Help for choosing an external FireWire 800 performance drive

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Cubytus, Sep 13, 2011.

  1. Cubytus macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    Hello community,

    this topic is to request a little help choosing a FireWire 800 storage solution. About once every two days, I need to run a virtual machine, either Windows XP or Ubuntu. The disk image is currently located on an external USB 2.0 Western Digital hard drive, which is also used for not-speed-sensitive storage.

    Performance is decent, as long as I quit all possible application before launching (I have 4GB RAM, planning on 8GB upgrade very soon) and don't launch too many apps in the virtual machine, however, I feel performance is lagging since I can see the virtual hard drive indicator turning red most of the time, and the 4 white LEDs on the WD going back and forth (although it doesn't necessarily indicate heavy activity). Especially, restoring to and from saved states routinely takes 45 seconds or more. The external drive is about 90% full most of the time, and may be a contributing factor to the slow feeling.

    Hence, I thought about putting this FireWire 800 port to good use, and plug a compatible drive in it. I had the following requirements:
    • 3-year warranty an absolute minimum, 5 years
      would be ok (my current WD MyPassport has 5). Reason is I consider if manufacturers trust their drive for 5 years, it shouldn't be a source of worry for many years to come. I consider 2-year warranty to be substandard drives.
    • 2.5" form factor. Reason is I rarely happen to have enough room or steady power to lay and plug a full 3.5" drive, unless it uses a battery, which is extremely rare and would add bulk in my bag.
    • Ability to saturate FW800 port. I think a more performant drive would be a waste of money since they constantly go down in price, and I may be able to get a better deal by the time I switch to Thunderbolt-based MacBook Pro. Admittedly, this is a "soft" requirement, given expected use.
    • Under $150 (would come to $170 tax,S&H included)

    I understand pretty well that the two latter points come in opposition and need a compromise, so I think a large compromise on drive size is to be expected.

    So far, I thought about these solutions:
    • Fully manufactured, i.e. Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex + FW800 dongle. Major drawback: dongle is expensive, and appears to use a proprietary connector. If it breaks, impossible to replace it quickly. Alternative: LaCie Rugged (pretty big for a 2.5" drive), G-Tech (usually quite expensive).
    • Handmade from performance platter drives, i.e. Western Digital Scorpio Black + FW800 enclosure. Major drawback: wouldn't saturate a FW800 port since it comes in SATA300 flavor only, but I get the strong feeling it would perform better than many manufactured drives.
    • Handmade from SSD, i.e. Corsair + FW800 enclosure. Major drawback: from this page, major compromises would have to be made on capacity. Affordable SSDs seem to be limited to 40 or 60GB, and while I don't put capacity as a priority, I may have to use the high-performance drive for other tasks, such as editing short high-def movies, or add a third virtual machine. Considering the Windows virtual drive needs to be around 15GB, and 25 for Ubuntu, 60GB wouldn't leave enough elbow room.

    What solution would be better advisable, and what arguments would you put forth for it?
  2. reebzor macrumors 6502a


    Jul 18, 2008
    Philadelphia, PA
    First of all: FW800 = 800Mbps, SATAII = 3Gbps. The SATAII interface is not the bottleneck in this setup.
    Either way, the SSD option is obviously the best, but since the FW800 bottlenecks the whole deal, the HDD setup isn't a bad deal.

    So anyway, FW800 is pretty fast, but I'm not sure if you're going to get the performance you desire even if you went with the SSD option. It would be highly recommended that you run your VM's off of the internal harddrive. Is this not an option? Maybe I missed it, but you never said what computer you have. I will assume it is some kind of MacBook/Pro, in which case have you considered replacing the internal drive in there with something bigger/faster or adding an SSD in place of the optical drive? It seems like you only need 100GB total for your VM's, you can get a 2.5" laptop drive up to 1TB.
  3. Kashika macrumors regular

    Sep 8, 2010
    Seagate Freeagent Goflex has a removable top. It allows you to use a USB cable, firewire 400 and 800 cables.

    It's portable and works well with a mac.
  4. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    What I fear with the GoFlex system is that the dongle has a proprietary connector on the disk's end, and the high premium required. Should the dongle fail, it's yet another $50 (tax& S&H) to go, especially if not covered by the disk's 3-year warranty. Anyone had experience with it?

    And of course I know running VMs out the internal hard disk (at 1.5Gb/s) is obviously the best idea, but unfortunately not applicable since the internal 250GB is already cramped. Applications seem to be increasingly "fat", and Mac OS X doesn't share libraries as Linux does. I only have the necessary applications, some documents for school and customers, my music library (no video whatsoever), and there's only less than 30GB available, which I feel insufficient even as "breathing room" for the system. Even if each VM is around 15GB, it wouldn't be possible on the internal drive.

    I doubt a reasonable performance 2.5" 1TB connected via FW800 would be under $150.

    Now, good news is, the FW800 drive would be used both for VM and for the Carbon Copy Cloner clone I'm keeping just in case the internal drive failed. The clone is 40GB, stripped down.
  5. legreve macrumors regular


    Nov 22, 2010
    Why waste money on an SSD when you can't pull the speed anyways? Like said.... 800 mb/s is 800 mb/s no matter drive you put in front of it.

    I would buy an WD Scorpio Black 750gb 7200 rpm, and put it in an Icy Box... end of story.
  6. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    Ooops, so the computer is a MacBook Pro 7,1, standard configuration I got as a replacement for a MacBook unibody that kept on failing (first Apple computer owned - not operated - was a lemon. Service was astonishing, though).

    However, I won't replace an optical drive I'm regularly using. SSD as an internal drive would be nice if I had the dough for it, but a decent-size SSD is $300. That's not an option here, and since hybrid drives aren't up to their promise yet, all remains are platter drives.

    I looked at the Icy Box, and it seems there's only one that has FW800 on it. Plus, the other port is a FW400 one, meaning I won't be able to daisy-chain the drives if I happen to get another FW800.

    And it seems I can't find this only model here in Canada. Any idea how much it would be?
  7. laserbeam273 macrumors 6502

    Sep 7, 2010
    Why don't you just upgrade your internal drive?
  8. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    Internal SATA speed is negociated at 1.5Gb only

    Well, I thought about it, but it seems the internal interface only negociates speed up to 1.5Gb/s instead of the 3Gb/s the chipset, HDD and optical drive are capable of.
    The performance gain by using the Scorpio Black is therefore uncertain.

    Plus, the internal drive is perhaps the most silent I had a chance to operate, and the Scorpio Black is much more noisy.
    I really value my MacBook Pro's silence.

    And, as a power user, I'm against the idea of letting a considerable-capacity drive sitting idle, without an enclosure.
  9. laserbeam273 macrumors 6502

    Sep 7, 2010
    1.5 Gb/s is still way more than 800 Mb/s... if you really want some speed in your MBP, just go internal for your OS unless you have a ridiculous raid and TB or eSATA setup. 750 GB internal drives are cheap these days, and you can even get 1 TB. 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM, maybe the former if you care more about a little bit extra quietness rather than noticeably more speed. An internal drive at 5400 RPM is going to be way, way faster than an external one via USB 2.0, especially when you got much higher platter density because of the higher capacity.

    The added advantage of going internal is that you'll be able to comfortably run Windows on a virtual machine while you're on the move - which is the idea of you having a 13" MBP, isn't it?
  10. jmgregory1 macrumors 68000


    Jun 24, 2010
    Chicago and a few other places around the world
    I've been happy with my GTech external drive - and their prices, although higher than the mainline brands, have come down in the past year. I paid $140 for 320Gb mini last year and now the 500Gb is the same price and for another $20 you can go up to 750Gb.

    I've had one problem with the drive after my kids were plugging and unplugging it without unmounting it properly, but was able to fix it myself even though I G-tech had agreed to fix it (because of the 3 year warranty).
  11. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    $120, the cost for 750GB isn't exactly "cheap".

    I don't give a **** about Windows, hopefully I'll be over with it when iPhone 5 comes out, so why is it worth even a line in this topic?

    Being "on the go" implies I need as long battery life as possible. I compared the Hitachi and WD max power requirements, it seems the Hitachi takes 5W max whereas the WD is 8.75W. Besides obvious battery life and noise considerations, I'm wary that the MacBook Pro may not be actually able to deliver the required current.
  12. Kafka, Sep 23, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2011

    Kafka macrumors 6502

    Mar 10, 2011
    Yup, the HK Soundsticks are very good for their price.

    EDIT: yup, sorry...
  13. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
  14. charlieroberts macrumors 6502a


    Feb 5, 2007

    But have you considered that running TWO HDD off your MBP is going to drain the battery much faster than running one 7200RPM Scorpi Black? Where do you think the external HDD gets its power? That´s right, your battery!

    And no 120$ isn´t cheap, but weren't you looking to spend 170? Its well below your budget, and in that budget you were willing to sacrifice storage space for speed, well if you upgrade internal HDD to 1TB, you won't sacrifice any space and you get VERY good speed. Same goes for Scorpio Black.

    Ohh and one more thing, don´t be rude, you stated that you needed windows and then curse at someone suggesting you could use windows on the go?
  15. laserbeam273 macrumors 6502

    Sep 7, 2010
    Exactly, thank you.

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