Technical buying advice for building an external backup hard drive

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by pyramis, Dec 3, 2008.

  1. pyramis macrumors member

    Dec 2, 2008
    Palo Alto, CA
    I'm trying to build a bullet-proof backup system for my Macbook Pro on a modest budget and need some technical advice for choosing which hard drive to put in an external firewire enclosure. (OWC Mercury Elite-AL Quad-interface [Firewire 800/400, USB, eSata])

    This is not the oft-repeated question of "Which HDD brand is the most reliable?" We should all know by now that all hard drives will fail sooner or later and it's the backup strategy that should keep you up at night.

    I've got the backup strategy nailed down (redundant copies of my laptop HDD and external HDD, plus off-site backup), and I've figured out I need a 750 GB or 1 TB SATA drive. The question is, which HDDs have performance and power-usage specs that make the best sense for an external backup drive that will only get written to for a nightly backup with SuperDuper plus occasional Time Machine writes in the background when I'm at my desk?

    Tom's Hardware Winter 2008 Hard Drive Guide gives a great technical look at today's top drives from WD, Seagate, Hitachi and Samsung. I don't know how to read these numbers (like average sequential read throughput or access time) to know what's relevant to my backup situation. Tom's Hardware also gives metrics on performance per watt, and another article highlights low-power-consumption as an important consideration for always-on externals.

    What metrics matter for backup-only drives? Should I go for so-called RAID class drives that are certified for 24/7 grinding? Should I go for one of these "green" drives that are low-performance but low power consumers? What's good for the long haul?
  2. koobcamuk macrumors 68040


    Oct 23, 2006
    Not wanting to hijack the thread, but I think this is the post I should add to rather than make my own thread.

    I am in the same boat. I have been given a SATA 500GB drive and I would like to have a firewire 800 enclosure. What's the best way for me to do this? To actually buy a firewire 800 drive, open it up and swap over the disks, or to find a separate enclosure?

    Any tips?
  3. velocityg4 macrumors 601


    Dec 19, 2004
    Quite honestly if the drive is only being powered up and used for the occasional backup I would not bother looking a power usage. Any single hard drive uses very little power overall and the amount it will be on will make hardly any difference in you powerbill. Power usage of a hard drive should only be a concern if turned on 24/7 even then only if you have many hard drives running. Unless you are running off of batteries;). The CPU, Monitor, Video Card and Chipset are much bigger concerns.

    As for the speed of the drive I would not concern myself too much unless you will commonly format the drive and perform full system backups with any regularity. If you are doing incremental backups only the first full backup will take a long time the following incremental backups will only cover the few modified or new files since the prior backup.

    The only time I would consider speed a factor is if you are working with a few massive files or many large files. ie Video, Audio Production, Large multilayered images etc... In which case look at the hard drive with the fastest maximum Write speed as you will be writing the data, Read speed is always faster. With large files you will frequently hit the drives maximum throughput as there is a lessened need to wait for the seek time.

    Most importantly. If the data is critical use two backups at least with two different drive and two different enclosure makers. With one copy stored off site while the other is on site for backups. If off site is not possible then use an anchored fireproof safe.

    Buy the enclosure it it usually cheaper, warranties remain intact and many that include a hard drive are sealed and very difficult to open.
  4. godmachine12 macrumors member

    Oct 25, 2006
    Why not just buy an external hard drive? They are insanely cheap now. I bought a 750 Gig Seagate drive at Office Depot for $100 about a month ago.
  5. Horst Guest

    Jan 10, 2006
    With a Quad interface ? ;)

    As for drives, the WD Green Power (GP) and the Seagate xxxx.11 models are supposed to be somewhat more power efficient; as said above, for a little used backup hd it might not matter.

    What might matter is noise, external drives can be annoying depending on the enclosure and drive used.

    I run an external 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F1 for Time Machine, in a MacPower (EU only ?) enclosure, and it's fairly quiet, and a LaCie Rugged 500GB for Super Duper clones, which is inaudible.

    Also mentioned above, if you want bullet-proof, use two seperate external drives for identical backups.
  6. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Feb 12, 2007
    Neander Valley, Germany; just outside Duesseldorf
    I'd pick up OWC's dual drive enclosure and a couple of 5400 rpm Samsung 1TB drives in RAID.
  7. bdj33ranch macrumors regular

    Apr 19, 2005
    I went through the same process as you are doing. I narrowed it down to the same quad-interface enclosure you are looking at and trying to decide between the 1Tb Hitachi DeskStar 7K1000 at $219.99 (with a $30 rebate thru 12/31/08): Part #OWCMEAQ7H1TB32M and the same with the 1Tb Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 at $219.99 (no rebate): Part #OWCMEAQ7S1TB32M. The Hitachi has a 3 year warranty and the Seagate a 5 year warranty. I decided to save the $30 by taking the Hitachi option rebate ($189.99 after rebate). Just hooked up last night and ran Time Machine. It is much quieter than the Maxtor 1 Touch it is replacing and feels MUCH sturdier. But it is too early to give a definite upcheck but initial impressions are very favorable. It also came with the software advertised and a bunch of freeware/shareware loaded on the drive - some of which I think I might use. I'm not sure about the warranty aspect if you put your own together.
  8. Bengt77 macrumors 68000


    Jun 7, 2002
    That's what I did. Only I got two 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11s. Set it all up as a software RAID1 set using Disk Utility. Was a breeze. Works like a charm.
  9. koobcamuk macrumors 68040


    Oct 23, 2006
    To reply to my post above; I got two 500 GB LaCie disks that have USB 2.0. These will be used to store: music and movies. I was planning on mirroring

    I also bought a LaCie FW 800 & 400 500GB hard drive, that I plan to partition and make bootable clones and store all my software disk images on. I now have a 250GB LaCie FW 400 sitting around and not doing much... I could dedicate the drive to my 250GB PowerBook I suppose...

    Had the internal drive of my MBP die on me the other week - taking no chances!
  10. godmachine12 macrumors member

    Oct 25, 2006
    Buy four...haha! I must apologise. I only skimmed your post.
  11. codyst macrumors regular


    Nov 18, 2008
    Austin, TX
    Buying 4 externals would not give you a quad interface. A quad interface is an External with USB2.0/eSATA/FW400/FW800 (IIRC).
  12. wiseguy27 macrumors 6502


    Apr 30, 2005
    Performance is not very important for a backup drive, but reliability and power consumption are, more so if you're going to have it on 24/7.

    For your requirement, look for:
    1. Lower number of platters - although reliability varies, generally, having a lesser platter count would mean lesser moving parts (adds to the reliability) and lower power consumption. Don't worry, the perpendicular recording technologies used in current drives to increase the platter capacity are good.
    2. Warranty period - usually the warranties provided are 3 years or 5 years. Go for one with 5 years (or higher) warranty.
    3. Warranty coverage locations - Do you have the need to travel with this drive anywhere outside the US (where you live)? If so, go for Seagate or Hitachi. Both provide worldwide warranties (I have used it for Seagate and know it works), whereas Samsung provides a country specific warranty.

    Things that don't matter:
    1. Cache size - this is not useful for backup drives since performance is not your most important requirement. Bigger cache (more than 16MB) usually results in higher prices. So get one with 16MB if it's cheaper than one with 32MB.

    I personally like Seagate and Hitachi. From the site you pointed out, I'd look at the following drives (in the order mentioned below) to compare prices and warranties:
    1. Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.B (note the ".B")
    2. Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS
    3. Samsung Spinpoint F1 RAID Class HE103UJ

Share This Page