This highly portable hard drive packs full-featured backup software in a shell that’s amazingly trim, given that it holds two terabytes.
WHAT WE LIKED…
- Extremely thin and light, given the 2TB capacity
- Low cost per gigabyte
WHAT WE DIDN’T…
- Windows software was sluggish, at times
- Opaque organization of backup files
Given that Seagate’s portable hard drives have progressed in name from “Backup Plus,” to “Backup Plus Slim,” and—now—to “Backup Plus Ultra Slim,” we’re not sure where the storage giant can go from there. But we can say with certainty that the latest entry is named appropriately.
The Backup Plus Ultra Slim drive we received for testing is new for 2016 and came in a 2TB capacity. The drive is so thin and light that, when we first took it out of the box, we thought for a moment that it must house an SSD inside. We did a double-heft.
Nope; it’s a hard drive. It’s a traditional hard drive complete with spinning platters, read/write heads, the works. The drive measures just 9.6mm thick, making it the thinnest external drive of this capacity that we’ve tested and the thinnest 2TB hard drive on the market. The drive’s waif-ish profile is the result of new recording technology that Seagate is bringing to the portable-drive market named shingled magnetic recording (SMR), which overlays bits of data on top of one another like roof tiles. SMR allows for higher data densities in a smaller physical area, and as a result we now have 2TB hard drives that are slimmer than before. SMR started on bigger desktop drives; Seagate’s first SMR drive was the 8TB Backup Plus Desktop Drive we tested last year.
We tested the Ultra Slim drive in its 2TB iteration, but it is available in both 1TB and 2TB capacities, in either gold or platinum paint jobs with a unique, repeating circular-divots pattern.
Try not to think of a golf ball, though it won’t matter; you will.
These gold and platinum finishes are available only on Seagate’s Ultra Slim models, signifying their status as high-end products (and not coincidentally, matching well to certain Apple laptops). The pricing isn’t overly premium, though: The 2TB drive costs just $99, while the 1TB version rings up at $69. Despite these drives’ flashy appearances and impressively thin statures, they are only $10 more expensive than their slightly thicker Seagate Backup Plus Slim cousins. Aside from being slightly thicker (at 12mm), the non-“Ultra” Seagate Backup Plus Slim drives don’t come in fancy colors or unique textures like the Ultra Slim drives do, but instead employ smooth surfaces and more pedestrian colors such as blue, red, silver, and black.
The Ultra Slim drive is bereft of markings, aside from a tiny slit on the top that allows the glow from a white activity light to shine through. The back of the drive (or bottom, if you prefer) is covered in black plastic with a large curvy pattern on it that resembles a huge letter “S,” for Seagate.
Like all such portable external drives, the Backup Plus Ultra Slim is bus-powered, so it needs only the included USB cable to run on either a Mac or a PC. The package includes just the drive and its USB cable, as that’s all you need to get it up and running. The included Seagate Dashboard software comes pre-placed on the drive itself. The drive is formatted out of the box to be accessible on either Mac or PC, and the contents of the drive as it comes include a PDF with general information about warranties, and installation files for both PC and Mac for the Seagate software. Also included in the bundle—in the ether, mind you—is 200GB of Microsoft OneDrive storage that’s good for two years, and its Lyve application for consolidating media across many devices. The Ultra Slim includes a short but industry-typical two-year warranty.
The Ultra Slim drives compete with WD My Passport offerings from Western Digital and Canvio drives from Toshiba, which are comparably priced but not as thin. The WD drive is available in a higher single-drive capacity, though, allowing up to 3TB of storage in a 21mm-thick My Passport Ultra model. You can also get 4TB portable drives from Seagate and others (single-drive 4TB solutions likeSeagate Backup Plus 4TB have emerged) but these are much chunkier drives than the Ultra Slim.
This drive is designed to work with both Mac and PCs. Macs, of course, have the venerable Time Machine backup solution included with the operating system, so the backup software Seagate has bundled here is much less robust on the Mac side, since those users don’t really need a separate backup app. Nonetheless, we installed the Seagate Dashboard software on our Mac just to see what it looks like, and it’s a basic utility that lets you examine the drive, turn off the LED, and…well, that’s about it. There are a few “cloud” backup options though, for which you need to register a Seagate cloud account.
Next, we installed the Dashboard software on our Windows machine and found it to be easy to use and straightforward. You can create backup plans for either all of your PC’s files (documents, pictures, and the like) or hand-selected folders, and back them up either to the drive itself or to a cloud-storage destination, among them Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive.
What’s most handy about this feature is the scheduling function. When you are configuring the backup plan, you can choose to have the backup occur continuously, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, or via “snapshot,” which is a one-time backup as opposed to something that happens on an interval.
Note that a snapshot backup is not a formal drive image; it’s just a file copy of that volume at the time of the backup.
Though the Dashboard application was a tad sluggish for us, at times, it worked well enough. We like all the options it provided, as a common frustration in this vein is a backup program that forces you to back up only certain folders, or that can run only at certain times. With the Seagate Dashboard, you can back up anything you like, as often as you like, and even save an additional copy of it to the cloud. So, for example, you can back up one folder on your PC to both the Backup Plus Ultra Slim drive and to the cloud at the same time, which is excellent redundancy for crucial data. You can also go in and edit the plan at anytime, or click a button to run the backup manually.
One thing we didn’t like, though, was the way the software organized the backup files, which was to put them in folders with incoherent names, giving no indication what was inside any of them…
We had to click through layers of this to see the actual contents.
Also, when we mentioned the software was sluggish at times, what we meant is it could take several seconds to respond to mouse clicks. Also, a word of warning: We don’t suggest starting the software without the drive connected. In our experience, when we started it without the drive connected, it freaked out a bit, asking us to connect a drive, in turn, to every drive letter of the alphabet. It would also emit a loud error noise each time we hit “Continue,” which was most rude.
Once we were done test-driving the software, we attached the Backup Plus Ultra Slim to our storage testbed machine, tethering it to one of the USB 3.0 ports in preparation for our formal storage tests.
PCMark is the gold standard for testing performance in everyday tasks on the PCs we review, and its subsidiary storage-benchmarking tool is no different. We use it to approximate how drives handle scripted tasks that occur during ordinary PC operation. That slate includes app launches, video-conversion tasks, image importing, and more.
In this test, the Backup Plus Ultra Slim performed right around where you’d expect a 5,400rpm hard drive to land, which is to say it’s a middle-of-the-road type of drive. Not the fastest, at least compared to its 7,200rpm competitors, but actually quite zippy for a hard drive this small. (In this competitive set, the last two are a 7,200rpm units.) It scored almost exactly the same as its slightly thicker stablemate, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim, which is no surprise.
ANVIL’S STORAGE UTILITIES 1.1.0
The Overall Score reported here is derived from the Anvil test’s Read and Write scores. We run the Anvil test at its default setting.
Overall, the Ultra Slim wasn’t overly impressive in this test compared to previous drives we’ve tested, but that’s a function of its spin rate. Since this is a 5,400rpm drive, it’s not designed for speed, but instead to run cool and quiet, so we didn’t expect it to top the benchmark charts.
This is a synthetic test that measures several attributes of drive performance. We use it to test both random and sequential read/write performance.
Overall the Ultra Slim performed impressively on this straight-line speed test. It was able to hit 128MB per second in the read test, and 124MB per second in the write test. That is what one should expect from a 5,400rpm hard drive, so all in all it performed to spec.
It should be noted that drives of this nature are designed to store large files such as movies and music, so this benchmark is relevant to how the drive will be used in the real world. Its performance here bodes well for it as a value-oriented, light drive to carry with you and hold masses of multimedia.
Slight-bodied external drives like this one aren’t designed to excel at random reads and writes. Hard drives are generally bad at this, since the heads are constantly seeking, and when you combine it with a modest rotational speed, you’re going to run into delays. That said, this drive fared better than average compared to its competitors. Both its 4K read and write speed were faster than most of the other like/competitive drives we’ve tested, if by a small margin. We were pleasantly surprised by its results.
Overall, the Backup Plus Ultra Slim, as we tested it in its 2TB trim, is a well-rounded, highly portable backup drive. It’s extremely thin, and light enough that you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you hold it in hand for the first time. And its 2TB capacity is stunning given its slight stature.
It all comes down, though, to how much you need maximum portability. If you don’t need the extra few millimeters shaved off, we’d say just go with the Backup Plus Slim (non-“Ultra”) drive, as it’s less expensive and does all the same things. But if you are looking for the absolute smallest footprint and profile possible in a roomy backup drive, this one is hard to beat.
We wish the software were a bit more responsive, but in truth, most people will set this up once and forget it’s even running. It’s also easy to simply connect it, run a backup, and put it away again, so the software responsiveness is not a deal breaker. This is an overall solid drive with full-featured software that makes backing up your data a no-excuses proposition.