Buying a hard disk in Japan

So I just bought another external hard drive to store my digital photos. It took about a year to fill up my last hard drive, a Buffalo 250GB drive.

I hated that Buffalo 250GB (HD-HB250U2 to be exact, with a USB 2.0 connection ). It was so slow. But it was cheap, less than 20,000 yen. Unfortunately, it took almost forever to copy or transfer images. Transferring a measly 2 GB from my internal hard disk to the Buffalo took over 45 min. Needless to say, it also took a long time to make backup DVDs from the Buffalo too. It was such a pain.

The main reason why I bought it is that in Japan, Buffalo seems to be the most popular HD brand. At Yodobashi, that’s all you see pretty much. The other HD brands are far less visible compared to the stacks and stacks of red Buffalo boxes in front of your face.

So for my new HD, I was determined to get a faster HD. I did some homework and here’s what I found out.

Most hard drives now spin at 7200 rpm which makes it faster than the 5400 rpm of older drives or portable HD models. The rpm is clearly stated on the packaging. But often times what you don’t see on the package (or specs) is the cache memory size. The larger the cache (or buffer) memory, the faster the HD will be when you transfer data to it. The big problem with Buffalo hard drives is that almost all of them don’t say how large the cache is. There’s only one model that says 8 MB cache (but only 250GB). That’s why Buffalo is cheap it seems. So if it doesn’t say how large the cache is, we have to assume that it’s small (and slow).

If you look around, you’ll find other brands which may say 8MB or 16MB cache. But those models are significantly more expensive (maybe 30,000 yen or so). Except for one: Maxtor

Maxtor has 300GB hard drives with 16MB cache costing less than 25,000 yen, hardly any difference in price with the el cheapo Buffalo. So I bought a Maxtor, and wow, it’s fast. I have it connected to FireWire (IEEE1394) and this probably makes a difference too. On paper, USB 2.0 supposed to be faster than FireWire, but during actual use, I’m told that FireWire is faster. So I bought the HD which includes both USB 2.0 and FireWire ports.

The one I bought was the Maxtor E30G300. They also have a USB-only model (cheaper) and a Macintosh-formatted model which is significantly more expensive. I use a Mac, but I bought the cheaper Windows version and just formatted it with my Mac. They should sell the Mac version at the same price as the Windows version. I think it was 5,000 yen more. Not worth it when you can easily reformat a Windows HD for your Mac.

The only problem with Maxtor in Japan is that it might be difficult to find. I went to Yodobashi, Tokyo’s largest camera/computer shop, and the Akihabara store did not have the one I wanted in stock. The Kinshicho branch also had none. Finally, they told me that the Ueno and Shinjuku branches had it in stock. So I went to Ueno (only two train stops away from Akihabara) and got it.

Yodobashi has a good online inventory system, so they can tell you which branch has what. If your nearest branch doesn’t have what you want, ask if another branch has it. Then go there and get it.

I think from now on, it will be Maxtor HDs for me. As long as their prices are low, the drives are fast, and it doesn’t crash.