5TB seems to be the absolute capacity limit for 2.5-inch hard disk drives. Not only have no products with a higher capacity been launched since 2016, the ones that have been marketed are significantly thicker than lesser capacity models, as the laws of physics seem to have finally caught up with storage engineers.
Seagate recently unveiled a new 5TB portable hard disk drive, the Backup Plus Portable (STHP5000402), which is the successor to the 2016 version bearing the same name but a different model number (STDR5000100). Confusingly, both models are currently on sale: the 2019 drive costs $129.99 while the 2016 model costs $109.99, which is incidentally the cheapest per GB price you will pay for a portable hard disk drive.
Why are portable hard drives still on 5TB?
The capacity of a hard disk drive is determined by two factors: the number of platters that can be squeezed into any given height, and the capacity of each platter. For a number of years now (since late 2015), the maximum capacity of platters has plateaued (pun intended) at 1TB.
This hard drive is a tad bigger than the 5TB drive which it succeeds. At 20.9 x 80 x 115.3mm, it is about the size of a large pack of cigarettes, meaning that it passes the in-your-pocket test – although carrying the device in your trouser pocket will produce an unsightly bulge.
Seagate opted for a mixture of matte plastic and a brushed aluminum plate for the rectangular, brick-like enclosure. You won’t easily be able to pry the device open to extract the hard disk drive.
Other than a white LED status light and the flat USB connector, there’s barely any salient design points worth mentioning. The Backup Plus Portable comes with a 46cm USB cable that has a removable USB-C cap.
Here’s how the Seagate Backup Plus Portable performed in our benchmark tests:
CrystalDiskMark: 146MBps (read); 130MBps (write)
Atto: 131MBps (read, 256mb); 139MBps (write, 256mb)
The 5TB hard disk drive used by the Backup Plus Portable was actually launched back in 2016. It is a 12.5mm tall, five-platter model, with each platter having a 1TB capacity. This ST5000LM000 drive also has 128MB cache and a spindle speed of 5,400RPM. It carries a two-year warranty, as does the Backup Plus Portable.
Ironically, the barebones 5TB drive is up to 50% more expensive than the external model, despite having fewer materials (no cable, chassis or electronics); the laws of supply and demand at work.
Overall, the drive performed above average in our two tests (CrystalDiskMark 6.0.2 and Atto 4) achieving read speeds of between 131 and 146MBps, and write speeds of between 130 and 139MBps. A 10GB file was transferred in about 78 seconds from the laptop’s drive to the portable device, which equates to a real-life speed of around 128MBps – half the speed of some of the slower external solid-state drives we’ve evaluated.
Let’s talk about the Mylio Create software first. This is worth $50 and is essentially a cloud-free photo management storage service, available for free for the first year. Unlike most competitors, it can accommodate a maximum number of photos (50,000 for that tier) and you can connect up to four computers (but unlimited mobile devices) to it. Also, it does allow RAW image editing. Note that the pictures are actually stored on the drive itself.
Seagate also bundles most of its portable drives with a two-month subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud worth $20. The drive itself comes without any applications and is truly plug and play – at least on Windows 10. There’s no Seagate Dashboards as on other models.
The three-year old disk drive that sits inside the enclosure is quiet, and during our testing, the Backup Plus Portable was just about lukewarm to the touch.
The irony here is that competitors are likely to use the same Seagate 5TB internal hard drive. The LaCie Porsche Design 5TB USB-C Mobile Hard Drive is far more expensive and doesn’t come with the Mylio Create software bundle. However, it has a more attractive finish and a Type-C connector. LaCie is a Seagate brand.
There’s also the 2016 version of the Backup Plus that retails for 15% less than its 2019 counterpart – but it lacks the new design, the Type-C plug converter and the Mylio Create subscription. Is it worth paying $20 extra for those benefits? Yes, at least in our opinion.
Silicon Power has two drives sporting a 5TB capacity and both of them are waterproof. The SP050TBPHDD3LS3K costs $149 and has a distinctive diamond-patterned design with a bookmark that acts as a sliding protector for the USB port. The other model is slightly cheaper at $145 and is both waterproof and shockproof. The Armor A60 even comes with a USB Type-C connector and cable holder.
Large capacity portable hard drives have reached a plateau. There’s not much hardware improvement that can be made as there is little to no incentive to invest in R&D. New technologies like HAMR or Helium are reserved for more lucrative markets like data centers where the need for smaller 2.5-inch hard disk drives is, well, non-existent.
For those looking for the highest volumetric capacity around without breaking the bank, you simply can’t go wrong with a 5TB portable drive.
With that in mind, Seagate did what it had to do in its best interests – namely the bare minimum: a new shell with a few minor improvements. The Backup Plus Portable won’t set the world on fire, and if you don’t need the Mylio Create application, the 2016 edition will be a better buy.