External HD USB vs. Firewire

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by Koodauw, Dec 17, 2006.

  1. Koodauw macrumors 68040


    Nov 17, 2003
    Well, I think I should invest in an external HD for use with my MBP. I would like for it to be one of smaller portable versions, and between 80-120 GB. The real kicker is that I would prefer to have a firewire one as it should have a faster average transfer speed. (correct?)

    However, the market for this type of devise seems to be slim to none. Apple sells a Firelite drive that is Firewire and fairly small, but I can't seem to any other good ones, any one have any recommendations?

    Or am I just making something out of nothing here, and should just go with a USB version? There is plenty of small portable USB only drives out there. Would I see a noticeable difference with the Firewire? Any input is appreciated.
  2. ravenvii macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Melenkurion Skyweir
    USB 2.0 has replaced FireWire as the standard for those types of devices. USB 2.0 is about as fast as FireWire, so you will be happy with a USB 2.0 external HD.

    (do not get a USB 1.1 external HD, in case you're wondering :p)
  3. MGLXP macrumors regular

    Sep 29, 2005
    Firewire 400/800 is noticibly faster than USB 2.0. This is because Firewire has a higher sustained transfer rate while USB 2.0 has a higher burst rate only. This is from my personal experience as I have Firewire, USB and eSATA drives. (eSATA is the best by far, but I don't think they make mobile eSATA Hard Drive enclosures). And as a side note, the firewire chipset can affect the speed of the firewire device. The no name cheapo firewire chipsets will not demonstrate the full potential of firewire. Get a high quality enclosure/or enclosure+drive combination with an Oxford firewire chipset. So, only get USB 2.0 if that is the only thing you can find; otherwise, go with the firewire interface.
  4. deebster macrumors 6502

    Oct 21, 2004
    Olde Englande
    I would get a box that has Firewire and USB 2.0. On non-Intel Macs USB 2.0-connected HDs are not bootable. They may be on Intel Macs but I haven't tried.
  5. Loge macrumors 68020


    Jun 24, 2004
  6. xUKHCx Administrator emeritus


    Jan 15, 2006
    The Kop
    USB drives are indeed bootable on Intel Macs, was running off one for about 3 weeks.

    i personally would get a firewire drive as pretty much everything is USB nowadays those ports are in high demand where as the firewire ports ra in little demand so it doesnt matter if a drive is always plugged in (i am talking about desktop solutions not really relevant ot the OP i know).

    Also from my expereince Firewire drive have a lot higher transfer rate and they boot up a lot quicker. my current USB drive takes an age to boot. The astute of you will notice i do actually use a USB drive over firewire drives. I did have a firewire drive but someone* stupid happened to it and i didnt have the money to replace it with a good firewire case. Oh how i regret that how.

    * I was attaching the drive after i put it in a new hidden from view place. As i couldnt see it i just pushed the cable in and when i turned it on, a small hiss and a pop later the chip was fubar. I forced the cable in the wrong way around by accident.
  7. popelife macrumors member

    Nov 3, 2006
    The clincher for me is that virtually all portable 2.5" external drives can be bus-powered when connected by firewire, but require an annoying external PSU when you use USB. A large part of the convenience of these drives is that you just connect one FW cable and you're away.

    I have one of the Wiebetech FW400/800/USB2 mini enclosures, with a 5400rpm Seagate 160GB SATA drive in it. Not the cheapest solution, but really really cool. Fast, small, and enough capacity to get me out of a jam.

    I also recommend the Apple Firewire 400 cables - they're thin and bendy. Easy to coil up and pack away, and they don't end up dragging the drive all over your desktop (because the drive is so small and light, your standard thick firewire cable doesn't tend to work too well)
  8. Swarmlord macrumors 6502a


    Sep 18, 2006
    I use a Maxtor external drive that has ports for both, although i always connect it via Firewire.
  9. Joony macrumors regular

    Jan 7, 2005
    There must be some disadvantage to the Apple firewire cables...so thin...

    Maybe less shielding and more prone to interference? which might cause corruption? Good ole thick FW400 cable for my external drive!
  10. hqsbud macrumors member

    Nov 10, 2003
    I have a 160GB Seagate external USB 2.0 HD. I like the drive, but I would go FireWire next time. As popelife mentioned, power is an issue with external USB drives. This one takes so much power, I have to use a Y-shaped USB cable. The bottom of the Y connects to the HD, and the two stems connect to both USB ports of my MBP. This is needed because one USB cable can't supply enough power to the drive.

    At home, I have a USB hub, so this isn't that onerous. But on the road, I don't use a USB hub, so both of my USB ports are taken with a clunky-looking arrangement.

    There are some external USB drives that don't take so much power, so a single USB cable will do it if your Mac can supply it. It's kind of a crap shoot, whereas it seems with a Firewire drive, one cable and you're golden.
  11. Loge macrumors 68020


    Jun 24, 2004
    The disadvantage is that they probably cost more. I use those thin cables all the time and yet to have any interference or other issues. Seems odd that the
    "stylish compact" drive from Lacie ships with a thick ugly cable that weighs almost as much as the drive itself.
  12. popelife macrumors member

    Nov 3, 2006
    The Apple FW cable I have is 1.8m long... which is moderately long for Firewire. Never given me any trouble, even copying vast amounts of data and powering the drive at the same time.

    On the other hand, I've had several "thick" firewire cables that have caused untold problems and ended up in the bin.

    Don't judge a cable by its girth.

  13. eluk macrumors 6502a


    Dec 14, 2006
    East London, UK
    Im using a LaCie d2 Extreme 160GB FW400/800 & USB2. Works well although may be a bit bigger than the OP wants.
  14. Mass Hysteria macrumors regular

    Jan 31, 2005
    there seems to be a bit of a lottery with macs regarding transfer rates


    and also when bus powering usb or firewire devices in my experience.
  15. kqphoto macrumors newbie

    Dec 15, 2006
    I have two external hard drives backing up photos, a 250 GB USB 2.0 maxtor and a 1 TB la cie d2 extreme hooked up by firewire 400 and both with the same rpm disk speed. I would say that the firewire is definitely the quicker, although there isn't an awful lot in it. Again none of these devices would really come in to the portable category.
  16. nitynate macrumors 6502a

    Jan 22, 2006
    Clearwater, FL
    Heh. Heh. Heh. :p
  17. Koodauw thread starter macrumors 68040


    Nov 17, 2003
    I checked out the Wiebetech enclosure, and they do seem really nice, and everything that I am looking for in an external... now the decision comes down to price.

    I can get a WD USB only 120 GB HD w/ 2MB buffer for $99 at Best Buy this week. I can get the Wiebetech enclosure plus 120 GB HD w/ 8MB buffer for $308. You can see the dilemma. This is mainly just for backing up some stuff so I'm not up ****'s creek if the HD on my laptop ever goes. I doubt I'd use it more than once a month. I'd prefer the better drive, but I'm not sure its really worth the extra cost for me at this point. Anyone else agree?
  18. pdxflint macrumors 68020


    Aug 25, 2006
    Oregon coast
    I picked up an iomega 250 gig usb 2.0 external drive at Fry's last week for 129.95, with a $15 rebate. It's basic, requires an external power supply, but spins at 7200 rpm. I use it to transfer photo files from my Win2k Thinkpad to my Mac Mini, and both machines recognize it immediately. It fits on top of my Nikon Coolscan, which is also USB 2.0, and also works with either machine. I'm mainly using it to consolidate photo and music files from both machines, and to store scans from 35mm film without filling up either computers' HD, since some of the scans can reach 70 mb .tiff files.

    Sure, I wish it were really small (pocketable) and bus powered... but that would probably cost me at least 3x the money, so for a basic external storage solution for photography and/or music, it's money well spent. Even if I bought the naked drive, and an enclosure, it would cost more.
  19. BeefUK macrumors member

    Jun 9, 2006
    I do the same with my mini and PC, what file system are you using??

    As for the OP's question I would go with firewire, I recently bought a HD case for an old IDE drive, and with firewire its really quick. From my experience I would use firewire, but as someone else here mentioned why not get one with firewire and USB 2.0, you may have to pay a bit more, but it will give you more flexibility.
  20. Anonymous Freak macrumors 601

    Anonymous Freak

    Dec 12, 2002
    As of USB 2.0, USB can power a 2.5" drive all on its own. If you're getting a 2.5"-based drive, then go for whichever one you like the drive itself better. I use two identical Toshiba 40 GB 4200 RPM hard drives, one in a FireWire case, one in a USB case. I cannot tell the difference between the two. Unless you're going to put a 7200 RPM drive in, it won't ever matter. And even a 7200 RPM notebook drive barely reaches the limit of USB 2.0's sustained speed. Now, if you are going to have multiple high speed USB devices, plus the drive, I'd go with FireWire just to spread the bandwidth usage out a little.
  21. konfuzion macrumors member

    Jul 7, 2006
    Bay Area
    I need an external for my macbook for when I travel. Does anyone know if the $99 Western Digital® 120GB Passport II from bestbuy will be powered through its USB? If not, I have to get the lacie for $159 because it has firewire. the lacie is gorgeous but so much more expensive.
  22. Koodauw thread starter macrumors 68040


    Nov 17, 2003
    I just picked up that WD drive you mentioned. Ill give it a go in the next couple of days and let you know. It should power it just fine.

    Trying it out right now, and yes it works just fine with just USB power. I'm transferring at about 1 GB per min.
  23. Irish Dave macrumors regular

    Nov 20, 2006
    The Emerald Isle
    In theory USB 2 should be faster, but in practice Firewire 400 is best.

    Firewire 800 is awesome, but fewer around.

    Dave :)
  24. YS2003 macrumors 68020


    Dec 24, 2004
    Finally I have arrived.....
    I think Firewire is better than USB2 for external HD because FW's faster sustained data transfer speed. As the previous posters said, USB ports are used for many things and I would like to make them available for other peripherals while using FW ports for external HD.
    I also have Lacie's mobile HD (mine is 100 GB unit) and Lacie's rugged mobile HD (mine is 120 GB unit). Rugged has the triple interface (FW400, 800, and USB). Regular desktop external HD models typically come at least with Firewire 400 interface, I think.
  25. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020


    Apr 5, 2004
    Huntsville, AL
    I have to ask ... What is this claim based on?

    I don't know anyone who buys non-firewire drives.

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