If there’s one constant as a photographer or filmmaker, you can never have enough storage space. No matter how much storage we already have, we need to constantly keep increasing our capacity. Sometimes that means shoving more drives inside our computers, but sometimes, the solution is portable external drives.
We’ll get to the SSD vs HDD debate in a minute, but we’ve been testing out the Toshiba Canvio Slim 2TB HDD (buy here) for the last few weeks in various scenarios to see how it stands up in 2023 with the onslaught of fast – but not necessarily inexpensive – solid-state storage.
Toshiba Canvio Slim Overview
The Toshiba Canvio Slim is a compact portable USB 3.0 (AKA USB 3.2 Gen 1) hard drive. It’s of a similar size to other portable USB hard drives, as it’s essentially a standard form factor 2.5″ hard drive inside a Toshiba enclosure and Toshiba electronics for the USB interface.
It’s a very attractive enclosure, available in either silver with a black stripe or black with a silver stripe. The one I’ve been testing is silver with a black stripe, although the colour obviously doesn’t affect the drive’s performance. Its only visible features are the Toshiba logo, debossed (it’s a real word) on its surface, the USB 3.0 Micro USB socket on one end, and the activity LED, which you don’t see until you plug the unit into a computer or other device.
The drive comes in 1TB and 2TB capacities. The one I have here is the 2TB version, although the results of the speed tests below should be about the same for both capacities.
Inside the box, you get both the Toshiba Canvio Slim itself along with a USB 3.0 micro USB to Type A USB cable. I found this a little disappointing, given that USB-C is rapidly taking over, and a number of computers available today don’t even contain Type A USB sockets anymore – and smartphones certainly don’t.
There are plenty of third-party USB 3.0 micro USB to USB-C cables out there if that’s the way you need to go, so it’s not too big of an issue. Still, it would’ve been nice to see one included.
HDD vs SSD
Ok, let’s deal with the elephant in the room and get it out of the way.
You might be wondering if it’s even worth buying a mechanical hard drive anymore. After all, it’s 2023. Hasn’t the world gone solid state already? Well, in many respects, it has. SSDs offer a number of distinct advantages over hard drives.
Advantages of SSD
The most obvious one is speed. SSDs, even external ones, are available today that reach speeds of 2,000MB/sec or faster. The OWC Envoy Pro FX, for example, boasts speeds up to 2,800MB/sec when plugged into a Thunderbolt socket. Mechanical card drives can’t get anywhere close to this, and it’s unlikely they ever will. This speed advantage is why many cameras today are starting to offer the ability to record directly to an SSD over USB instead of an internal memory card.
SSDs are also generally more durable. As there are no moving parts, they can handle some pretty extreme situations – being dropped – with no ill effects. Mechanical hard drives, no matter how tough their exterior may be, are still pretty delicate.
Then there are the size and power considerations. Solid-state storage has become much smaller over the last few years while capacity has increased. They also don’t demand as much power to keep running as a mechanical hard drive.
These are all pretty compelling arguments in favour of SSD. So, do hard drives still have their place?
Advantages of HDD
Hard drives still have the capacity advantage – at least with desktop storage – although this closed somewhat now as 4TB SSDs become more available. But mechanical hard drives also have the cost advantage.
The capacity of the Toshiba Canvio Slim in this review is 2TB and is currently available to purchase on Amazon for $69.99. The 2TB Samsung T7 typically retails for around $140 – double the cost of the HDD. The 2TB version of the OWC Envoy Pro FX mentioned above costs around $320.
Another advantage of HDDs is that although they are typically more delicate than SSDs, it’s much easier to recover the data contained within their platters if there is a physical failure of the drive. With SSDs, when there’s a physical failure, it can be extremely difficult or impossible to recover the data from them.
If you don’t need the speed of SSDs and you’re not planning to use them in extreme conditions or regularly subject them to bumps and knocks, then HDDs can still be a good investment – especially if you need larger capacity storage at a lower cost.
So which do you get?
There’s no real answer to this that suits everybody. Whether a hard drive or an SSD works best for your workflow depends on your own needs.
Personally, I have both SSDs and hard drives of various capacities. Sometimes, I really do need that speed and durability advantage of SSDs – especially when working with video. At other times, I don’t. If I’m editing photos in Lightroom or Photoshop, I’m not reading and writing lots of large files in quick succession. If my PSD file takes 2 seconds to write out instead of half a second, it’s not really a big deal. And the speed of the drive on which the image is stored doesn’t really affect the speed of operation in the application once it’s loaded into RAM.
Mechanical hard drives can also be good for backing up smartphone photos and video. Very few smartphones on the market today can even saturate HDD speeds through their built-in USB socket, let alone take advantage of SSD speeds, so why spend more money if you don’t have to?
How fast is the Toshiba Canvio Slim?
When it comes to speed, as we’ve discussed above, a hard drive will never be as fast as an SSD. It’s just not physically possible. Hard drives contain too many moving mechanical parts to be able to keep up with solid stat.
But for an external USB 3.0 (3.2 Gen 1) hard drive, the Toshiba Canvio Slim has very respectable transfer speeds and should suit the needs of many looking for an inexpensive way to be able to back up their memory cards.
As usual, the drive was run through AJA System Test five times on a USB 3.0 socket on my ASUS ZenBook Pro laptop. The results are below, but the speeds were very consistent from one test to the next.
All five tests with the Toshiba Canvio Slim are only within 1-2MB/sec of each other, with read speeds of 132-133MB/sec and write speeds of 135-136MB/sec. While even entry-level SSDs can at least 400MB/sec over USB 3.0, these speeds beat the UHS-I SD card standard – I’m not including the proprietary SanDisk UHS-I speed tech – making them a great option for memory card backups.
We’ve already spoken about the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical hard drives vs solid-state storage, but it’s worth considering the points again before deciding which to purchase.
If you need the speed of an SSD, increased durability, or to record footage straight to a portable drive from your camera’s USB output, then an SSD is what you need. There’s just no way around that. But hard drives are a viable choice if you don’t need those benefits, and the cost is a factor. And the Toshiba Canvio Slim certainly stands up to the task. It may not be the fastest USB 3.0 hard drive on the market, but it presents great value for money.
For using the Toshiba Canvio Slim with your desktop or laptop computer, the supplied Type A to Micro USB 3.0 cable should be sufficient. But if you want to back up directly from your smartphone, you’ll need to buy either a 3rd party Type-C to Micro USB 3.0 cable or a USB-C hub with USB 3.0 Type A sockets. Given how quickly smartphones get filled with photos these days, I think it’s something of an oversight that a USB-C cable was not included.
Overall, though, given its cost, the Toshiba Canvio Slim 2TB is a capable drive that offers a decent amount of storage for a great price.
Price and Availability
Which do you use for portable storage – HDD or SSD? Let us know in the comments.