We met with HGST at their hotel suite and were interested to hear their plans now that they’ve been acquired by WD. Western Digital bought HGST (who had previously purchased G-Technology), and with two hard drive companies now merged we wanted to find out what the plan was going forward. Since Western Digital has been primarily focused on the consumer side of the storage market, their acquisition of Hitachi/HGST makes sense as HGST has focused more on the enterprise side lately. Ultimately, the decision was made to keep HGST as a standalone business. Case in point is the G-Technology lineup from HGST, which is our focus here.

HGST has a very strong position in the enterprise and mobile space. The industrial design is one element where all of the G-Technology offerings are substantially higher quality than what we typically see in the consumer market. The enclosures are all durable and have a solidity and weight to them that you just wouldn’t get from a plastic enclosure. The casings are all aluminum, of varying thickness, with higher end products offering multiple inputs, multiple drives, and improved cooling. The G-Technology product line has always been targeted at the creative professionals—the original version came out early in the Final Cut Pro days in 2004, and the need to edit HD video was a major impetus—consider that one hour of raw 4K video will suck down around 860GB of storage space, which is why most video editing continues to rely on conventional storage.

G-Technology products are used a lot by independents doing shorts, commercials, etc. and that eventually caught the attention of Apple. With their success in that market, they’ve begun targeting premium consumers. Similarly, with tablets becoming a major thing, HGST looked at how that would affect the G-Technology line and found that it continued to be complementary.

Digital video and digital workflow is growing and they have creative professionals that are wanting to take their initial video off flash drives, make two copies—one to send out for post-production/editing/etc. and one as a backup—and they need a lot of storage. HGST mentioned a couple of shows that use their products, including SNL and Gold Rush. The total quantity of video for the latter is typically 180+ hours of raw footage for every one hour episode, so you can quickly see how a twelve episode season needs massive amounts of storage. Basically, they’re able to deliver high capacity with good streaming performance for digital video workflows. The single drive solutions can deliver up to 150MB/s, dual drives are pushing peak data rates of over 300MB/s, and the quad-drive solutions are able to deliver up to 500MB/s. Random access performance is obviously not a strong point for hard drives compared to SSDs, but as capacity goes up on SSDs we’re also seeing a drop in number of program-erase cycles, and raw capacity is still much lower. The basic summary then is that for now, G-Technology continues to focus on conventional storage.

Starting at the lower end, HGST’s Touro brand is a consumer oriented (“mainstream”) brand that consists primarily of single-drive 5400RPM offerings (though they’re now moving to 7200RPM as well). The lineup consists of external devices with 2.5” and 3.5” hard drives. Over the past couple of years with USB 3.0 now displacing USB 2.0, the need for faster drives is coming and there’s a reason to go beyond 5400 RPM—keep in mind that USB 2.0 maxed out at around 38MB/s, so even 5400RPM drives are easily able to saturate that bus. The drives start at 500GB models, with the largest 3.5” option being a 4TB, 5 platter design. In the 2.5” enclosure, the largest drive is a 1TB 7200RPM. HGST is proud of the fact that this is currently the only 9.5mm 7200RPM 1TB drive shipping, with 32MB cache—other companies have 1TB models with 11.5mm drives. The Touro brand (Desk Pro and Mobile Pro) is pre-formatted for Windows and comes with a 3GB cloud backup free.

Stepping up to the G|Drive lineup, all of the drives are 7200RPM models and the size and cooling capabilities of the enclosures are all clearly improved. Where the Touro products all used USB 3.0 connections, G|Drive adds Firewire 800, eSATA, and on some models Thunderbolt (though of the enclosures shown, only one of the G|RAID offerings had Thunderbolt ports). Again, capacities range from 500GB up to 4TB. The industrial design of the G|Drive and G|RAID products is basically the same, with the difference being the support for multiple drives in the G|RAID enclosures. The 2-drive models come pre-configured for RAID 0, with RAID 1 also supported, while the 4-drive enclosures also support RAID 5 (though in some cases that requires a separate PCIe card in the host PC).

One of the topics we also discussed with HGST was the potential for benchmarking this sort of device. Obviously, our SSD testing procedures are not oriented towards editing raw HD video, and with random access testing any hard drive will fall well short of even mediocre flash storage. If there’s interest in increasing our testing of this sort of products, or if you have suggestions on workflows that you’d like to see us test, please let us know in the comments.

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