Much like the A62 series, the Silicon Power A85 uses a rather attractive shipping container that not only allows you to see the external drive before you buy but is choke full of details on why you should buy. This makes it perfect for retail shelves and easily allows direct comparisons to be made between it and the A62 – which will probably be right next to it on store shelves.
The included accessories are also very reminiscent of the A62 series. That is to say they are best described as adequate but sparse. In grand total you get a USB cable, a little instruction pamphlet and instructions on how to download the free backup software. Overall this list of accessories is decent but there is one issue that is worth pointing out. This external hard drive does not use a standard USB cable. Usually external drives use cables that have a Type-A connector on one end and a micro-B connector on the other end. The Type-A end plugs into any ‘standard’ USB port on your laptop, PC, etc. and the other smaller connector plugs into the drive itself. This setup is the de-facto standard and you can pick up a replacement cable for buck or two anywhere – even Walmart carries them.
The Armor A85 does not use a micro USB 3.1 gen 1 port. Instead it too is a ‘full size’ Type-A port. What this means is that it requires a Type-A to Type-A cable or a Type-A to Type-C cable (if your motherboard supports this form-factor). Both options are not as easy to find and are rather expensive compared to the ‘typical’ USB cable. This is a poor design decision that will make finding a replacement more difficult and expensive when the cable breaks… and all USB cables eventually break. If it had to be a Type-A port on the drive itself, Silicon Power really should have gone the extra mile and include a Type-A to micro adapter so that when this cable does die people could use any old cable that they wanted. Of course thanks to altcoin ‘miners’ finding one these cables is not that difficult… just look for a ‘mining PCIe adapter card’ and it will come with the proper cable. If you know a miner s/he probably has a box full of them! If not they are not nearly as rare as they were as little as a year and a half ago.
Counteracting this is the drive itself easily makes up for this small misstep. It is not only attractive it is also built like a veritable tank. However, before we begin a deep dive into this drive a few things should be explained better than we did in the last review. While we tried to minimize technobabble… some people did get lost. So lets go over the IEC standard 60529… aka IP standards. This standard test devices in two main areas (used to be four but now it just two). These are dust/particle protection, and water protection. The dust proofing scale goes from 0 to 6 with 6 being ‘dust tight’ with no particles being able to get past the outer protection. At the other end of the spectrum a rating of 0 means no proven protection at all. Water protection on the other hand goes from 0 to 9. With 9 being able to withstand high pressure, high heat water jets at only a couple inches for minutes at a time. However, the water test ratings are not precisely culminative. What this means a IPx9 rating does not mean it is also water proof to 3meters like the IPx8 tests for. Usually it does mean this… but its not guaranteed. This is why manufactures interested in precision will list “IPx8/IPx9” for multiple levels of water proofing performance.
The next thing that needs to be explained is when a test is either not done or it fails to meet even the easiest version of it an ‘X’ is supposed to be included. This is to remove any confusion over which test it does pass. For example the Silicon Power A62 series is IPX4 rated. Meaning it has no rating on dust protection but has just passed level 4 water proof testing. This means it can handle water splashed on to the case but is not water proof. Think ‘water resistant’.
The Silicon Power Armor A85 series on the other hand is IP68 rated. This means it is truly dust proof… even after 8 hours in a vacuum with the tester trying to get teeny-tiny particles past the exterior armor. It also means it is water-proof to over 1meter of submersion in water. This is in an entirely different league of protection than the A62, with the A62 paling in comparison. This is not to say the A62 is bad. It just is not as robust. Once again, the A85 is built like a tank.
While it is technically possible to make a plastic and rubber clad case that can meet IP68 standards the easiest way to do it is with metal. In this instance Silicon Power has swapped out the plastic for aluminum. A nice bonus to this change is this case will shrug of pressure levels that would break the plastic of the A62. To be specific it can take 500 Kilograms of pressure with ease. So if you want a large external drive that can be run over by a car the A85 is the one for you. The rubber has also been upgraded and the port covering the full-sized USB 3.1 gen 1 (aka ‘USB 3.0’ in old nomenclature) port. The upside to this is it is tight and will rarely if ever pull out while in transit. The downside is… it is tight. It does take noticeably more effort to ‘unplug’ the USB port cap. This is a bit annoying but understandable. On the positive the same rubber band of the A62 has been included so the USB cable can easily be secured to the drive.
The upside to using metal is it makes the Armor A85 rather attractive. The usual downside to using metal is it is heavier, more uncomfortable to carry the drive in a pocket… and generally is ugly in a ‘German engineered’ utilitarian way. I.E. not ugly-ugly but not as aesthetically pleasing. The Silicon Power Armor A85 is not ugly. A lot of engineering went into this design to make it rather attractive. The easiest way to explain what this drive feels like is to compare it to an old-school whiskey flask… a filled whiskey flask. Albeit one that is curved on both sides and missing the ‘inside curve’ that flasks have. Honestly, this is not a lightweight drive (the 5TB weights nearly ¾ of a pound) but it does not feel or look like a brick. So much so during the testing phase we had friends ask where we got the new flask… and what did we have in it. Strangely enough, no one believed us when we said it was ‘filled with power’. Put another way if you have ever carried a flask all day its not that big a leap to understand how carrying this drive feels. If you haven’t, it is fairly easy to carry but you will notice its weight.
Also on the positive side, is this curved exterior offers two things that the A62 series cannot. The first is that all this metal makes a very good heatsink which keeps the internal hard drive cooler and happier than it would be in the A62. The other is that it does not sit flat on a desk so air can move around most of the underside even when ‘laying flat’. Of course, the counterpoint to this is that less of the case is in contact with a desk so drive vibrations can cause it move around easier – making the chances of it sliding off a desk more likely. Thankfully it does still meet the same military drop test specs as the A62. So while it may happen more often it probably will still not hurt the drive… probably. We say probably as while the hard drive is further protected by a layer of shock absorbing rubber this internal layer is not as impressive one the A62 uses.
To actually get at the internals you will need to ignore the seemingly ‘easy way’ of removing the two screws hidden underneath the bottom label and instead peel of the toper surrounding the USB port. This thick label is held in place via two recessed screws.
Once these are removed you can pull the entire internal assembly out of the metal chassis… and it is thick metal.
Here you will find the rubber protection layer and with patience can peel it off the hard drive and SATA to USB bridge board. It is worth noting that this bridge is not permanently attached to the hard drive and rather simply plugs into the SATA data and power ports on the drive – making replacing it rather easy if it ever fails.
Interestingly enough the bridge itself is power by the Initio 3609 and not ASMedia ASM1153 that the A62 uses. This change is interesting as the AMS1153 is a well-known option, but 3609 is a stable controller that has been used by many companies including Samsung. Honestly few will notice, let alone care about, this change as both work and work well. Everyone will care about the hard drive Silicon Power has opted for.
While it is possible that not all A85’s will use this particular model of hard drive our sample came with the new and potent Seagate ST5000LM000-2AN170. This is a 15.5mm z-height 2.5inch hard drive that comes with 128Mb of onboard cache and uses five dense platters. This is why it is rated for 130MB/s even though it is only a 5400rpm class hard dive (ours ran at 5500rpm so its not quite as bad as it seems). Of course, as it is a Shingle Magnetic Recording (the data tracks on the platter ‘overlap’ like shingles on a roof) and not PMR based (aka classic design with each track separate from the others… like on a record) write speed will suffer somewhat. Counteracting this is it uses Seagate darn near precognizant multi-tier caching technology to boost performance and Seagate now has years of working with SMR platter technology so this is actually a very good choice.
To understand MTC on hard drives the easiest way to think of it as a hard drive only variation on Seagate Solid-State Hybrid drives… just without the NAND or learning curve. Basically what MTC does is two fold. Firstly, when writing the shingled tracks the controller will skip one and just write to the ‘easy’ top track. Then it will write to the lower track if needed. This does cause performance to bounce around a bit with large sequential transfers but it negates most of the issues commonly associated with SMR technology. The other thing it does is the controller predicts your future I/O requests and preloads multiple prediction path’s worth of data in to its on board buffer. This does noticeably boost overall performance when it guesses right, and with multiple chances of guessing it right it does work surprisingly well. Its not perfect, but can really boost performance beyond what earlier generations of SMR drives could do.
Even with these limitations in mind, what all this means is Silicon Power could have only gotten better if they had opted for a 7200RPM ‘Barracuda Pro’ variant… but they do run hotter, louder, and generally produce a lot more vibrations for only a moderate boost in performance. They are also much more costly and this would have noticeably impacted the price of the Armor A85 5TB – and here is where this drive shines. For all intents and purposes you will not find a similarly rated drive even close to this price point. We would love to compare and contrast with say LaCie… but there is just no direct comparison in this price bracket. Instead if you want this level of protection from Seagate/WD/etc you are going to pay a lot more for it. Think 200 dollars US or more.