The $299 (as of October 2004) 160GB DriveStation that we looked at is extremely quick and simple to install. An external power adapter and a USB cable are included in the box. Once you insert the two small stabilizing feet (if you plan to position the drive vertically), just attach the USB cable to a USB 1.1 or 2.0 port on the host computer, connect the external power adapter, and switch on the drive. Windows XP recognizes and installs the drive in less than 30 seconds. Though you can reformat as NTSF, the DriveStation comes formatted for FAT32, allowing support for Windows 98 SE/Me/XP/2000 right out of the box, with no additional setup or preparation work required; it's literally plug and play. The only glitch we experienced occurred with initial detection. We had to reboot the PC before the drive appeared in the My Computer window. Once detected, the DriveStation acts as any other external hard drive. You don't need to install any additional software under Windows XP, but the enclosed software CD provides drivers for Windows 98 and Me, along with Buffalo's own formatting, file-backup, and power-conservation utilities, all specially designed for the unit.
The portable Buffalo DriveStation weighs in at just more than 3 pounds and measures just 6.5 inches long, 6.75 inches high, and 2 inches wide, making the drive well suited for traveling or commuting between work and home systems. Its simple, clean, silver-and-beige color scheme will mesh with virtually any PC setup, and it can be oriented vertically, like a miniature PC tower, or horizontally. Two LEDs on the front face indicate power and drive activity. Temperature is not a problem; ample vent openings keep the drive cool even after hours of operation. Although you don't need to power down the drive during idle periods, the DriveStation's rear power switch is a real convenience when deactivating the unit before disconnection or transport.
Our informal tests reveal that the DriveStation provides adequate backup performance, even when connected via USB 1.1, transferring an entire 345MB folder (including 120 subfolders with 1,074 files) from the host computer to the unit in 8 minutes, 5 seconds. That's 0.711MB per second across a USB 1.1 port. While this may be far too slow for real-time multimedia work, such as home video editing, it's acceptable for standard backup tasks running in the background. Data transfers across a USB 2.0 port approach 60MB per second according to the manufacturer's specifications, easily placing the DriveStation on a par with other external drives, such as the Western Digital Series II or the Western Digital 250GB Media Center.
The Buffalo DriveStation is protected by a limited one-year warranty, comparable to competing Maxtor and Western Digital drives, but some vendors may offer extended warranties at an additional price. In the unlikely event that you encounter problems during installation, free toll-free telephone support is available 24/7. Online support, including e-mail assistance, is also available through Buffalo's Web site, but there is little direct support for the DriveStation--there were no software downloads (updated software) or FAQs for the unit at press time. Of course, additional information may become available as Buffalo transfers more of its support experience online, so it's always a good idea to check for solutions online before making a call.