External Hard Drive: USB or FIREWIRE?

Discussion in 'Macintosh Computers' started by believo, Aug 23, 2004.

  1. believo macrumors regular


    May 21, 2004
    Los Angeles, CA
    I'm planning on purchasing a portable external hard drive (around 80 gigs). What are the advantages/disadvantages between usb and firewire drives?
  2. Abstract macrumors Penryn


    Dec 27, 2002
    Location Location Location
    Well, Firewire (FW) is about a squillion times faster than USB, and FW2 is 10 squillion times faster. So guess which is the worst?
  3. vraxtus macrumors 65816


    Aug 4, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    Except USB 2.0 is much faster than FireWire 400...
  4. Horrortaxi macrumors 68020


    Jul 6, 2003
    Los Angeles
    Are you talking about USB 1.1 or USB 2? If 1.1 don't even consider it. If 2 then it's a pretty fair fight. USB 2 is theoretically faster than Firewire but Firewire is designed for constant transfer whereas USB likes short bursts of data. In the real world will you notice any difference? Probably not.

    What kind of Mac do you have? That'll answer the question of whether you even have to worry about USB.
  5. Emanuelion macrumors newbie

    Aug 23, 2004
    AFAIK, USB2 speed is 480Mb/s and FW is 400 or 800 Mb/S.
    Protocol-strictly speaking, FW800, if supported by your mac and your external hd, is a better choice in terms of efficency.

    USB2 is widely implemented on PCs, therefore it could be interesting to be able to be connected to such computers if needed.

    If it exists a usb2/FW external hd gives you the most compatible solution. It depends on how you expect to use your hd.But I'm not sure of the performance of dual interface hds (the more you do, the badder it is):rolleyes:

    As far as I'm concerned, i've bought a mini fw hd (40 GB Archos). My ibook supports only FW400, but my aim is to store video projects (imovie & idvd), which represent a average of 6 to 10 GB per project. However, it's efficiency is quite bad : it scores 22 on Xbench, although my internal hd scores 53. But it's ok for my needs.

    Hope I've given you a few useful elements.
  6. kant macrumors 6502

    Jul 22, 2004
    why either/or?

    You can get external enclosures that have both connections.
  7. LethalWolfe macrumors G3


    Jan 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    On paper yes, in reality no.

    The only reason to go USB 2.0 is if you don't have FW on yer computer.

  8. vkuznetsov macrumors newbie

    Mar 25, 2004
    USB vs FW

    I know if you connect external 2.5" HDD to USB (both versions - 1.1/2.0), USB bus provide all needed power (5V/0.5A).
    But if you connect external 3.5" HDD the same manner you should use external power supply.
    I never use FW, however it will be very convinient if FW (either 400 or 800) provide enough AC power to let external 3.5" HDD operate without its own power adapter -- clear this point for youself before choose between USB and FW...
  9. Mord macrumors G4


    Aug 24, 2003
    dude you have to tell us if you want a portable drive or not (2.5" or 3.5")

    always get firewire it's just plain faster than any usb
  10. Cheese macrumors 6502


    Dec 26, 2002
    In the refrigerated section at your grocer
    Firewire rocks! Consider the types of periphery you are considering and whether or not the majority of it is one format or other. (i.e., FW400/FW800, USB1, USB2, etc...) You must realize by now that your computer may be the key to your answer. If you have only USB1 and FW400 like me, FW400 is still a great choice over USB2, since FW is simply better technology. I think that an earlier thread discussed this point ... back at the onset of USB2 and FW800, there were lot's of arguments about this point. FW was the winner at the time and is still the king, IMHO.
  11. Macmaniac macrumors 68040


    Since you said you wanted a portable drive Firewire is your only choice because 1. You do not need a power supply for a portable Firewire drive, and 2. Firewire in terms of speed is faster then USB 2.0, firewire has always been better suited for large amounts of data USB has been flakey in my experience, however if you can get a portable drive with both connections thats always a good idea if you deal with PCs.
  12. davegoody macrumors 6502


    Apr 9, 2003
    Reading, Berkshire, England
    Not quite true !

    Though ON PAPER the USB2 Transfer rate is 480Mbit / Second compared to USB at 12Mbit / Second and Firewire (400) is 400Mbit / Second, USB is VERY system bus and CPU hungry. A continuous data stream from the machine to an external HDD via Firewire is much like SCSI, i.e. the instructions to send / recieve data are sent by the host, then the chipset does the rest, basically bus mastering. USB or USB2 cannot do this particular trick, as such, moving large files around (particularly for AV uses) is not advisable with USB or USB2 as a lot of your valuable Processor cycles will be spent merely transferring the data around and therefore not available for the core tasks the machine is meant to be doing !

    <end rant> ! :p
  13. Mord macrumors G4


    Aug 24, 2003
    i'm blind.

    get a firewire 400 2.5" case 2.5" HD's cant saturate friewire 400 let allone 800
  14. Finiksa macrumors 6502a


    Feb 23, 2003
  15. noel4r macrumors 6502a

    Jul 17, 2002
    Los Angeles
    i recently bought an external Maxtor USB2 250GB hd. i would've preferred firewire but i got a good deal on it ($199). the solution to your problem is to get a firewire/usb2 combination hd.
  16. Frump macrumors member


    Feb 4, 2003
    Go with the Firewire drive. The transfer rate of a Firewire drive is about 35-36 Mbs while USB-2 is only about 33-34 Mb's. The firewire is quicker. Don't read to much into theoretical performance numbers. The numbers I quoted are for a normal 7200-Rpm hard drive.

  17. Champale macrumors member

    Jul 23, 2004
    Chicago, USA

    I have a La Cie 250 GB HD that uses firewire.

    I also have a small La Cie 20 GB portable that uses USB 1.1.

    Between the two, firewire makes a noticeable speed difference. Esp. if you're going to be doing a lot of backups or working with video.

    Either way, I'll throw a plug in for the La Cie brand. Haven't had any problems with them ever!
  18. janey macrumors 603


    Dec 20, 2002
    sunny los angeles
    firewire 400 is WAY faster than USB 1.1.

    But another heads up for LaCie drives, i love mine :)
    Although my Maxtor one makes less of a fuss in terms of noise and other stuff like that, my LaCie D2 drive is übersexy hehe.

    Depends on your need(s) though.
    I was about to get a USB 2.0 external drive because I wanted to use it with my PC and my PC didnt have a FireWire 400 port. But hey, Firewire rocks. I got a firewire card for my PC and now I'm happily using the 4+ external drives all over my desk hehe.
  19. vga4life macrumors 6502

    Jun 16, 2004
    This question has already been settled. Firewire kicks the everloving crap out of USB2, especially on a Mac:


    There's some actual numbers for ya.

  20. Mord macrumors G4


    Aug 24, 2003
    well lacie uses maxtor disks so they should be identical :confused:
  21. wPod macrumors 68000


    Aug 19, 2003
    Denver, CO
    firewire. . . cause my 12"PB doesnt have USB 2.0! plus you can chain firewire together and thats cool for when youre someone like me with a number of external drives
  22. wdlove macrumors P6


    Oct 20, 2002
  23. sorryiwasdreami macrumors 6502a


    Apr 24, 2004
    way out in the sticks
    If you've got a spare hard disk around that you would like to use, I recommend buying an external hard drive enclosure. I recently bought a Macally Firewire & USB 2.0 (both ports combination) and put a 40GB Seagate hard disk inside.

    It works very well and very fast! The enclosure runs about $70.
  24. Macmaniac macrumors 68040


    Not true! I had to get data off of shot iMac with only USB ports, I was able to boot off the external USB drive and copy the data off of the computers HD. It depends on how old the computer is, older PBs do not support USB booting.
  25. believo thread starter macrumors regular


    May 21, 2004
    Los Angeles, CA
    I have a 1.25 ghz eMac

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