Seagate is a name that most people know. They are recognized as one of the industry leaders in storage technology. After the acquisition of Maxtor, Seagate began branching out into the world of portable storage in a much more aggressive way. Their FreeAgent and BlackArmor line of external drives are very well put together and cover very wide range of user types. We have had more than a few Seagate products in the Bright Lab and have always been impressed with what they can do. Today we take a look and an update to one of their existing products. This is the USB 3.0 Flavor of the BlackArmor PS-110. We will take a hard look and let you know if the claims of 3x the speed from USB3.0 are true or not.

The Box
As I have said before I like the new direction that Seagate is taking with their packaging. It shows a nice move towards the "green". Instead of using highly processed and colored cardboard stock Seagate has gone with a more industrial looking stock and the images and logos are inked on during the printing process. In fact you do not even have to see the Recycled logo on the top of the box to know that is what it is. The prominent 5-year warranty logo will surely catch your eye though.

But even with the new card stock you get a good idea of what you are getting with the new PS-110 USB 3.0 Performance Kit.

The back of the box is even more informative than the front. It shows you everything you get when you buy the PS-110 and a small screen shot of the backup software included.

The side of the box gives you an idea of the size of the drive; which is a nice touch.

Inside the box we do find a small step back from the greener side. All of the contents of the PS-110 kit are inside a plastic clam shell and the drive is inside a plastic bag. Now I know that you can recycle plastics [and I do] but I still would like to see Seagate and others move to more recycled paper for internal packing.

After you "de-shell" the kit you find that Seagate has included everything you need to get going. You have an Express34 card, a USB 3.0 Cable and a USB power cable to provide adequate power to the USB 3.0 card. There is of course the Quick Start guide that does have a couple of handy little tips to make sure everything is setup properly.

The Kit Unveiled
After we broke open the shell we were able to take a look at the new drive and adapter.  As noted before the drive is USB3.0 [called SuperSpeed USB by some] for connectivity but Seagate has also increased the spindle speed of the internal drive, bumping it up to 7200RPM from the original 5400 RPM.  But other than USB3.0 and spindle speed the drive is pretty much the same as the original PS-110. It maintains the same dimensions and weight and use will be identical to the original.

As you can see the new USB3.0 Performance kit really only changes the port on the back and adds in the USB3.0 Express card.  To use the card you will need to connect the drive to the express card and the power cable to an open USB 2.0 port on your system.

The included USB 3.0 Express card packs an NEC USB 3.0 controller. This is the same one that is on most motherboards now [it is pretty much the only one available much like Via was back in the day of USB 1.0].

This card works best on newer laptops [less than 3 years old]. When I ran it on an older system with an express card slot I ran into not only performance but simply connectivity issues. Including being told I had to format my drive before use.

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Setup and Use
Before you get all excited and plug in your new USB 3.0 Performance kit there is something you should know. You will not have drivers for the NEC USB 3.0 Express card on your system. Seagate also has not included any drivers CD-ROMs in the box. 

Not to worry though, as USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 you simply need to setup your express card [complete with power connected] and then plug the PS-110 into an open USB 2.0 slot; from there browse to the USB 3.0 PC Card Adapter folder and run the installer.

After that you can move your new USB 3.0 capable drive to the Express card and you are off and running.

BlackArmor backup software
As we have mentioned before, the BlackArmor line of DAS [Direct Attached Storage] will work with an installation of the Seagate Manager. However, as the PS-110 is meant as a more professional backup system Seagate has provided their BlackArmor backup software which is powered by Acronis. As we have covered this software before with our review of the original PS-110 and the WS-110 we will not go into detail about it here.

Performance
As we did with the Original PS-110 we are going to approach the new USB 3.0 Performance kit PS-110 by asking three questions about its performance.
How fast can it transfer data?
How fast can it back up my drives and or data?
How fast and effective are the cleanup tools?

Let?s take a look at each:

How fast can it transfer data?

The old PS-110 shipped with a 5400RPM drive and used a USB 2.0 transfer. For the USB 3.0 PS-110 we need to test how fast it is over both types of connection.  

USB 2.0 ?We saw the USB 2.0 PS0-110 reach read speeds of up to 32MB/s. This is not a bad number for a 5400RPM USB drive. With the new USB 3.0 capable PS-110 we see the same performance level.  This was surprising as we expected to see at least a small boost from the 7200RPM drive.

When we connected the USB 3.0 Express card we were very happy to see that the new PS-110 can reach speeds that outperform the internal SATA 3GB/s drive. Our internal 5400RPM Seagate 500GB drive hits speeds of 63.25MB/s with an access time of 18ms. This is 6MB/s slower than the external SATA 1.5GB/s drive; not bad at all.

Our Everest testing backs up what we saw with Sandra 2010.

How fast can it back up my drives and or data?
When using a USB 2.0 connection your backup times are going to be roughly the same as the original PS-110. However with the increased bandwidth of the USB 3.0 transfer you get a nice little boost when running over the express card [or on a USB 3.0 enabled desktop]. Our 70GB back up took only 3 hours and 20 minutes to run. This skimmed roughly 40 minutes off of the original time of just under 4 hours.

How fast and effective are the cleanup tools?
As these tools still need access to the system we did not see an increase in the time it took to run the cleanup tools.  They are still very effective but depending on your system can take some time to complete.

A note on performance
We tested our drive only on our mobile platform. This is a newer system [roughly 1.5 years old], but still only has 5400 RPM drives in it. We have found that the speed of the OS drive does affect the performance of the USB 3.0 PS-110. We also noted an issue with some Belkin USB hubs.  When we had our FSU234 USB 2.0 hub plugged in we found that the PS-110 would drop off when on the express card. Other USB hubs did not have this issue but we saw it repeatedly with the Belkin. We intend to test how well the USB 3.0 Performance Kit PS-110 performs on the desktop shortly. However as there are multiple implementations of USB 3.0 we wanted to ensure we covered them all and we covered them properly.

Value
The USB 3.0 Performance kit PS-110 will set you back around $180. This seems like a lot for a 500GB external drive on the surface. Once you consider that it can exceed the performance of many internal drives [most laptops still use 5400 RPM drives], can work with both USB 2.0 and 3.0, and has one of the best backup and protection software suites on the market included; well then the price is not that high. I know that as I accumulate more and more information, I find the need to back up my data an even higher priority. This is true for more and more people as they add new pictures and files to their personal store of data. If they have a system failure; they run the risk of losing years of irreplaceable images and documents. With that at stake, well $180 is not so bad, and when you throw in a 5-year warranty it is quite the value.

Conclusion
As we mentioned above in the Value section, people are amassing more and more data. Some of this is junk, but most of it is not. We are a digital society where our Mom?s and Dad?s had physical photographs and negatives to take care of; we have digital copies of these. As with the real thing, if the digital copies are corrupted or lost they are gone forever. This makes the need for a solid and capable personal backup system even greater. Seagate can certainly provide this for you with just about any of their external USB drives, but the new USB 3.0 Performance Kit PS-110 is simply the fastest one out. It hands down outperforms the other drives in the line, even the e-SATA WS-110 cannot keep up with it. If you are looking for a good, fast and solid backup drive and software combination then I would honestly not look any further than the Seagate BlackArmor line up with the USB 3.0 enabled PS-110 at the top of that list. With its speed and ease of use we are happy to award the Seagate BlackArmor USB 3.0 Performance kit PS-110 out Prosumer Must Have award.