Seagate's Backup Plus Fast is a Pleasant Surprise After All

Seagate's Backup Plus Fast is a Pleasant Surprise After All

Fellow writer Jaron Schneider earlier reviewed Western Digital's My Passport Pro Thunderbolt hard drive. However, this was an answer (if already planned) to Seagate's Backup Plus Fast 4TB drive. What's the big deal...? Both drives combine two, RAIDed 2.5" mobile hard drives into a single enclosure to allow for the best possible dollar/performance ratio when it comes to mobile drives.

I've had the Seagate Backup Plus Fast drive for over a month, now, and can say it's truly a gem. When it came out, I was confused by its name (everyone was). RAID 0 setups (made by splitting data in two across two hard drives for faster performance) are not a good idea for backup, since you double the chance of the entire drive failing: if just one dies, all your data dies with it.

However, for a "Live Work" hard drive that I back up on my Promise or Drobo backup solutions, it's just perfect! The drive isn't as fast as SSD setups, naturally. But you'll pay ten times the price for 4TB of SSD storage compared to this. Meanwhile, the advertised 220Mb/s of the Backup Plus Fast is plenty for Lightroom and other photo work.

Compared to the Passport Pro, I even prefer this drive. Now, I have to admit I haven't tested the Western Digital competition. Jaron did. And in all fairness, the Passport Pro has a speedier Thunderbolt connection and is, technically, faster. In real-world settings, you can throw the 10Gb/s rated speed out the window. That's an entirely theoretical limit for Thunderbolt hard drives -- not the speed of the drive. The same goes for the theoretical limit of the Seagate drive's USB 3.0. But the hard drives themselves are still slightly faster in the Western Digital hard drive. So why do I like the Seagate? It's quite simple.

*NOTE: I'm only considering the 4TB versions of each drive, as the Seagate Backup Plus Fast only comes in 4TB. However, Western Digital also has a 2TB version of the My Passport Pro with very similar specifications (thankfully, the Western Digital's 2TB is slimmer than its massive 4TB brother).

The Seagate Backup Plus Fast is barely taller than two stacked iPhones. Here, it's probably just shorter than my iPhone with its slim Apple leather case. The Seagate Backup Plus Fast is barely taller than two stacked iPhones. Here, it's probably just shorter than my iPhone with its slim Apple leather case.

1.) Connections: For a 6% performance hit (220MB/s vs. 233MB/s for the Passport Pro), the Seagate gives a much more universally accepted (and flexible) USB 3.0 connection. Thunderbolt connections simply aren't on as many computers. So in a pinch, this will connect to a friend's older computer if I need it to. Moreover, the Seagate's USB 3.0 cable isn't built-in like the Thunderbolt connection on the Passport Pro. So if you break the cable, you can just pay an extra couple bucks and get a new one instead of replacing the entire drive.

2.) Speed (ish): While neither drive is fast enough for great 4k performance, BOTH are perfectly great for photo and 1080/60 video editing. Even those D800 files work quite nicely with an approximately 200Mb/s connection. The "ish" comes because the Passport Pro is still faster, technically; but it's not a big enough difference for me to care any.

3.) Size: The Seagate is MUCH smaller. At twice the thickness of an iPhone, the Seagate is still fairly portable (0.88" tall) -- even if it's a little thicker than your normal portable drive. The Passport Pro, on the other hand, is massive (at 1.74" tall); it has a built-in fan that even makes a decent amount of noise (compared to the silent, no-fan operation for the Seagate).

Just as the WD My Passport Pro showed slower-than advertised performance with BlackMagic tests, the Seagate does as well. But this doesn't correlate 100% to real-world performance, which I consistently marked around 170-190MB/s on large transfers. Just as the WD My Passport Pro showed slower-than advertised performance with BlackMagic tests, the Seagate does as well. But this doesn't correlate 100% to real-world performance, which could be consistently marked around 170-190MB/s on large transfers (two test transfers of 3.69TB took just under 5 hours each time).

Apple's 2013 (with first generation SSDs) Retina MacBook Pro 768GB hard drive tested for comparison. Apple's 2013 (with first generation SSDs) Retina MacBook Pro 768GB hard drive tested for comparison.

Now, there are some advantages to the Western Digital My Passport Pro that you might want to think about:

1.) RAID: The Passport Pro offers multiple RAID configurations. If you want a portable drive that can give you options to stripe your data (a.k.a. split data, as in RAID 0) or back up your data (a.k.a. back up data for half the space, as in RAID 1), or configure JBOD (a.k.a. Just a Bunch of Disks), then the Passport Pro is the answer, since the Seagate only offers RAID 0. You can't change that. It's built into the hardware.
The "BUT": If you're buying a drive like this, you want RAID 0. Otherwise, why not just get two hard drives for less money?

2.) Speed: It is true, the Passport Pro is faster.
The "BUT": This will be the last note about speed, since the Passport Pro doesn't offer enough of an improvement over the Seagate drive to significantly change my workflow.

3.) Connection: If you have a chain of Thunderbolt devices and know you'll only need Thunderbolt so this can be at the end of that chain, it's nice that the Passport Pro uses this connection.
The "BUT": USB 3.0 is more than enough to handle the speed of both drives while being much more flexible in terms of the number of co-workers' or clients' computers you might also be able to connect it to in a pinch.

If you haven't figured it out, yet...I'm a fan of the Seagate Backup Plus Fast. And there's one more thing: it's $160 cheaper. The Seagate is just $270 compared to the Western Digital's $430. While both are fantastic bus-powered hard drive solutions for on-the-go professionals that need great performance in small packages, the Seagate takes it away for me. Still want the Western Digital My Passport Pro? Even with the Thunderbolt connection, I would expect the street price to drop significantly as time goes. So I'd wait if you could.

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Is one USB3 port (Macbook Pro, 15" Retina, 2013 or 2014) sufficient to run it? There are 2 drives, after all - the twin usb cable is not really an option as the ports are quite spaced, plus - i would lose all the USB options immediately.