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Until this year, if you needed a portable external hard drive with more than 3TB of capacity, you were limited to one-off drives like the . That particular specialized Seagate model offered an impressive amount of storage in a unique configuration: two 2TB hard disks stacked on top of one another inside one chassis, combined into a single volume. (Rival Western Digital has also offered a similar solution: the Thunderbolt-interface , which we haven't tested.)
These dual-mechanism drives are an ingenious, if slightly chunky, way to get around a key limitation of mobile drives: the number or size of platters can’t be increased as easily in mobile drives as they can in desktop ones. After all, it’s tougher to get data densities up as drastically when the actual platters need to be smaller.
Seagate’s newest high-capacity portable offering, the Seagate Backup Plus 4TB (not to be confused with the similarly named Backup Plus Fast), removes the chunkiness from the equation: It has just one 4TB drive in the body, a recent capacity advance among mobile hard drives. That means it’s almost 10 percent slimmer and 20 percent lighter than the Backup Plus Fast.
Even better, the new Backup Plus took almost no hit in most of our performance tests compared to similar drives. The aforementioned and appropriately named Backup Plus Fast is still a good bit speedier, but it milks that extra performance from its unique configuration, which is essentially a RAID 0 array. In other words, you’ll be buying the Backup Plus for its ability to better fit in your pocket, not as a max-speed video-editing scratch disk. For those types of tasks, you'll want to stick with a drive like the Backup Plus Fast, which Seagate was still selling at the time of this review, for around $220 online. (In contrast, our Backup Plus 4TB review unit was around $199 at this writing.)
Still, like the rest of Seagate’s Backup Plus family of portable drives, the Backup Plus has much to offer most of the consumers who are in the market for a mainstream external drive: those who recognize the need to back up their data. The included software is among the most comprehensive (and in our opinion, the most useful) that comes bundled with a consumer-grade drive, despite a few shortcomings. It offers the ability to store your backups from your computer (and mobile devices) both locally and in the cloud. It also comes with a free two-year subscription to Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud-storage solution, a new offering for all of Seagate’s Backup drives purchased this year.
Stacked up against its competitors, the Backup Plus mostly holds its own. Capacity-wise, the 3TB version of the is among its closest single-mechanism rivals, though that drive offers its 3TB capacity at the same list price as the Backup Plus 4TB ($199, when we wrote this in September 2015). To our surprise, the Backup Plus 4TB also held its own against lower-capacity, high-performance 7,200rpm offerings such as G-Tech’s . But the simple fact is that the Backup Plus is the only 4TB single-drive portable drive you can buy today—so the speed you get is the speed you get. Even so, its combination of speed and storage space makes it a good buy at that.
With the Backup Plus 4TB, the name of the game is simplicity rather than innovation or flashiness, and that starts with, well, the name itself. The Backup Plus has no “Slim,” “Fast,” or any other extranea that Seagate has used to differentiate previous drives from this line.
You’d also be hard-pressed to identify visual differences between this and earlier Backup Plus models. Other than straightening out the tapered sides of the Backup Plus Fast and removing the “Seagate” moniker from the drive’s top, the Backup Plus looks identical to its larger, RAID-configured dual-drive cousin. The top is still brushed metal, and it comes in your choice of...black. That’s unlike the Backup Plus Slim, which can be had in red, blue or silver. The sides are shiny plastic, with the bottom covered in an abstract version of the Seagate logo...
In keeping with Seagate’s recent abandonment of the SATA-based Universal Storage Module connector (an interface for plugging external portable drives into bays in desktop PC cases), the Backup Plus has a single USB 3.0 port. There’s a very slim LED light on the top that indicates drive activity...
Previous Seagate drives we’ve tested tended to run warm to the touch after several hours of extended use, and the Backup Plus is no exception. The drive remained a bit warm even when it was connected to our PC overnight but idle.
As for the surface’s ability to repel fingerprints and resist light scratches, again, there’s not much new here. Like the Backup Plus Fast, our test unit remained mostly fingerprint-free after a day or two of shuffling it between desks and cabinets, PC to PC, with not-particularly-clean hands.