Hard drives continue to remain the storage media of choice for cost-conscious consumers with bulk storage requirements. HDD vendors have typically used their 2.5" drives for bus-powered high-capacity models. This market segment has been stuck at the 4TB mainstream capacity point for a few years now, with the z-height of the models coming in at well over 15mm. Earlier this year, Seagate announced an update to their massive 5TB Backup Plus Portable, while also introducing a new svelte 2TB Backup Plus Slim external hard drive. Both of them adopt SMR platters (similar to the Backup Plus models being sold since late 2016), and given the performance impact of SMR, today we'll be taking a detailed look at how SMR in bus-powered hard drives behaves for consumer workloads.

Introduction and Product Impressions

The number of vendors delivering portable, bus-powered hard drives is limited: only Seagate, Western Digital, and Toshiba serve this market. Of these, only Seagate has a 5TB model in the market currently. While Western Digital and Toshiba use conventional magnetic recording (CMR) for their 2.5" hard drives, Seagate makes use of shingled magnetic recording (SMR). This enables higher data storage density in their platters, which, in turn enables them to deliver the highest capacity 2.5" hard drives. The high density platters also allows them to deliver slim hard drives (at industry-leading capacity points taking thickness into consideration). Today, we are taking a look at the high-capacity Seagate Backup Plus Portable 5TB drive and the ultra-thin Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB dual-platter drive.

Mass-market bus-powered hard drives typically employ a USB 3.0 micro-B interface port (contrast this with the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive that comes with a Type-C port). The Seagate Backup Plus models we are looking at today belong to that category. Seagate's portable drives have come with different value additions over the last several years. A few years back, the drives came with free cloud storage (OneDrive) for a limited time. Recently, we have seen them bundle a two-month subscription to Adobe's Creative Cloud package with select models. The Seagate Backup Plus models also come with value additions: In addition to the aforementioned Creative Cloud, Seagate also offers the Mylio Create cloud-based photo organization feature.

Package-wise, the two drives are remarkably similar. They come with a 18 inch. USB 3.0 Type-A male to Micro-B male cable. The cable color depends on the color of the drive itself. Other than that, we have a quick-start guide and a bunch of papers describing the value additions.

The drives come pre-formatted in exFAT, guaranteeing compatibility with both Macs and Windows-based systems. A setup executable is also available to help users get step-by-step guidance for product registration, warranty activation, and redemption of the value additions.

Moving on to the technical details, we get a quick understanding of the internals using CrystalDiskInfo.

Internal Drive Characteristics

Typical of bus-powered hard drives, both the Seagate Backup Plus Portable and Slim are 5400 RPM drives. It turns out that the internal drive of the Portable (the ST5000LM000) is available in the retail market as a Seagate BarraCuda Compute drive, while the one in the Slim (the ST2000LM007) is marketed as a Seagate Mobile HDD.

We have reviewed a number of bus-powered hard drives over the last few years. The table below presents the detailed specifications and miscellaneous aspects of all those units and how the two Seagate Backup Plus models being reviewed today compare against them.

Comparative HDD-Based Direct-Attached Storage Device Configurations
Bridge Configuration SATA III to USB 3.0 Micro-B SATA III to USB 3.0 Micro-B
Power Bus-Powered Bus-Powered
Internal Drive ST5000LM000-2AN170
5TB 5400 RPM 2.5" SATA Hard Drive
Seagate Barracuda Compute
2TB 5400 RPM 2.5" SATA Hard Drive
Seagate Mobile HDD
Physical Dimensions 115.3 mm x 20.9 mm x 80 mm 114.8 mm x 11.7 mm x 78 mm
Weight 265 grams 126 grams
Cable USB 3.0 Micro-B to Type-A USB 3.0 Micro-B to Type-A
Evaluated Capacity 5TB 2TB
Price $95 $70
Review Link Seagate Backup Plus Portable 5TB Review Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Review

The key things to note here include the thickness of the Backup Plus Slim and with its weight. With a z-height of 11.7mm, it is comfortably the thinnest external hard-drive we have reviewed. At 126g, it comes in at barely half the weight of the other models in the above table.

In the rest of this review, we first take a look at our standard direct-attached storage benchmarks. Following this, we have some performance measurements from a typical external HDD real-world use-case. Finally, we talk about power consumption and provide some concluding remarks.

Direct-Attached Storage Benchmarks
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  • Oliseo - Sunday, June 23, 2019 - link

    If swapping a cable solves your issue, then it's the cable and not the connector. Otherwise a new cable wouldn't resolve the problem.

    My money would be that your bending the cables too much, and this stress is fracturing the core.
  • abufrejoval - Wednesday, June 19, 2019 - link

    I find it hard to trust any drive with really valuable data. And it gets worse as capacity increases.

    So when I had to upgrade and expand a RAID6 of 8x2TB 3.5" drives I could have gone with fewer drives at higher capacity, but RAID6 becomes really unattracive at lower disk counts, RAID1 wasn't really ideal without a hot spare and sticking with older low capacity drives didn't seem really attractive either.

    So I took a chance and switched to 2.5", which had the exact same €/TB cost as 3.5" drives, but retained a high spindle count for throughput at much lower power and I was glad the old 2.5" price premium is finally gone.

    Only Segate had them at 4TB and with RAID support, which gave me the extra capacity at a tolerable price. Not sure I'd want to suffer a RAID6 rebuild on 8x 14TB drives: It already takes three days at 4TB.

    I used to operate another RAID with WD notebook HDDs, but without TLER I had too many unnecessary rebuilds and abandoned "extra low power RAID" for a while.

    I'd have taken a WD, because they are my favorite brand for the last decade, but they don't offer a product in that "above notebook" NAS range below SAS drives. So I deliberated, compared technical data sheets, researched Seagates recent quality history a bit and risked a dive.

    Six months 24x7 no issues so far, confidence is rising. The backup system runs a mix of WD-Green and Red but also Seagate "video surveillance" drives (all 3.5") since at least 5 years, again, no issues, but not 24x7.

    I don't think there are significant constant quality defects in any surviving HDD manufacturer, when it comes to a conservative middle spot of the drives themselves. At the very leading capacity or technology edge, they sell to the hyperscalers on unforgiving contracts so by the time the product reaches mass market, they know what they do and what they cannot afford.

    They might cut corners in an external chassis, customers might also forget these chassis contain delicate mechanics that are susceptible to heat, humidity and power variations, but the core hard drive is a known quantity.

    Which is why these drives should never contain the only copy of anything you consider valuable.
  • abufrejoval - Wednesday, June 19, 2019 - link

    Just to be clear: Those 4TB drives in the RAID6 are absolutely not SMR...
  • azfacea - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - link

    Imagine buying hard drive in 2k19 LUL
  • neblogai - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - link

    I can easilly imagine doing that, if my 4.5 year old 3TB Toshiba died. The issue is, buying a 3TB now would not be cheaper, than it was then.
  • neblogai - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - link

    Edit: 5.5year old.
  • nandnandnand - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - link

    How much was your 3 TB when you bought it? What kind (internal, external, portable)?
  • neblogai - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - link

    It is internal, 81.6 British pounds, bought in Jan 2014 on Ebuyer. Yes, I know it can be found a little bit cheaper now- but, you know, 13 pounds cheaper after 5.5 years, in tech? Inflation alone was 11% 2014-2019.
  • quiksilvr - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - link

    Cost of steel, import taxes, etc. are all huge factors. The big reason why HDD prices are still what they are at these capacities is because there is no cheap alternatives (yet) at these capacities and there is only so much optimization you can do. SSDs have basically toppled the HDD market in anything less than 1TB but they still cost over 2x as much in the 1TB realm and 3-4 times in 2TB because the difference in 1TB and 2TB in the HDD space is from $50 to $60, not $100 to $200 like an SSD.
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - link

    People still do use them for home servers for Media. Its not practical to stream or upload all type of content available. Esp if have shoddy internet access. While SSD drives are getting better in size and reliability...the price is not anything close yet to mass storage for all media types.

    Its not uncommon for people to have regular hardrives for 5-10 years of operation in a server for just homes. I think my oldest is from 2014 and still going strong.

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