Over the past few years the storage market has seen caching solutions start their transition from pure enterprise to the consumer market. Drives such as the Corsair Accelerator and SanDisk ReadyCache allowed consumers to speed up their desktop systems without diving into the high cost of a larger solid state drive. As the technology evolved, we watched Seagate introduce their line-up of SSHDs with 8GB of cache on-board and today we review the Buffalo DriveStation DDR that has a pleasant 1GB of very fast DDR3 cache on-board as well.
Buffalo Technology is a global leader in high performance storage solutions, with a broad product portfolio that envelopes everything from network storage to portable solutions.
The external solution we are looking over today comes out of the popular DriveStation line-up with 2TB and 3TB configurations each sporting 1GB of DDR3 cache on-board. Compatibility of the unit has passed Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 testing, furthermore Buffalo has tested the DriveStation with Mac OS X 10.4+.
The DriveStation was sent to us in its retail packaging. On the front of the box, you will find that Buffalo has covered the basics of marketing by making the box art attractive and telling the consumer what they want to know with the 2.3x faster markings blazed across the box.
The back of the packaging goes further into detail with a quick mention of the included software that manages the on-board cache.
The back corner of the box has a quick chart where Buffalo has compared a few drives against the DriveStation DDR. Here we find marketing says this solution is capable of 408MB/s.
The scope of delivery for the DriveStation DDR is rather simple. We found the power adapter, USB 3.0 cable and software all included in the box and of course the enclosure itself.
The front of the enclosure sports a clean black exterior with drive activity indicators center mounted. At the top, we find just a small splash of color to give the enclosure some life.
The back of the enclosure houses all the I/O connections. At the top, we find a spot for a small cooling fan that Buffalo has chosen to omit from the BOM. Further down, we see the USB 3.0 connection and Kensington lock slot and power.
The bottom of the enclosure has all the model and brand identifiers along with power usage figures of 12V at 1.5A.
Opening up the DriveStation DDR, we found Buffalo to use the 2TB Barracuda HDD from Seagate.
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Looking over the PCB, we find a Fujitsu ARM SoC and the 2 x 512MB DDR3 cache by Elpida.
To install the software for controlling the cache, we inserted the included utilities disk.
Here we find the list of software that Buffalo has included with the DriveStation DDR. To control the cache we only need to install TurboPC EX and the Cache Control Tool.
The cache control tool allows you to customize the way the enclosure uses its on-board cache.
To test the DriveStation DDR, we used four file sizes ranging from 500MB to 4000MB. In each of the situations, we tested sequential read and write speeds along with large block random read and writes. Each of these situations offers the end-user a real-world perspective of how the DriveStation DDR caches data during read/write operations in relation to file size.
Looking over our read testing chart above, we find the DriveStation capable of 376MB/s transferring sequential cacheable data. When the file size exceeds the total amount of cache set at 1GB, the transfer speed takes a small performance hit dropping to 218MB/s. Large block random read shows more dramatically the performance hit after the cache is filled. Here we found the DriveStation start out at 370MB/s and drop to a mere 72MB/s.
Write testing allowed us to surpass marketing specifications, which Buffalo had set at 408MB/s. Here we started with 427MB/s with sequential cacheable data, falling to 186MB/s after the file size exceeded the size of the cache. Large block random write gave us 449MB/s while the on-board cache was hard at work.
Being the first to market with a new design and concept is never easy. Remarkably, Buffalo has done quite well with the DriveStation DDR. Aesthetically the DriveStation DDR carries a pleasing design; the plastics have been put together with care and the drive activity indicator lighting carries the perfect ambience. The one issue I did have with the DriveStation was the internal PCB could have benefitted from some screws to secure it in place. As you may have noticed in the images, the USB 3.0 connector was offset causing me to have to push on the side of the enclosure to align it properly.
Performance of the enclosure was rather impressive reaching even further than marketing had dictated. We managed to reach 450MB/s in large block random write, nearly tapping out our native USB 3.0 ports in terms of performance. Sequential transfers were equally impressive at 427MB/s.
At the time of this writing, I was able to find the DriveStation DDR with high availability from several online retailers in both capacities. The model in our review today, the 2TB we found priced at $139.99, with the larger 3TB at $199.99.