystalDisk attached to a USB 3.0 port
Warranty: Buffalo offers a two year no quibble warranty in addition to the standard legal covers.
The Extreme is aimed at laptop users, travellers and road warriors who want to carry their data and a backup securely with them. The backup software bundled and the price also mean that it could be a very viable at home backup as well – set it up and hid it behind your PC and forget about it until something goes wrong.
Ease of use
The Extreme takes a bit more setup than most external hard disks as the encryption needs to be turned on and configured. It is delivered pre-formatted with NTFS and hence if you have a Mac you will need to either install third party NTFS drivers or reformat to a natively compatible Mac File System.
Assuming you have a Windows PC when you first plug the Extreme in a small drive called Utility will appear. On this drive is a file called OPEN_HS – run this and a program is installed on your PC and you are prompted to enter and renter a password and a password hint for the drive. How secure you make this is up to you – there’s nothing but common sense to stop a password of password123. By default every future time you plug the Extreme in the Utility disk appears, run the OPEN_HS and you will be prompted for your password. To simplify this you can choose to autolaunch the prompt to authenticate or store the password on the PC so that it automatically unecrypts when plugged in. This would obviously be less secure but it is nice to have as an option in secure environments.
The Utility can also set to re-lock the drive when the screen sleeps (Windows 8.0 or 8.1 only), change the password or re-initialize the drive completely.
The Extreme is formatted to NTFS out of the box and the software will support Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server. It can be reformatted to work with OSX 10.5 or later but the encryption and other utilities will not function. I had no luck getting it to work with ChromeOS.
The Extreme gets its power via the bus so does not need an external connection to the mains electricity.
It is highly accessible to anyone with a severe visual impairment, including the blind and those who experience visual symptoms, like photophobia (light sensitivity) or colour blindness.
There is one single LED on the front which glows connection. It shows consistent white when connected to USB 3.0 and unencrypted, flashing white when on USB 2.0 and unencrypted and a red orange if encrypted. It could be covered over if you found it annoying or a problem with very little loss of functionality.
The Extreme is highly accessible to anyone with a severe hearing impairment, including the deaf and those who experience auditory symptoms, like tinnitus or hyperacusis (sound sensitivity). It has no audio component with no inbuilt speakers or microphone and the utilities do not use audio at any point.
It is silent in use.
Input and touch
The hardware feels solid – as I would expect something with milspec hardening to – and appears well made. The bulk of the case is a smooth metal which I found slightly slippy but this is compensated for with a inch wide rubberised band around the top which was good to hold onto. The integrated cable is flat and rubbery feeling and approximately 15cm long giving just enough length to plug it in easily to my laptop without extra unused slack.
There are no controls, buttons or switches on the Extreme.
It is accessible to anyone with a moderate upper body impairment and those who experience symptoms that affect their hands, wrists and shoulders, like a tremor, reduced dexterity and precision or fatigue. The only potential issue is plugging the USB cable into a port.
Motion sickness and balance disorders
It is highly accessible to anyone who experience a severe motion sickness or dizzy spells. If you are liable to fall over a lot carrying a drive which can take the more than occasional knock seems very sensible!
It is accessible to anyone with a moderate cognitive impairment, including those with a learning disability like dyslexia those who experience cognitive symptoms, like problems with memory, concentration, planning and organization.
Setup needs a very basic understanding of the concept of encryption and how it should work but if you are looking to get a device with encryption you almost certainly have this or it could be setup by a third party without encryption or setup to automatically trust particular computers.
Trigger warnings and age ratings
The Extreme has no relevant age ratings and is not likely to trigger users. As a storage device it is always possible that triggering material such as 18 movies could be stored on it.
If you are travelling or a mobile office worker the chances are that you will want to want to carry your data and backups with you. To be sensible you should be using encryption and you should have something that can take a few knocks. It’s possible to take a normal external USB drive and get a case for it and then use third party encryption software to secure it but the cost saving would be a matter of a few pounds at best. The Extreme takes these needs and puts them together in a compact and good-looking package with a bonus integrated cable. If you take your laptop out and about to work you should have this drive. Recommended.
The review is based on the the 1 terabyte red version of the MiniStation Extreme kindly loaned by Buffalo.