USB 2.0 vs Firewire 400 External Hard Drive

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by hugh_sakols, Sep 23, 2008.

  1. I'm looking at purchasing another pair of external hard drives to archive my image files. I'm seeing some good
    deals on USB 2.0 drives. As a mac user, I'm wondering if I really would detect much of an improvement in file
    transfer speed using a usb 2.0 vs Firewire 400? Before I make a purchase I would like to hear from other mac
    users. The bottom line is I don't want to pay too much for storage. However, my entire image collection is
    stored on external drives that I must access frequently.
  2. it will be probably the same thing. i personnaly like firewire 800 to save time. I had a USB2.0 drive and it was working fine. Since i just plug my drive when i need to copy or acces them, both should be fine. You can have a 2big Lacie 1T for 350$ triple interface..hard to beat : )
  3. No, you won't see a speed boost -- in fact, USB 2.0 is slower than FireWire in actual use.
  4. Do you have any Firewire 800 ports available? You'll see a big difference there.
  5. USB is like single lane road, you get good speed, but only in one direction at a time. Firewire is more like a freeway, you can have multiple data streams going both ways as fast as they can.

    And as a bonus you can link FW gear together and they can transfer data directly, without taxing the computer itself.

    But like you said, there are excellent deals on USB 2.0 drives, and they're not totally useless - I use USB drives for archiving and FW drives when the data needs to be accessed like a regular drive.
  6. I have about 20 terabyte hard drives as well as numerous 500 gig hard drives. Some are in the US; others are in
    foreign countries; most are mirrors of others, so when I travel I don't have to take hard drives with me to access my
    photos; another function they serve is for diversity of backup -- in case disaster should strike one set of hard drives,
    there will be another to take its place without dropping any data.

    That being said, I have all sorts of hard drive connection configurations, and can say that the first thing is hard drives
    should probably be bought now most economically in 1 terabyte configurations.

    As recently as six or eight weeks ago, the best values were to be found in 750 gigabyte and 500 gigabyte 'form
    factors' (sizes) but now the US sources will supply a USB 2.0 1 Terabyte for about $170.00 without sales tax or
    shipping ( My Book by Western Digital in one of its various configurations. I found one in reviewing
    this comment for errors in two minutes -- a one terabyte USB 2.0 from a reputable supplier for 139.95 with free
    shipping, however it was not a 'big name'. Beware of hard drives designed to stand 'tall' or 'on end' as tipping over
    can cause them to crash (see below for sad experience).

    Remember, the hard drives come in two basic configurations inside. One configuration is just one disk and an outer
    shell which provides the electrical connections. Another is two disks (or more).

    Most hard drives these days being sold are SATA and you should insist on that, unless you have ability to handle
    one of the other two formats and need them. The IDE format is being replaced and the other format is for ultimate
    data reliability but not commonly used by amateurs. SCSI.

    If you buy a 1 terabyte drive (or did in the past) it might have enclosed two 500 gigabyte drives and they might have
    been configured for RAID applications -- which I won't explain here. That has little applicability for day-to-day photo
    storage, though for video transfer it might have some substantial applicability.

    You need to read up on RAID configurations elsewhere, if you are interested and if you have interest, you need a
    drive enclosre with TWO disks (or more), which are becoming rarer, except in larger multi-terabyte configurations. It
    once was fairly common to find more than one disk in a 1 terabyte configuration.

    Any hard drive, no matter the manufacturer, usually contains a single 3.5 inch hard drive if it is designed for 1
    terabyte, 750 gigabytes or 500 gigabytes.

    The drives are the same or similar to those that are manufactured as 'internal' or 'kit' hard drives, though there may be
    small differences.

    As a matter of fact, from time to time, when I want a 1 terabyte 'external (plug-in) hard drive, and I cannot find a great
    deal on one, but can find an 'internal' hard drive at a good price, I just buy a one terabyte 'internal' 3-1/2 inch hard
    drive, then buy an enclosure (there are two kinds, IDE and SATA which should match the hard drive you're buying,
    with SATA being the more modern configuration).

    Just pop the internal 3-1/2 inch hard drive in the powered enclosure, attach the wires (they only go on one way), and
    attach to your computer with appropriate connection--USB, firewire, or e-SATA. Plug the power into the wall and go.
    (see below for foreign operation)

    Some such 'enclosures' come with USB 2.0 only, and others come with USB 2.0 eSata and Firewire or some
    combination of the three. Choose what you want, but sometimes one connection will fail, and rather than 'throw
    away' the entire enclosure, it's often easier just to switch type of connection, say from a failed USB 2.0 to firewire.
    Stay away from drives with mini-USB connections as they become disconnected easily -- same with small firewire
    connections-- the four-pin -- if you can. Sometimes if you just touch the cable the cables with mini conneectrors can
    become disconnected.

    That is a problem with the My Book series by Western Digital with USB 2.0 -- a mini-USB connection. They make a
    drive with all three types of connections (there's one next to me, and very compact) but the mini-USB easily
    disconnects. They are very lightweight, however and not bulky.

    So, if you decide NOT to buy an 'internal' hard drive and put a purpose-built enclosure on it (up to $40 USD and about
    $139.00 for the drive, at current prices for a 1 terabyte SATA drive, then you may want to buy an 'external' hard drive.

    Those come either with USB 2.0 (which automatically usually converts to USB 1.0 if the 2.0 connection does not
    work correctly), or Firewire, or both, or both of those plus e-SATA or some other combination. All 'external' hard
    drives use wall power and all I have ever seen work on all world currents 110-240 50-60 hz,.but read the literature to
    make sure.

    I regularly run my hard drives in Europe, Asia, South America and the USA without any switching, just plug
    converters at $3 apiece.

    My recommendation is to get all three connections -- USB, firewire and e-SATA.. Sometimes it's only $10 USD
    more to get all three if you shop mail order and watch the prices. Watch the sales.

    Remember, if one connection goes bad on a purpose-built 'external' hard drive, you can just switch connections
    (provided there is a matching connection on your computer), and you're back in business -- just switch cables.

    If an 'external' hard drive connection does fail (not the spinning hard drive itself, but the connectors); don't whine or
    throw a fit or worry about spending hundreds to retrieve data), just buy an appropriate enclosure for the hard drive
    (IDE or eSATA), tear it apart to retrieve the 3-1/2 inch drive inside, and install the drive in a new new enclosure made
    for 'internal' hard drives, and it should work wonderfully.

    The first time you do this have your work reviewed by someone you trust who knows electronics before you plug it in,
    but the work is really simple. [even I can do it]

    [if a drive goes click click click click, unplug it immediately if the data is not 100% backed up. It has crashed on you
    and running it further will damage the disk surface more and make any attempt at data recovery useless, that is if
    you are willing to spend the many hundreds or low thousands of dollars necessary to retrieve the data thereon]

    The lesson, of course, is to back up, back up, back up and back up more.

    All hard drives fail, it's only a matter of when.

    I've had a hard drive fall over from upright on the floor to its side and crash (three times in one week with different hard
    drives - turns out underneath the hardwood floor in a rented residence was concrete - in seven years it never
    happened on a carpeted floor, but still all my data was backed up two or three times over, so no permanent data loss.

    Also, never travel with ALL your original and backup hard drives; the TSA or airline may try to grab them from you
    and prevent you from taking them on board and insist they travel in your checked luggage.

    What do you suppose your chances are your data will arrive intact?

    Keep your hard drives in different places; original in one place -- backup in another -- if there's a hurricane, fire, flood,
    earthquake or crazy significant other, your data is still safe.

    Better: have two or more backups in different places.

    Data storage is getting very cheap. A year ago, a 1 terabyte disk was selling for about $400. Now I can routinely
    buy the same size (in a smaller package) for less than $200 with a promise of cheaper prices.

    Look at the prices on PN mail order advertiser which has an excellent reputation, even if you don't buy
    there; prices sometimes include free shipping and no sales tax.

    (Overseas prices are higher, I know; I try to buy in the US when I'm here.)

    I know I answered a few questions you didn't ask, but as a heavy user of hard drives for photo storage, at least some
    of this info is bound to be helpful to you, and surely for other readers too.)


    John (Crosley)
  7. The simple answer is that Firewire 400 has faster transfer rates on a Mac than USB 2 does. Better yet is Firewire 800.

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