Review: Seagate Backup Plus 5TB portable hard drive

What do you want from your portable hard drive? I want capacity and speed, preferably at a reasonable price. A solid state drive gives speed, but for high capacities the prices tend to be not so reasonable. Which brings us back to the venerable hard drive, with its spinning platters covered with fine-grained magnetic coatings and high speed heads hovering the tiniest of distances above them.

And the biggest of those, capacity-wise, in the hard disc world is the Seagate Backup Plus 5TB.

Yes, a portable drive in a smallish package with sufficient capacity for – well, just about any reasonable need.

Seagate Backup Plus 5TB

Features

As you can tell from the name, Seagate intends this drive for backup purposes, but I could see it being equally used in sneaker-net applications, particularly wide area ones.*

The drive uses Seagate’s high density drive platters – two of them I believe. So while in shape and overall size it’s about the same as what you’d expect from any 2.5 inch portable hard drive – 114.5mm by 78mm – it’s a bit thicker at 20.5mm and heavier at 247 grams.

It’s a fairly pretty thing in a business-like way. Most of the case is black, but the face is available in a red, black, blue or metal brushed aluminium. A 460mm removable connecting cable is provided. It has the USB 3.0 variant of the Micro-B USB connection at one end and a standard USB Type-A plug, with a blue tongue to indicate USB 3.0 support, at the other.

According to Windows the capacity of the drive is 5,000,845,586,432 bytes. By tradition and marketing imperatives, a terabyte is trillion bytes in the world of computer storage, not two to the fortieth power as it would be in most other areas of computing. That works out to 4.54 terabytes on those binary-centric factors.

Seagate Backup Plus 5TB

Device properties as reported by Windows

Performance

There are a few files and folders in place on the drive as it comes out of the box. An icon for the drive, for example, and a PDF warranty document. There’s a hidden Autorun.inf file to attach the icon to the drive, and a hidden folder containing (down a few levels) the drive serial number in an XML file.

And there are two “Start Here” apps, one for Windows and one for Mac. These open a Seagate web page so you can register the drive and download Seagate Dashboard software which “protects and backs up the digital files on your computer”. I skipped that, since I prefer to use Time Machine and File History for my backup needs, and otherwise manually manage things, but others might find it useful.

Plugging it into my Windows machine, it popped up instantly. It was formatted for NTFS, the standard Windows high performance file system.

I started dragging in files to see how it went. Dragging in a 2.55GB video file, the copy took 21.6 seconds, with Windows indicating a speed of around 126MB/s. That was satisfyingly fast.

That’s more for the sneaker-net scenario. For

a better real-world example, I grabbed my “Documents” folder and dragged the whole thing into the drive. That had more than 27,000 files in nearly 2000 folders consuming 37.1GB of space.

As is the Windows’ dialog’s way, the copy process flickered constantly between heartening and depressing. Twenty per cent of the way in, it was suggesting only four-and-a-half minutes to go. As it neared thirty per cent, that blew out to “More than 1 day”. Small files copy at a slower average speed than large ones because they have more file open and close actions, which are considerably slower (and involve moving the heads to different parts of the disk) than the process of writing the data itself. In the end it took 13 minutes and 2 seconds.

document copy

Four and a half minutes to go!

document copy

More than a day to go!

Mind you, these times are under ideal circumstances. The disk was pretty well empty, so there was no fragmentation to deal with. Still, very impressive.

Reading was a touch faster. Copying that video file back to my computer – to the M.2 solid state drive therein – took 19.9 seconds. Actually, quite a bit faster for some things. Copying the whole documents folder back took only 7 minutes and 30 seconds. For, remember, 37.1 gigabytes.

I plugged the drive into my old Mac Mini (running Sierra), and it worked for file reads straight away. But Macs don’t natively support writing to NTFS drive. Running the Start Here app opened up my browser to the Seagate registration page where I could download and install Paragon NTFS for Mac. I did so, and after a restart I could write to the Seagate drive as well. Note, if you’re primarily a Mac person, the Seagate page does recommend allowing your Mac to reformat the drive for use with Time Machine.

I also tried a couple of Android phones. Samsung Galaxy S7? No show. Huawei Mate 9? Popped right up in file manager. It could read and write to the drive. So the drive is low enough on power consumption to work with a truly mobile device.

Conclusion

Decades ago I re-wrote a small program in assembler because I resented the couple of seconds the computer took to read from a floppy disk the 11 kilobytes of the version compiled from Pascal. That disc had a 160KB capacity. How things have changed!

If you want high performance backups of lots of data to a small device which will plug right into your computer, check out the Seagate Packup Plus 5TB portable hard drive.


* Sneaker-net is the half-in-jest term used for transferring files via USB drives in order to get around speed limitations over networks. Fast internal networks will typically transfer large files faster than the read/write cycle to this drive. But if you need to urgently get terabytes of files to a business across town, physically transporting them can be the way to go.