For months, Mac users have had to sit on the sidelines while Windows users have enjoyed drives with USB 3.0 capabilities. The next-generation connection type promises to be even faster than eSATA while still maintaining USB’s convenience and universality. CalDigit’s AV Drive claims to be the first drive with USB 3.0 connectivity for both the Mac and Windows, and when we first heard of the company’s promises of universality and blazing 5Gbps transfer speeds, we were understandably skeptical. But as our lab tests prove, the AV Drive is one of the fastest, most exciting, and unique storage solutions we’ve seen this year.
The single biggest question about the AV Drive: “How do you offer USB 3.0 connectivity when Macs don’t have USB 3.0 ports?” The answer isn’t elegant, but it works: The AV Drive comes with either a SuperSpeed PCI Express Card for Mac Pros or a SuperSpeed Expresscard/34 for laptops. Essentially, CalDigit has made USB 3.0 as approachable as eSATA but the company has gone the extra mile and supplied the user with the cards necessary to ensure they can actually use the device. This also helps to explain the hefty $258 price tag for the 1TB model we tested. One major caveat: The bundled card is compatible only with CalDigit hard drives.
The AV Drive isn’t going to win any style points, and the average consumer probably won’t want to bother with card installation in order to use USB 3.0 connectivity. But the audio/visual experts and prosumers who do get their hands on the AV Drive will probably not care that the silver heavy brick is a visual bore. Instead, they’ll likely care more that the drive has two FireWire 800 ports, a DC power port, and a USB 3.0 port with backwards compatibility to USB 2.0.
With a 32MB cache buffer and a 7200-rpm rotational speed, the single-mechanism AV Drive is built for speed. But thanks to both a heat sink and a fan, the drive isn’t much of a threat to overheat, even if the aluminum exterior can be warm to the touch. Still, the drive has a tendency to emit a high-pitched whine when it first starts up. Even during the most intensive tasks the AV drive never became noisy, but the faint hum during use is noticeable. The drive comes with a thirty-day money back guarantee and a one-year warranty.
The good news is that the drive is smart enough to save energy and go to sleep or shut down when the computer it’s tethered to is similarly in hibernation. This isn’t a drive you’ll be tossing into a bag and bringing along to your next meeting. It’s a surprisingly heavy desktop drive and should remain on your desk at all times.
As expected, the AV Drive (using its USB 3.0 card in our Mac Pro test platform) bested everything we’ve previously tested. The AV Drive finished our 1GB copy test in 21seconds with its FireWire 800 connection enabled— that’s four seconds faster than the Avastor HDX-1500’s best time. With USB 3.0 enabled and connected to our lab Mac Pro, the AV Drive was even faster: finishing our 1GB copy test in 20 seconds, a new record.
In our duplication tests, the AV Drive produced some absolutely staggering scores. With its FireWire 800 connection enabled, the AV was able to finish our 1GB duplication test in 24 seconds—11 seconds faster than the Avastor HDX-1500 (). Once again, the USB 3.0 proved to be even faster, allowing the AV to finish the duplication test in a mere 20 seconds.
How we tested. We ran all tests with the drive connected to a Mac Pro dual quad core 3GHz Xeon 5400 with Mac OS X 10.6.2 installed and 2GB of RAM. We tested the drive with each available port. We copied a folder containing 1GB of data from our Mac’s hard drive to the external hard drive to test the drive’s write speed. We then duplicated that file on the external drive to test both read and write speeds. We also used the drive as a scratch disk when running our low-memory Adobe Photoshop CS3 Suite test. This test is a set of four tasks performed on a 150MB file, with Photoshop’s memory set to 25 percent.—Macworld Lab testing by Chris Holt
Our low-memory Photoshop test runs a lengthy action script using very large files. Photoshop tries to load multiple versions of the file into memory. When Photoshop runs out of RAM, it looks to its “scratch drive” for data to crunch. By selecting our test subject drive as a scratch disk in Photoshop, the drive (much slower then RAM) must struggle to keep data flowing to the processors. The faster the drive, the faster Photoshop can complete the action script. Since our last update of our hard drive tests, no drive has approached the 2-minute mark for completion. With its FireWire 800 connection, the AV Drive finished at a blistering 2 minutes and 14 seconds—nearly 10 seconds better than any drive previously tested. With its USB 3.0 connection enabled, the AV Drive averaged around 2 minutes and 8 seconds.
The AV Drive retails for $200 without either the laptop or the desktop card. With the desktop card, the price jumps to $258 and with the laptop card, $268. So the price per gigabyte for the AV Drive varies from about $.20 to $.26. For a desktop drive, that’s on the pricey side, but persons who want the performance boost provided by USB 3.0 will find the price a complete steal.
Macworld’s buying advice
While the major storage developing companies have been focusing on other projects, CalDigit has quietly launched the first USB 3.0 drive designed for the Mac. The anticipated performance boost does not disappoint. Not only is USB 3.0 the fastest connection type we’ve tested thus far, but the AV Drive is a well-built storage solution with impressive performance scores across the board. Audio/visual professionals and speed demons alike will want to check out this drive.