Ext. Hard Drive - FW or USB 2.0?

~Shard~

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I am thinking about buying an external hard drive - more specifically, an external hard drive enclosure, as that seems to be the more cost-effective way to do things. At any rate, paying for an external solution with FireWire is more expensive than just a USB 2.0 solution, so I'm wondering if, when it comes specifically to external hard drives, is there enough of a speed difference between FireWire and USB 2.0 to warrant the extra money? I've always equated "FireWire" with "better/faster", but I know in some instances and applications, the difference can be essentially negligible.

Any advice would be appreciated!
 

kwajo.com

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Jul 17, 2002
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iGary said:
Get a triple interface in case you get a machine with FW800 in the future...

I prefer the FW interface, personally.
me too. i just never got comfortable with the idea that all the data from a USB HD has to be controlled by the CPU, wehreas firewire has its own controller.
 

michaelrjohnson

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Aug 9, 2000
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IMO, I suppose it doesn't really matter for data-storage. Though, i've been looking into getting a new one myself (currently have a compact 30GB FW), but have been wary about the USB 2.0 ones, because I'm fairly certain Target Disk Mode doesn't work with USB devices. For me, that's a huge issue, therefore USB is out of the picture.
 

Hattig

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Jan 3, 2003
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I'd go for the Firewire enclosure, but make sure it is using a decent Firewire controller - some use a rather naff Firewire+USB2 controller chip, whereas some use a very good Oxford Firewire chip.

Also, creating a bootable partition on that external Firewire HD enclosure will be a blessing if your Mac's hard drive dies.

These devices are great with laptops, you can store the bulk of your data there, and only keep the essential data on the laptop's hard drive. At home, plug-in and go. The Mac Mini also has some interesting Mini styled peripherals now, I've noticed, including a USB2/Firewire hub with 3.5" hard drive bay that fits under it, and an upcoming Belkin KVM that sadly only seems to support VGA switching whereas the Mini outputs DVI.

Also if you get a dual-bay 5.25" enclosure, you can install a cheap DVDRW drive in there if you don't have one already.
 

~Shard~

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Thanks for all the advice guys. Sounds like FW is the way to go, and you make a good point iGary about FW800 as a good means to do some future-proofing. :cool:

Hattig, you mentioned it is important to ensure a good FW controller chip is being used. I haven't researched these enclosures enough yet - is this common information which is easy to find?

I was initially planing on using the enclosure simply for data storage to offload some stuff from my machine's hard drive, but now that you mention it, making the external drive bootable and acting as a back-up as well is a great idea. Although it is a separate question, I'll ask it here anyway - how would I go about making a bootable partition on my external drive?

Thanks again everyone...
 

Diatribe

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Jan 8, 2004
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~Shard~ said:
Thanks for all the advice guys. Sounds like FW is the way to go, and you make a good point iGary about FW800 as a good means to do some future-proofing. :cool:

Hattig, you mentioned it is important to ensure a good FW controller chip is being used. I haven't researched these enclosures enough yet - is this common information which is easy to find?

I was initially planing on using the enclosure simply for data storage to offload some stuff from my machine's hard drive, but now that you mention it, making the external drive bootable and acting as a back-up as well is a great idea. Although it is a separate question, I'll ask it here anyway - how would I go about making a bootable partition on my external drive?

Thanks again everyone...
SuperDuper will let you make a bootable copy. You can find the link in my Mac Starter Guide (too lazy to look :) ).
I don't know I didn't go through all that trouble. I just bought a LaCie and went on, part of having a Mac is actually not having to think about how to build stuff. At least for me it is :D If your modelling job doesn't pay well enough I understand though :D :p
 

RJP31484

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Apr 19, 2005
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feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that toe-toe (in trasfer speed only) USB2.0 is actually FASTER than Firewire. USB 2.0 has a target speed of 480Mb/sec , while firewire is 400. However, as kwajo.com said, all the data coming in from a usb connection must go through the cpu, and slows things down, while firewire has its own controller. SO, I suppose if you wish to not tax your CP during transfers, you should opt for a firewire drive.
 

~Shard~

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Diatribe said:
SuperDuper will let you make a bootable copy. You can find the link in my Mac Starter Guide (too lazy to look :) ).
I don't know I didn't go through all that trouble. I just bought a LaCie and went on, part of having a Mac is actually not having to think about how to build stuff. At least for me it is :D If your modelling job doesn't pay well enough I understand though :D :p
Thanks Diatribe. So making the external drive have a bootable partition isn't a big deal then? Just curious, as I've never used one before...

(And your modeling comment has been noted.... ;))
 

Capt Underpants

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Jul 23, 2003
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RJP31484 said:
feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that toe-toe (in trasfer speed only) USB2.0 is actually FASTER than Firewire. USB 2.0 has a target speed of 480Mb/sec , while firewire is 400. However, as kwajo.com said, all the data coming in from a usb connection must go through the cpu, and slows things down, while firewire has its own controller. SO, I suppose if you wish to not tax your CP during transfers, you should opt for a firewire drive.
IN real world tests, firewire has proven to be faster.

I have a 120 GB external HD that my mother bought me for Christmas. It has both Firewire and USB 2.0. I choose to use USB 2 because my monitor has a USb hub built into it, which means that I don't take up a USB port on my PB. If this wasn't an issue, I would be using firewire.
 

CanadaRAM

macrumors G5
RJP31484 said:
feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that toe-toe (in trasfer speed only) USB2.0 is actually FASTER than Firewire. USB 2.0 has a target speed of 480Mb/sec , while firewire is 400. However, as kwajo.com said, all the data coming in from a usb connection must go through the cpu, and slows things down, while firewire has its own controller. SO, I suppose if you wish to not tax your CP during transfers, you should opt for a firewire drive.
OK, you're wrong :p

I did comparisons on a dual interface MacAlly case (same drive, seagate 7200.8 120 Gb) on a new Mac Mini.

USB 2.0 was approximately half the speed of FW400 on Finder Duplicates (a good test because it tests both reading and writing simultaneously and minimizes the effect of the drive's cache).
 

~Shard~

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CanadaRAM said:
OK, you're wrong :p

I did comparisons on a dual interface MacAlly case (same drive, seagate 7200.8 120 Gb) on a new Mac Mini.

USB 2.0 was approximately half the speed of FW400 on Finder Duplicates (a good test because it tests both reading and writing simultaneously and minimizes the effect of the drive's cache).
Interesting, thanks for the info CanadaRAM - I'll definitely be using a FW enclosure.

Any brands of enclosures to recommend? I like the idea of using an enclosure as opposed to an actual external HD, as the externals seem to be much more expensive than the internals, and with the constantly increasing capacities and decreasing prices, it seems to make the most economic sense. Thoughts?
 

Diatribe

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Jan 8, 2004
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~Shard~ said:
Thanks Diatribe. So making the external drive have a bootable partition isn't a big deal then? Just curious, as I've never used one before...

(And your modeling comment has been noted.... ;))
It's really easy with SuperDuper. Great app.

I for one bought a triple interface LaCie 250GB and couldn't be happier. I just don't like the entire process to build things. I like to buy ready products. That's why I bought a Mac ;)
But it makes sense from an economical pov to do it the way you want if you feel that you might run out of room soon. Definitely get the FW one though. FW can sustain a speed way better than USB can. In short bursts they're about equal.
 

~Shard~

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Diatribe said:
It's really easy with SuperDuper. Great app.

I for one bought a triple interface LaCie 250GB and couldn't be happier. I just don't like the entire process to build things. I like to buy ready products. That's why I bought a Mac ;)
But it makes sense from an economical pov to do it the way you want if you feel that you might run out of room soon. Definitely get the FW one though. FW can sustain a speed way better than USB can. In short bursts they're about equal.
Sounds great - again, thanks! :)
 

R.Youden

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Apr 1, 2005
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I believe that USB2 can reach 480Mb/sec for only a very short period of time, whilst Firwire can maintain 400Mb/sec all day long. Thats what I was told anyway. Don't know how much truth is in that.
 

cblackburn

macrumors regular
Jul 5, 2005
158
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London, UK
RJP31484 said:
feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that toe-toe (in trasfer speed only) USB2.0 is actually FASTER than Firewire. USB 2.0 has a target speed of 480Mb/sec , while firewire is 400. However, as kwajo.com said, all the data coming in from a usb connection must go through the cpu, and slows things down, while firewire has its own controller. SO, I suppose if you wish to not tax your CP during transfers, you should opt for a firewire drive.
There are a few reasons why Firewire is almost always faster or better than USB 2.

1. Firewire has a dedicated controller that handles much more of the processing compared to USB 2 where the main CPU is required.

2. Firewire is a "guaranteed bandwidth protocol", this means that all the components are specced so that when you plug in a firewire lead you get 400Mbit with absolutely no compromise. This is why it is used for streaming Video as you cannot afford to have a drop in bandwidth.

3. USB 2 however is a "bandwidth negotiation protocol", this means when you plug in a USB 2 device it does a negotiation with the host controller similar to what your modem does when it dials up an ISP. The 480mbit claim is the fastest the engineers ever got it to go in the lab, similar to the claim that theoretically you can get 56k out of a modem. In reality however, due to losses in the cable etc etc you get *much* less, in that article which was quoted he got ~ 96Mbit.

4. USB 2 has a much lower power supply threshold. This means that under heavy load the controller can someties crash because it needs a little more current. External power supplies don't count, btw, because the controller itself is always powered from the bus IIRC. Firewire however provides much more current at a higher voltage so this problem is less likley.

So, in conclusion, even though USB 2 seems faster on the surface in real word tests it is left eating the dust of firewire.

Chris
 

cblackburn

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Jul 5, 2005
158
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London, UK
cblackburn said:
So, in conclusion, even though USB 2 seems faster on the surface in real word tests it is left eating the dust of firewire.
Hi,

I just took a closer look at the link that was given. Look at the graphs for windows 2000. The USB graph is a flat-line showing that the disk is always waiting for bus. The firewire one however has a profile that is almost identical to the one when the disk was directly connected to the motherboard. This shows that if anything, the firewire bus was waiting for the disk to catch up!

Chris
 

~Shard~

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cblackburn said:
Hi,

I just took a closer look at the link that was given. Look at the graphs for windows 2000. The USB graph is a flat-line showing that the disk is always waiting for bus. The firewire one however has a profile that is almost identical to the one when the disk was directly connected to the motherboard. This shows that if anything, the firewire bus was waiting for the disk to catch up!

Chris
FireWire it is then! ;)
 

Yvan256

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Jul 5, 2004
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~Shard~ said:
Hattig, you mentioned it is important to ensure a good FW controller chip is being used. I haven't researched these enclosures enough yet - is this common information which is easy to find?
It seems that most FW controllers are from Oxford (one of the lastest being the OXFW-911+, I think). Manufacturers are most likely to list the chip as a "feature" (because the chip is well-known, stable, etc).

As a last resort, you could always email the company to ask what chip it uses.
 

~Shard~

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Yvan256 said:
It seems that most FW controllers are from Oxford (one of the lastest being the OXFW-911+, I think). Manufacturers are most likely to list the chip as a "feature" (because the chip is well-known, stable, etc).

As a last resort, you could always email the company to ask what chip it uses.
Cool, thanks for the clarification. :)
 

JonMaker

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Apr 24, 2004
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here.
Go for FireWire. The smaller ones can be bus-powered, and the general consensus so far seems to be on the FireWire side.

To make a FW drive bootable, boot from your OS X install disc, then when you are asked to pick the target volume for the install, select the FW drive. Easy as pie. :D
 

~Shard~

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JonMaker said:
To make a FW drive bootable, boot from your OS X install disc, then when you are asked to pick the target volume for the install, select the FW drive. Easy as pie. :D
I should have known - what a surprise that something like that would be so simple on a Mac... ;)

Thanks again everyone for your feedback on this. :cool: