The Freecom XS is a simple and straightforward 3.5in external hard drive. It's compact and quiet, but the need for an external power supply may put some people off.
Simple and easy to use; good performance; small for its class.
External power supply.
Freecom recently released the Hard Drive XS, which it claims is the smallest 3.5in external drive around. The unit is available in capacities of 500GB and 1TB and Freecom kindly sent us a 500GB model to test.
When creating the XS, the company employed the talents of Belgian designer Sylvain Willenz to come up with a plain matt black rubberised coating with a rather odd, envelope style opening at the top that is stuck down. It seems like overkill given the outcome, but it certainly does look pretty good.
The rubberised coating does mean you won't have the problem of scuffs and scratches and it should be able to withstand a few bumps as well as making sure vibrations are kept to a minimum.
The unit is also completely fanless, great for making sure it's quiet, but the lack of heatsinks or fans means it does get a little warm during operation, but nothing to be concerned about.
Measuring 180x115x30mm the drive is about the size of a small paperback novel, and weighs in at 850g, but that does include the adaptor. This is a bit lighter than most of its competitors, but still fairly hefty if you're carrying it around with you wherever you go.
Because it houses a 3.5in drive, it requires an external power adaptor, so on the back there are two sockets, one for power and a mini-USB port for data. For the environmentally conscious among you, it's worth noting that there is no power switch, so you'll have to unplug or switch off the power supply from the wall if you want to turn the drive off.
We connected the XS to a netbook, a laptop and a PC and used HDTach and HD Tune as our benchmarking tools. The XS includes Freecom's Turbo USB 2.0 application which is supposed to boost data transfer performance by up to 30 per cent, so we benchmarked the drive initially with this turned off, and then again with the feature enabled.
Results were pretty consistent across all the platforms and both the applications. Random access time was 15.6ms and an average read speed of 30.9MB/s and a burst speed of 33.6MB/s. For comparison we also benchmarked a 2.5in Western Digital 250GB external hard drive, which came out with an access time of 18ms, and average read and burst speeds of 28.5MB/s and 30.1MB/s respectively.
With the Turbo feature enabled, the access time remained the same but the average read speed and the burst rate climbed to 32.1MB/s and 35.1MB/s, roughly a four per cent increase. It seems that for whatever reason the Turbo feature has limited effectiveness for us, but given that it's very easy to enable and doesn't require any software installation, it's certainly worth doing.
Looking at the figures above, this may not seem like much of a difference, but a real-world test quickly shows the actual difference. Transferring 2.3GB of data in four video files to the XS took one minute and 41 seconds, with Windows reporting a fairly consistent data transfer rate of around 23.8MB/s. Copying the same files to the 2.5in Western Digital took two minutes and 35 seconds with the transfer speed not getting up much past 11MB/s.
Interestingly, the file transfer to the XS took pretty much exactly the same time with or without the Turbo feature enabled, but as mentioned earlier, it certainly doesn't do any harm and may be more beneficial in other scenarios.
As well as the Turbo USB 2.0 software, Freecom has bundled a 90-day trial of the MySecurityCentre Internet Security Suite, which includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, spam blocking, parental controls and phishing protection.
Ultimately it comes down to your requirements. Most 2.5in external drives can be powered over USB and are a lot smaller and lighter than a 3.5in drive, even a small one like the Freecom. However for the same price the larger drive will have greater capacity and higher data transfer speeds. For those with a bigger budget there are SSD and eSATA drives available, which give much faster trasnfer speeds, but cost a lot more as well.
Selling for under £100 for the 1TB version and around £70 for the 500GB unit, the Freecom XS is certainly no slouch, but the bulk of the unit and the requirement of an external power adaptor means that, unless you need the extra capacity or the slightly faster transfer speeds, you'll probably look to a 2.5in model like the Freecom XXS instead.