TeamGroup PD500 Portable SSD Review

The Team Group PD500 doesn’t ship with an elaborate software package, a rainbow of colors, or exceptional performance. What this product does deliver is SSD-like performance in a package that’s so small and light that you might not know it’s in your pocket.

We’ve seen some interesting portable SSD designs over the last few years. The SanDisk Extreme 900 Portable and MyDigitalSSD Boost both target users that require the best performance and high capacities. The Adata SD700 and SanDisk Extreme 510 Portable both fit in the rugged and nearly indestructible category.

The Team Group PD500 weights just 24 grams. That’s half as much as the new Samsung Portable SSD T5 we tested in August. In fact, the PD500 is the lightest portable SSDs we’ve tested. The drive even weighs less than most thumb drives. But it’s larger than a thumb drive, and surprisingly, some of the best thumb drives are just as fast as the PD500.

You may wonder why the larger and more expensive PD500 should even be an option over a product like the Corsair Flash Voyager GS or similar high-speed thumb drive. Portable SSDs are often more complicated than thumb drives because there is more logic in the controller. The Team Group PD500 supports TRIM so it can offer high performance even after extensive use. The feature is rare in thumb drives, but it has become a standard for portable SSDs. There is a caveat; though: Most of these products ship pre-configured with a universal file system that supports Apple and Linux operating system, but you’ll have to configure the SSD with an NTFS file system to unlock TRIM support.

Specifications

Team Group brought the PD500 portable SSD to market in three capacities that range from 120GB to 480GB. The Samsung Portable SSD T5 is the PD500’s direct competitor. The T5 500GB has a performance advantage over the PD500 480GB’s 440/400 MB/s sequential read/write throughput. Both drives share the same price at Newegg in this capacity, which kicks off alarm bells.

The 120GB PD500 loses 10 MB/s of sequential read throughput and 40 MB/s of the sequential write performance compared to the two larger models.

The specifications sheet for the PD500 appears thin at first glance, and that’s because it is. Team Group doesn’t give you an elaborate software package, and you won’t find encryption or other useful bells and whistles in the boxes, either. The PD500’s claim to fame is thin. Well, in this case, it’s light. The drive weighs roughly the same as four US Quarters. If a Formula 1 team used removable flash storage in a car, this would be the off-the-shelf model they would pick before they redesigned it with an exotic material to save another three grams.

The PD500 is small when it comes to the physical size, but it’s not unique. The Samsung Portable SSD T5 is about the same size.

Pricing And Warranty

The Team Group PD500 starts at just $69.99 for the 120GB model. The price increases to $109.99 for the 240GB and then jumps again to $199.99 for the 480GB model we’re testing today. The series carries a three-year warranty. We didn’t find an endurance limitation in the specifications.

Accessories And Software

A USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A to MicroUSB cable is the only accessory included. We would like to see this product ship with some type of encryption software like many of its competitors.

A Closer Look

Team Group chose a nice retail-friendly package with all of the vital product information. You’ll find most of these products in the US and Europe online store rather than in a retail brick and mortar shop.

The drive uses a minimalist design with a simple label and a matte black finish. There is a single LED that emits light when the drive is plugged in. It blinks during drive activity.

MORE: Best SSDs

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iStorage diskAshur Pro2

Those who carry sensitive information around with them on a daily basis are doubtless concerned by the possibility of losing the device carrying that precious data (or worse still, having it stolen).

Equally, if the mobile storage you use is secure, what happens if you fail to return to the office unexpectedly?

Those concerns are addressed by the new iStorage diskAshur Pro2 external HD, a compact storage device designed to work with secure data without the need to install software on all the systems it will meet. The Pro2 retails at £489 ($670 in the US, or AU$1,039).

Design

This new Pro2 design joins the original diskAshur Pro, a product that iStorage still makes alongside other robust and secure storage devices. It comes in 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB and 5TB capacities, and it was the latter which the firm supplied us for review.

The Pro2 is expensive as 5TB external drives go, being quadruple what Seagate asks for its Backup Plus 5TB drive, and more than double LaCie’s rugged Thunderbolt 5TB models.

After removing the drive from the packaging, we realized why iStorage asks so much for it. Because this is, without doubt, one of the most glorious pieces of product engineering we’ve had the pleasure to handle.

The upper and lower surfaces are cool-to-the-touch metal, and the waistband is soft textured rubber. The unit comes in a soft foam-lined carry case that’s reminiscent of the kind made for compact cameras, providing a snug home for the Pro2 to live when not in use.

The drive is just 84mm wide, 124mm long and 20mm deep, dictating that this uses 2.5-inch drives internally to provide 5TB of capacity. As if to underline how much of the cost goes into the engineering and not the capacity, the 2TB model is £329 (around $435), only £160 (around $210) cheaper.

From a design perspective, two features make this drive special, the first of those being the built-in USB cable.

The cable is only 12cm long when unclipped, but that’s enough to attach it to a laptop or desktop PC. The fact that the cable can’t be detached – and therefore lost – is the best aspect of this design. Although it would be unfortunate if the USB blade ever got damaged.

The other standout feature is the built-in numeric pad. This is an integral feature of the security mechanism iStorage has implemented to make the diskAshur Pro2 a reliable keeper of secrets. It’s used to enter a numeric password which is required for access.

The buttons are most likely on a membrane, but they’re positive to use and make a nice click to confirm that you’ve pressed them. In addition to the numbers, there are a few special keys for operating the unit when it is attached to a computer.

Above the numeric pad are three LEDs that confirm the locked condition, and also show drive activity. The colored LEDs are used extensively to tell the user not only the status of the drive but also to provide feedback when they perform some important procedures.

In use

We’ve seen plenty of supposedly secure storage devices that could be circumvented by a little lateral thinking. And that certainly made us curious about how iStorage had avoided the most common security pitfalls.

At the heart of this design is a secure microprocessor (Common Criteria EAL4+ ready) that handles the encryption of the device. That, in theory, means that if the bare drive is extracted from its case, an attacker is no closer to getting to the data stored on it.

What any data thief needs is the seven to 15 digit numeric password created when the Pro2 was last configured. Guessing isn’t a good option because failure to enter the correct code enough times will result in the drive deleting the encryption key, rendering the contents beyond reach, forever.

Well, we say that, but there might be people in the security services who know how to crack AES-XTS 256-bit. For everyone else without a cryptology department, the data is irretrievably lost.

In addition to the software defenses, the unit also has numerous hardware safeguards in place to defend against external tampering, bypass attacks and fault injections. Should it detect any attempt to get into the case or tinker with USB, it will trigger a deadlock frozen state, at which point further assault is pointless.

Devices with a numeric pad like this usually come with a PC application that you need to install to make it work, but the Pro2 is fully self-contained.

That allows it to work as well with a PC, Mac or Linux computer. You can format it to whatever file system you use – even one you’ve created yourself.

The unit comes with a default Admin PIN number defined, and you can change that directly using the pad. But, armed with an Admin password, you can also create a user PIN, enabling the IT department to defend itself against forgetful users (up to four).

Both Admin and User modes can also be made read-only, avoiding any danger of deleting things inadvertently.

But the most Bond-esque PIN code you can define is the one that initiates a ‘self-destruct’ sequence.

Sadly, this doesn’t blow up the Pro2 in spy-film-style, but instead it initiates an internal crypto-wipe where all the PINs and data are erased, and the drive must be reformatted before it can be used again.

Our only reservations about this and other features are that setting some of them is complicated and needs the manual (supplied as a PDF on the drive) handy to avoid mucking up the procedure.

We’re sure after regular use it will become second nature to change a user PIN or the length of time before the drive automatically locks. But initially, it’s a little daunting.

For everyone but probably the security services, the Pro2 has enough in the way of protection, provided users take it seriously, and don’t write the Admin PIN on the underside with a Sharpie.

Performance

However iStorage wired the internal hard drives to the encryption engine, it didn’t impact negatively on performance. With 145.5MB/s reads and 144.8MB/s writes, the spinning rust inside the Pro2 has some intent about it.

While an SSD would be quicker (and iStorage provides models with those inside, too), those performance levels are good enough. And about as rapid as a PC with hard disk-based storage is likely to be.

We should also mention that the unit is IP56 certified, making it water and dust-resistant, though not waterproof by any stretch. An extra touch in terms of the physical protection is that the keys on the pad are coated in epoxy. The coating has the dual benefits of not only extending the effective life of the keys, but it also makes it harder to work out which keys are being used on a regular basis.

As a final sweetener to any purchaser, iStorage is doing a deal where it gives you free software licenses from Nero and ESET, should you use either of those.

Final verdict

If it wasn’t for the eye-watering cost, we’d be recommending the iStorage diskAshur Pro2 more forcefully. The combination of a well-considered security model with a superbly engineered device is an alluring one.

How well it works in any company context will depend on the person in charge of it, and how seriously they take their data security. Because while the Pro2 might have relatively few technical flaws, the data on it could still be exposed by sloppy practices.

As with most security systems, the weakest point of potential failure is the human operator, sadly.

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Can a chatbot help you find love?

I’ve been nervously chatting to Lara on the dating platform Match.com for two minutes. She’s flattered me about my age (“so young!”) and she says she’s going to take care of me.

I like her already – but Lara is not real.

She – or rather, it – is a chatbot, an artificially intelligent computer program developed to communicate with people online.

The bot was launched in France in 2016 and then rolled out in the UK in April 2017, to help potential clients get started in their search for love by setting up their Match profile for them.

It was the first to be released by a major dating site and the firm claims that 300,000 people a month complete their dating profiles with help from Lara.

The chatbot is not a voice-controlled interface – you communicate by typing – but it can operate in 12 languages, asking users simple questions about what they are looking for and what they are like.

Experts say it can also encourage people to be more honest about what they really want, rather than write what they think others will want to see.

“The profile is the big hurdle [for the industry],” says Mark Brooks, a dating sector consultant.

“People don’t really want to create a profile, it’s not much fun.

“But if you are having a conversation with somebody they will be more willing. And if you can create a profile from a conversation it will probably be closer to the truth.”

Match says Lara boosted registration rates by 30%, and it can now also recommend matches based on user data.

While the bot isn’t supposed to break hearts, the chat is affable, friendly, informal. It asks friendly questions, you answer, and there’s a short, reassuring response before the next request for information.

Try to go off script, however, and you won’t get very far.

“How are you?” I asked Lara.

“Hello, hello,” she replied with a winking emoticon.

“Do you have any hobbies?” (I never said I was good at chatting people up).

“I don’t understand. Which gender are you?” she replied, giving me a choice of two buttons to press.

“Do you understand me?”

“Oops, your email address is invalid,” she responded, with a sad face.

Perhaps we’re not soulmates after all.

“[Clients] know it’s a bot, they are 100% aware they are not talking to a human,” says Xavier De Baillenx, innovation lead at Match.

“You have to engage users with the right tone of voice,” he adds.

“We tested Lara with no personality, Lara with jokes – and we found that having a personality can be more effective.”

The Match group has now also launched Julia, a similar chatbot for its over-50s dating site Our Time and Mr De Baillenx says there are more “agents” on their way.

But why aren’t there more of them in the dating space already?

Perhaps one reason is that people can be notoriously rude to bots.

Microsoft’s Twitter bot experiment Tay had to be disabled within a day when those who communicated with it taught it to be racist and misogynistic, and a popular Japanese app called The Boyfriend Maker was terminated when its virtual boyfriends started engaging in very lewd chat.

“I call this the ‘abducted by aliens’ problem,” said Ludwig Konrad Bull, MD of Elixirr, speaking at the recent iDate conference in London.

“You would never write on a form that you’ve been abducted by an alien. But for some reason, you’re more likely to say that to a bot.

“If you look at how similar a robot is to a person, the more similar the robot is to the person, the more empathetic that person is towards the robot, but right before the robot seems just like a person people start really despising it. People don’t want machines to be as intelligent as humans right now.”

Mr De Baillenx says not many of Match’s customers try to do “weird things” with Lara.

But John Taylor, CEO of action.ai, believes chatbots aren’t yet mature enough for people to resist trying their luck – the language skills are just not there, as I discovered with Lara.

“A chatbot is about how you have a conversation with a business or a person who is not real,” he says.

“We want people to talk naturally to a chatbot and be understood. But the technology is not there today. We have technology which solves that problem but it’s not broadly available on the market.”

Xavier de Baillenx admits that the language side “is not so easy”.

“With Lara we spend quite a long time on understanding human language,” he says.

Repeat business

In future though, a chatbot could offer a lot more to the dating space than getting you started on your search for love – which could prove lucrative for those in the business.

“It’s a strange industry,” says Mark Brooks.

“If we do a good job we wave goodbye to our customers.

“There’s a lot we are missing out on by not helping people with their relationships once they have found that person.”

Whether people are ready to accept relationship advice from the likes of Lara remains to be seen.

“Maybe chatbots can be used to train people how to date. There’s a lot of psychology involved, best practice. It could probably give you tips and tricks,” says Srini Janarthanam from Chatomate, talking at at iDate.

“And if you don’t get to date anybody else, maybe you can date the chatbot.”

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AMD Cards Not Compatible With DK2 After Oculus Platform Update

Earlier this week, Oculus pushed a new version of the Oculus Home software (Oculus Home 1.20). Although it introduced new features such as login confirmation to safeguard your account and dynamic bundle pricing so you can take advantage of sale bundles when you already own some of the content in the package, reports surfaced on Reddit that suggested the new update renders the Oculus DK2 developer kit unusable.

Several people reported that images weren’t rendering correctly inside the headset. After the new driver is applied, so went the reports, the image on the left screen has a green overlay, and the image on the right screen is green and flipped 90 degrees. Upon reading the reports, we pulled our DK2 out of the closet to see if we could replicate the issue(s).

At first, we could not. Our DK2 ran just fine with the latest Oculus Home software, despite the prominent warning that states that the DK2 headset is not compatible with the Oculus platform. However, as we dug deeper into the online reports, we noticed a pattern: Everyone who complained of a problem appeared to be using a Radeon graphics card of one type or another, including the R9 280, R9 290X, and R9 390 Radeon. Meanwhile, we found no issues reported from people with Nvidia graphics cards.

Our test machine features an Intel Core i7-5370k and a Zotac GTX 980Ti graphics card, so we swapped in a Power Color RX 480 and–bingo. We replicated the issue with the AMD card installed.

For some reason, AMD’s graphics driver is not compatible with the Oculus DK2 hardware combined with the latest Oculus driver software.

Oculus no longer supports the DK2, so we don’t expect to see a revision of the Oculus Home software that corrects the problem. However, it appears as though AMD could provide the fix here. Oculus didn’t intentionally kill the compatibility of the DK2. If it had, we wouldn’t be able to use the headset with an Nvidia card installed. AMD could potentially address the problem with a driver update if it so desired. For now, DK2 owners with AMD graphics cards can either put their headset away or get an Nvidia graphics card.

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Thermaltake's Latest Gaming Chair Sports Active Cooling

Thermaltake announced a new addition to its Comfort series of gaming chairs, the X Comfort Air. Its key feature is an active air-cooling system designed to help keep gamers cool and comfortable.

The X Comfort Air shares its shape and ergonomics with Thermaltake’s X and GT Comfort chairs. Thermaltake splits its chairs by tightness of fit; the Comfort line has a more relaxed and generous fit compared to the more snug Fit line. Chairs within each line are further split by material, and the X chairs use more premium materials than the GT chairs.

All of Thermaltake’s gaming chairs share the same basic ergonomic features and adjustments: chair height, back angle, rocking tilt, tilt lock, and four-way armrests. They also all share some basic points of construction, including an aluminum frame, padding made from 75 kg/m3 foam, a class-4 gas piston, and an aluminum five-spoke base with three-inch casters.

The defining point of the X Comfort AIR, however, is its active air-cooling feature. The system consists of four high-pressure fans that are embedded in the base of the chair. The power cord attaches to a control box that’s located behind the chair back. Like a cooled seat in a car, the chair’s base is covered with perforated faux-leather that permits airflow from the three-speed fans. Unlike most cooled car seats, though, no air flows from the chair back.

Thermaltake’s announcement is murky on how the company tested the effectiveness of the system. It shows infrared images of the seat after it’s been sat in, with the cooling system running on different speeds. What’s not clear is whether or not the cooling system was running while the subject was in the seat or if it was switched on afterwards. Thermaltake claimed that the system can cool the seat by between 0.6 and 1.5 degrees Celsius. The noise level of the fans is stated as 32 DB(A), but Thermaltake didn’t specify the correlating fan speed for this.

The gaming chair market has exploded in the past few years. The list of companies in this space include Corsair, DXRacer, Cougar, noblechairs, Aerocool, Gamdias, and many more. Even Office Furniture Marketing (OFM) has one now. It’s also not a market where much differentiation happens. Most offerings are just variations on the “racing seat” aesthetic with different colors and surface materials. As such, the air-cooling system of the X Comfort AIR, even if we don’t know how effective it is, sets it apart from the rest. (No one would complain if Thermaltake added an active massage system, too.

The Thermaltake X Comfort AIR comes in red and black versions that are available now on Thermaltake’s site for $500.

X Comfort AIR
Height Adjustment Maximum seat height: 58cm
Minimum seat height: 48cm
Armrest Adjustment Maximum arm height: 83cm
Minimum arm height: 65cm
Backrest Dimensions Backrest height: 83.5cm
Backrest shoulder width: 53.5cm
Backrest pelvis width: 31cm
Color -Black/red
-Black
Price $500 USD

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'Final Fantasy XI' Invites Former Players Back to Play

Square Enix is inviting former Final Fantasy XI players back to the game for a few weeks as part of a free promotion running from Nov. 10-24.

The aim of the Return Home to Vana’diel Campaign is to allow veterans to come back and see what’s changed over the last 15 years that the game’s been operational. Much has been improved upon or expanded since it debuted, including mechanics that make leveling feel like less of a slog than it used to.

Square Enix added a new series of campaign missions to help guide returning players and get them back in the swing of things, as well as an array of new, free items each week. You simply need to log in to claim them. In addition, alter egos are back for a limited time; these NPCs facilitate solo leveling, so you won’t have to worry about finding parties to play with.

To qualify for the promotion, you must have an active PlayOnline/Final Fantasy XI service account. Further, your inactive character options must be set to “Canceled” status as of Nov. 7, 2017. Your PlayOnline account must also have been transferred to your Square Enix account.

If you decide Vana’diel’s call to you is so loud that you can’t resist,Vana’diel Collection 4 will be up for grabs at a reduced rate, so you can jump right back in for less cash. The character world transfer service will also be available at a lower price for a limited time, which should make it simpler to pull the trigger on playing with others.

Classic MMORPGs are rather en vogue at the moment, especially with Blizzard bringing fans a World of Warcraft Classic server, and now Square Enix offering this service for Final Fantasy XI fans. There are plenty of things to enjoy about the past when it comes to both of these games, and with the improvements made in the interim, they’re worth taking a look at again, even if it’s just to satisfy those pangs of nostalgia.

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Asus Launches Trio of WS X299 Motherboards

Following the launch of its desktop X299 motherboard line, Asus rolled out a trio of new X299-based workstation boards targeting businesses, prosumers, and PC enthusiasts.

Based on Intel’s X299 chipset, these new motherboards are meant to bridge the gap between standard desktop motherboards and higher-end Xeon offerings. All three of these new workstation boards offer support for Intel’s Core-X series processors, eight DIMM slots that support up to 128GB of DDR4-4133MHz (OC), and multi-GPU graphics card configurations featuring SafeSlot reinforced PCI-E slot technology that prevents damage from moving a system with heavy graphics cards.

The leader of the pack is Asus’ top-shelf WS X299 Sage workstation motherboard, which features seven full-sized PCI-E slots that are connected to the CPU via a PLX switch so you can run quad-x16 setups with at least x8 width simultaneously. This board features the larger CEB form factor with is compatible with most E-ATX chassis.  

The WS X299 Pro / SE and the WS X299 Pro are both standard ATX motherboards. Although both are equipped with fewer PCI-E slots than the WS X299 Sage, these boards still support up to three-way SLI and Crossfire graphics card configurations. The main difference between the Pro and Pro / SE is the latter’s remote management capabilities.

Common features among these new workstation motherboards include dual M.2 slots that work with both standard SSDs and Intel Optane Memory as well as at least one U.2 connector for datacenter-grade drives. Both M.2 slots are equipped with heatsinks to help dissipate heat to prevent thermal throttling under heavy load. These new WS X299 offerings also feature USB 3.1 Gen2 ports in Type-A, Type-C, upgraded Crystal Sound 3 audio, and dual Intel networking chips with failover support.

Additionally, all three motherboards are equipped with headers for both standard RGB strips and addressable LED lighting. Catering to water cooling aficionados, two of the six onboard fan headers feature support for water pumps and all-in-one coolers.

Asus listed availability as “November 2017.” We reached out to the company for information on pricing.

WS X299 Sage WS X299 Pro / SE WS X299 Pro
Chipset Intel X299
Size CEB ATX
Memory 8 x DDR4 up to 4133 (OC)
Multi-GPU 4 x SLI, CrossFireX 3 x SLI, CrossFireX
PCIe 7 x 16 4 x 16 / 1 x 4
Storage 2 x M.2
2 x U.2
8 x SATA
2 x M.2
1 x U.2
6 x SATA
Ethernet Intel I210-AT
Intel I219-LM
Intel I210-AT
Audio Crystal Sound 3
USB 3.1 Gen 2 1 Front
1 Type-C
1 Type-A
5-Way Optimization Yes No Yes
Aura RGB Headers 1 strip
1 address
Out-of-Band
Management
No Yes No

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