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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Consumer Hardware & Components > Do you use a USB 2.0 hard drive with your Mac?

Do you use a USB 2.0 hard drive with your Mac?
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Nov 6, 2006, 01:11 AM
 
I'm running out of space and am in the market for an external. I love the LaCie Porsche design of external hard drives but unfortunately the Firewire flavor only goes up to 250GB. For a 500GB drive you need to use USB 2.0

As a Mac user I am skeptical at the thought of a USB external hard drive, it's probably from years using USB 1.1. When I think external hard drive, I think Firewire. Am I justified to think this way or should I go ahead and buy the USB 2.0 hard drive.
     
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Nov 6, 2006, 02:08 AM
 
I bought a MacAlly enclosure: Products- PHR-100AC- FireWire 1394/USB2.0 External Storage Enclosure for 3.5" HDD and put a 300gb internal drive in it. Works great and was cheaper then buying a prebuilt external drive. If you're worried about it being complicated to put together, don't be - if you can follow the instructions that come with an Ikea computer desk you can install a hard drive into an enclosure.

Either way, I'd recommend going with an external setup that has both firewire and USB 2.0 - I use firewire 99% of the time but having the USB is great if you need or want to connect your drive to another computer that doesn't have firewire capabilities.

edit: btw, the MacAlly enclosures are built like tanks, too, and are stackable in the even you decide to buy a second one. They are also, unlike some enclosures you may run into, booteable under OSX.
     
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Nov 6, 2006, 08:11 AM
 
I have a enclosure with the gutted 60 GB HD of my old Compaq. My mom uses a 80 GB HD that we got in 2004.
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Nov 6, 2006, 09:21 AM
 
Most new external hd which have firewire tend to also have usb2.
I have Maxtor III and is perfectly happy with it.
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Nov 6, 2006, 10:06 AM
 
I just got a USB 2.0 enclosure for a 250GB SATA internal desktop drive and it's great. It's fast-maybe not as fast as a firewire enclosure might be, but at less than $40 including tax and shipping, I couldn't beat the price.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
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Nov 6, 2006, 03:50 PM
 
I have a Western Digital MyBook external. 200gb I think. It works nicely as my Aperture Vault. Good for storing the iTunes Library as well.
-How pumped would you be driving home from work, knowing someplace in your house there's a monkey you're gonna battle?
     
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Nov 6, 2006, 05:17 PM
 
60 gig FW 400 and 160 gig FW 800 externals for me.
     
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Nov 6, 2006, 07:04 PM
 
I have two 250gb Lacie Porsche USB 2.0 drives and they've both worked very well for almost a year now. The transfer rates are pretty decent, though I've never had a Firewire drive to compare them with. I think you should go for the USB 2.0 externals
"The best part about breaking up with someone is moving all your porn from C:\Program Files\Java\j2re1.4.2\lib\zi\Pacific to C:\Porn."
     
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Nov 7, 2006, 12:19 AM
 
I'll soon be replacing one of the SATA drives in my G5 Power Mac with a larger version. When I ordered the new drive I ordered an external enclosure for the old one.

In the past, I've typically bought Firewire enclosures (most come with USB 2 also but I've rarely used that port). Choices of Firewire options for SATA drives are somewhat limited and more expensive than USB-only enclosures so I ordered USB-only this time. I'm hoping it will be fast and trouble free but I guess I'll find out soon enough. I guess it won't be bootable.
     
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Nov 7, 2006, 06:49 PM
 
Got a USB 2.0 enclosure for my MacBook's original HDD (60 Gigs). I only use it for backup, so I'm not entirely sure how the transfer speeds are. But it's fast enough for me, and USB is convenient for the rare occasion that my friend jacks her HP laptop into the drive for a minute.

Any ramblings are entirely my own, and do not represent those of my employers, coworkers, friends, or species
     
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Nov 7, 2006, 07:01 PM
 
I bought an no-name enclosure for an old Maxtor 40 GB EIDE hard drive that I had lying around about 3 years ago and it's still ticking. It comes in handy quite often. It's where I store (most) of my iTunes library and my TV shows.
21.5" iMac | OS X 10.6.4 | 3.06 GHz | 4GB DDR3
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Nov 15, 2006, 05:42 AM
 
I bought two no-name USB 2.0 enclosures recently. While doing a full disk backup today, I realized that my external HD was way slower than I expected it to be. So I ran some benchmarks using this tool.

The result: Over USB I get read/write rates in the 10MB/s region. This is WAY below what the drive (a 7200rpm Seagate 250GB ) is capable of. I tried both USB ports in my Macbook Pro (Core 2 Duo) and made sure to have only the drive attached and nothing else. Same results.
I then tested another external Firewire/USB2.0 drive, which I had bought a while ago. The drive in that enclosure is a 200GB Seagate. I got 30-35MB/s over the FW400 connection and again around 10MB/s over USB2.
I am quite shocked by these results. I knew that USB is supposed to be a bit slower. But 10MB/s? Thats just pathetic!
It'd be great if other people could benchmark their drives (USB or FW) and report back here what kinds of transfer rates they are seeing.
I am seriously considering spending some money on a FW800 enclosure after realizing how much the USB enclosures are slowing me down.

In any case, I would definitely recommend getting a FW drive based on these experiences. Another thing I noticed is that my FW/USB2.0 drive will go to sleep when unused when connected via FW, but not when using the USB interface.
     
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Nov 15, 2006, 06:32 AM
 
Here are the specs from my external hard drive:

USB 2.0:
Write:14.8
Read: 16.3
21.5" iMac | OS X 10.6.4 | 3.06 GHz | 4GB DDR3
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Playing together nicely!
     
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Nov 15, 2006, 06:57 AM
 
On my lacie 250 i got W:14.9 R:17
     
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Nov 15, 2006, 03:32 PM
 
The benchmarks on my system (Macbook Pro C2D 2.16) in detail:

Internal HD (160GB drive):
W: 35.5
R: 36.3

External USB/FW HD (200GB Seagate):
using FW:
W: 24.2
R: 34.3

using USB 2.0:
W: 12.1
R: 13.2

External USB2.0 enclosure with 250GB Seagate:
W: 12.1
R: 13.0
     
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Nov 15, 2006, 04:48 PM
 
Another interesting fact: I hooked up the USB2.0 drive to my Thinkpad (Win XP) and ran the HD Tach benchmark program. The result: A read spead of 33-35MB/s across the entire disk.
Of course these are two different benchmark programs, so the numbers might not be directly comparable. But still, the difference is so big that I think its fair to conclude that USB performance on the MacBook pro sucks for some reason.
     
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Nov 15, 2006, 05:34 PM
 
Yep - I have a dual interface, but use the FireWire connection. In fact, when I needed a 500GB hard drive, I bought one of the WD models with the FW800 interface - I haven't used it much yet, but it seems even faster than the FireWire 400 was.
     
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Nov 15, 2006, 07:33 PM
 
Originally Posted by gradient View Post
I bought a MacAlly enclosure: Products- PHR-100AC- FireWire 1394/USB2.0 External Storage Enclosure for 3.5" HDD
...
edit: btw, the MacAlly enclosures are built like tanks, too, and are stackable in the even you decide to buy a second one. They are also, unlike some enclosures you may run into, booteable under OSX.

Are you saying that it is bootable via USB2 as well as Firewire?
And if so is it just with PPC machines or Intel Macs too?
     
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Dec 1, 2006, 12:08 AM
 
Another update:
I benchmarked the same external USB 2.0 drive that I tested on my MBP C2D under OSX, but this time under Bootcamp / Win XP SP2. Exact same computer, hard drive, cable, enclosure, everything. Different OS.
The result:
Under OSX: 12-13 MB/s as reported above
Under WinXP: 33 -35 MB/s (same as with my Thinkpad)

So it is purely a software problem. Pretty sad, Apple.
     
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Dec 1, 2006, 03:07 PM
 
About the original question, I tend to stay away from USB 2 external drives as a friend of mine once brought his external USB 2 drive and it was slower than my Lacie FW400, and also I got some kernel panic when copying (this was with 10.3 on a PM G5 DP 2.0)

I ran the HD test, and as I have several partitions, I discovered that the farther partitions (ex: OS X is the first, then partition 2 is farther, and so on) have lower speeds incrementally!

ex: partition 1 (OS X):
w: 56,2
r: 56

partition 6:
w: 47,6
r: 47,3
     
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Dec 2, 2006, 04:50 AM
 
Madrag: That is completely normal. The first partitions are located on the outermost parts of the hard drive platters. Later partitions are located further towards the center of the platter. Since the number of rotations per second is constant, but the 'tracks' on the inside are shorter than on the outside you get these performance differences.
     
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Dec 2, 2006, 08:29 AM
 
guppi, thanks for the explanation, I knew it was normal, just didn't know the specifics...
Also, that's the reason why I have OS X at the *faster* partition
     
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Mar 4, 2007, 03:02 AM
 
I want to buy a 500gb external drive for storing and reading compressed video files, so performance is not a huge issue. The max rate I'll need to read are backed up VOB files which need max 1.1 MB/sec. Most of my video files just need 100 KB/sec or so. No big deal.

So naturally, you might say a USB 2.0 drive would be perfect because the enclosures are cheaper and I don't need FW speeds.

However it's not speed but reliability which worries me. I've used FW drives for more than 6 years now and they have been absolutely rock solid. I'm constantly reading and writing to these drives and they have given me zero issues.

I'm worried about the stability of USB drives. I have this fear that I will run into a kernel panic or some other hardware/software problem because USB is inferior or Apple's USB drivers are crap.

So my question is, have any of you used USB 2.0 drives on the Mac for an extended period of time. Are my fears about stability unfounded?
     
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Mar 5, 2007, 07:27 PM
 
Windows + USB2.0 blows away Mac OS X + USB2.0 for hard drive connections. One reason I've stuck to using Firewire is simply because I'm able to boot off of them for older Macs. As Intel Macs become more common-place, I don't really mind getting USB-only enclosures as they're cheaper and widely abundant.

I can't really say much with regards to reliabilty. The most common "Firewire drives" and "USB drives" are basically just regular ATA (or SATA) hard drives that talk to a controller that makes it available using USB or Firewire. The different factors involved contributing to its realibilty are:
- heat management (fan vs fanless)
- drive sleeping when not in use
- make/model of the drive itself (Seagate vs Hitachi vs WD vs Maxtor vs etc...)

Most of my older drives (200GB and lower) are still alive and kicking (and have been used via Firewire for over 3 years and now with USB for over 2 years).
     
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Mar 6, 2007, 04:53 PM
 
Hmm, I should have been more clear. When I talk about reliability I'm talking about software, not the actual drive failing or not.

So by reliability I mean, will the USB prove to be a reliable interface for years of constant service like Firewire has been, or will the poor USB Mac drivers eventually cause hiccups, kernel panics, etc etc.
     
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Mar 6, 2007, 07:13 PM
 
Well, I doubt it'll cause much problems since USB is the more ubiquitous of the 2. Hopefully we can expect Apple to improve its USB drivers, though, so its performance is on par as that of Windows.
     
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Mar 7, 2007, 12:09 AM
 
I don't mind USB 2.0 to keeping files but I wouldn't boot from it.

here are my results

internal mbp core duo 80gb hd 5400rpm
write 25.2 MB/S
read 25.7 MB/S

80gb 7200rpm in vantec nexstar 3 usb 2.0 enclosure
write: 16.3 MB/S
read: 18.4 MB/S
     
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Mar 7, 2007, 10:51 AM
 
I've had one of those Western Digital MyBook external drives hooked up to my G5 (via powered USB2 hub) for about 6 months now and it's been nothing but reliable. No kernel panics, no write issues. I use it mainly for file storage and backups so I'm not really too concerned with transfer speed (mainly smaller files and the backup happens when I'm not use the computer) but I've not seen a failed backup due to a drive issue. From my perspective, the USB2 implementation is working reliably.
     
   
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