Help with choosing an external hard drive

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by musiclvr, Apr 5, 2014.

  1. musiclvr macrumors member

    Oct 4, 2011
    I'm looking to buy a new external hard drive to run Time Machine. I currently own 3 EHD's (from 750GB to 2TB) but they are all USB 2.0 and SO incredibly slow to transfer files. Sometimes it literally takes 6-7 hours to copy 100 GB to and from the drives...drives me crazy. And it will really drive me crazy once I enable Time Machine. So I am wanting to get a newer 3TB EHD with either Firewire800, USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt but am having trouble deciding what to get.

    Currently I have a 27" mid 2011 iMac (2TB) which has Thunderbolt and FireWire800 ports but no USB 3.0 port. I will probably be upgrading my iMac within a year or so and I've noticed the newer models have no FireWire800 port (which I need to take into consideration when choosing an EHD).

    Some of the EHD's I've looked at (WD, LaCie, OWC, etc) have 2 of FireWire800/USB3.0/Thunderbolt connectivity but not all 3. That is making it difficult for me since I will probably upgrade in the next year or so.

    What do you recommend? Which is the fastest of the 3 (FireWire800, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt)? Any particular brands/models that work best?
  2. treestar macrumors 6502

    Feb 28, 2010
    First step, ignore FireWire completely. It's dead and it's slow. Thunderbolt is faster than USB 3.0. Thunderbolt 2 is faster than USB 3.1. But for moving files to hard disks, neither will be a bottle neck, so both will work equally well. Both being equal, USB 3.0 devices will be cheaper, but you can't use that speed yet. To solve your problem now, and be safe for the future, you should find a Thunderbolt drive. If you really want to see a speed increase, find a dual-drive external or better. Since you are doing backups and need space, don't look into the realm of solid state disks, just stick to hard disks.

    I'll list a few options, some are pretty pricey. WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo, LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt, LaCie 2big Thunderbolt, G-Technology G-RAID with Thunderbolt, OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual. There are lots more single disk Thunderbolt options. I'd say it's up to you to find one that costs what you want, has the speed you want, and whether or not it also has USB 3.*.

    Personally, I use a Thunderbolt dock and have two disks striped via software RAID for speed.
  3. colodane macrumors 6502a


    Nov 11, 2012
    For Time Machine backup I would recommend the USB 3.0 option. Significantly faster than 2.0. Unless you have an unusual usage pattern, the Time Machine incremental backups, while frequent, are small. Only the first time backup is big and time-consuming. You should find many reasonably priced USB 3.0 devices, both spinning platter and SSD.
  4. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    You are going to pay through the nose for a thunderbolt drive. Then again, some folks have cash to burn.

    My first recommendation would be a drive that has both USB3 -and- firewire800. You can use the firewire800 port now, and when you get a new Mac, you will have the USB3 port "ready and waiting" to go.

    Second recommendation would be for a "straight USB3" drive. Yes, it will run at only USB2 speeds today. But again, when you get the new Mac, you'll have a USB3 drive, with all the speed advantages.

    Then again, if you want to pay the hefty premium for thunderbolt, that's your choice...
  5. mojolicious macrumors 68000


    Mar 18, 2014
    Sarf London
    A few months ago I had the same 'USB2+FW only' issue when buying externals for my 2011 Mini.

    As others have said, it really boils down to:
    a) spend more on something which has both FW and USB3 interfaces, or
    b) buy USB3 only and live with the pain with your current Mac

    I went for the second option. USB3 drives are ridiculously cheap – in some instances actually cheaper to buy than the drives they contain. USB3 and FW, however, doesn't seem to be a well served market. It looks as though most manufacturers ditched FW for eSATA when they moved from USB2 to USB3.
  6. musiclvr thread starter macrumors member

    Oct 4, 2011
    Thanks for all the helpful advice. I really don’t want to spend the money for a Thunderbolt drive. So expensive and I feel like they’ll see a price decrease sometime in the near future. I’m thinking the FW800/USB3.0 would be the best combo for me since I can use the FW now and the USB 3.0 in the future.

    A few questions though:

    Will the FW be significantly faster than my current USB 2.0 drive? If not, I might as well get a pure USB 3.0 (or just use my current USB 2.0 drive until I upgrade my iMac and maybe then Thunderbolt will be cheaper)

    For future use, is there much difference speed wise between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt? Any advantages/disadvantages to using one over the other?

    Any recommendations for a FW800/USB3.0 drive? I found this one but it’s still fairly expensive:

    Only $70 more is the Thunderbolt version:

    Any other cheaper FW/3.0 combos out there?
  7. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    [[ Will the FW be significantly faster than my current USB 2.0 drive? ]]

    FW800 will be a little faster. Perhaps enough to be "noticeable", but then again, not -too much- faster.

    The trade-off here is that a drive enclosure with both FW800 and USB3 will cost more than a USB3 drive only.

    [[ For future use, is there much difference speed wise between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt? ]]

    For an external drive, I predict you won't notice any difference at all in normal usage.

    Those drives you gave links for are WAY TOO EXPENSIVE.

    My advice:
    1. Get an enclosure
    2. Get the "bare drive" of your choice.
    3. Assemble it yourself.

    Why it serves you better to do it this way:
    1. YOU get to pick the components
    2. Since you put it together, you'll know how to take it apart if you ever have problems.
    3. Warranty for the drive may be longer.
    You won't believe how easy it is to "roll your own drive", until you've done it.

    I also suggest that you DO NOT "put all your eggs into one basket". That is, don't buy one "huge" drive on which to store everything, because if that drive goes bad on you at some future date, you LOSE everything, as well. At the very least, it becomes more of a chore to get the data back.

    You might consider something like this, as an alternative:

    ...and two or more 2tb drives.

    A USB3/SATA dock will not look "as elegant" on your desk as will a snazzy external enclosure, BUT it can be a very useful device to have around for swapping drives and data. Great for backups, and you can boot from them, as well.
  8. alex1966 macrumors newbie

    Apr 9, 2014
    I second this option having used a dock for a good few years, mine is USB2 but as its used as a backup drive I just set job in motion and get on with other stuff. I do intend to get a USB 3 one, it means I can have removable storage without messing about constantly swapping cables.

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