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bestexternal firewire harddrive for mac?
May 16, 2005 5:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to buy an external firewire hard drive for my aging G4.

I'm looking to spend about $175 and would like the most space for my buck.

It'll mostly be used to hold mp3's and large-ish music files for Digital Performer. I've never bought one before and have no idea where to start. LaCie has been recommended but reviews at Amazon look fishy. Any suggestions would make my night a brighter place. Really.
posted by item to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
You can do this cheaper.

1) Get a generic external FW case such as this. $40 or so

2) Then buy as much HD capacity as you can afford. Seems to me that the "sweet spot" on pricing nowadays is a 250GB @ ~ $100. PriceWatch link.

Assemble case, format drive, and go.
posted by omnidrew at 5:56 PM on May 16, 2005

I just did what omnidrew recommends yesterday, using a ~$35 enclosure and an old laptop hard drive I had laying around. Worked like a charm with my G4 Powerbook.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:03 PM on May 16, 2005

I'm going to second omnidrew's suggestion. I just did the same thing and bought a very simple external drive case and a separate Western Digital harddrive. In this manner, you can swap out the drives later for more capacity without having to buy the entire enclosure again.

Now, it's not as portable or convenient, but for my needs it was perfect.
posted by odinsdream at 6:04 PM on May 16, 2005

I had no idea such FW cases existed. This seems too good to be true. It's really that easy?
posted by item at 6:04 PM on May 16, 2005

On preview, it appears to be so.
posted by item at 6:05 PM on May 16, 2005

it's easy, but beware. there are firmware conflicts with some of the older oxford chipsets still used by many of the generic enclosure makers. i've had endless problems with 4 ADS enclosures and the firewire bus on both my G5 and G4 machines, disks failing to mount, permissions problems, and some data loss.

It's easier and worth the trouble to buy a PCI ATA/EIDE card for your G4 (and cheaper than an enclosure, I think - Sonnet makes a popular one) and then you can add 2 new internal drives to your machine (250 GB bare ATA drives are around $120 for quality these days). They will be faster and more reliable than an external firewire drive. And if you are running digital performer on a G4, the additional speed will make a difference. You can also create a striped RAID array if you're using OSX out of 2 matched bare drives and achieve data redundancy that can save your ass if one drive fails.

posted by realcountrymusic at 6:55 PM on May 16, 2005

I have had good luck with external firewire enclosures, and would reccomend that solution. My undestanding is that the Oxford 911 chipset is rock solid. I have it on my enclosures, and am very pleased.

One word of caution on the advice to create a Striped RAID Array. A striped array improves performance but reduces reliability dramatically. Because your data is striped across two drives, loss of one of those drives kills all of your data. To improve your redundancy with 2 drives you need a Mirrored raid array, which exactly duplicates your data on both attached drives. If one drive fails you can still recover all your data from the other.
posted by tcskeptic at 7:19 PM on May 16, 2005

I did what you did just recently -- kinda.

I popped a 250 gig harddrive in my ol' G4/500 for use as an mp3 server. I went with an internal harddrive over an inclosure just because of simplicity (and cost -- $50CDN saved.)

Whatever you do, it hasn't been mentioned that on old G4s (i.e. pre-2001-ish), the computer cannot support drives over 130gigs. (Well, you can install a larger drive but the computer will only 'see' 130gigs or so.) You have to buy a new ATA card or do what I did: install this software thingy. I'll try and dig it up.
posted by docgonzo at 7:58 PM on May 16, 2005

Does the G4 have a USB2 connection? You can get the same sort of enclosure with USB. I bought one a couple of weeks ago, although I've had no chance to use it yet. Definitely the cheaper way to go, and you can swap drives.
posted by bh at 8:13 PM on May 16, 2005

No usb2.

Docgonzo, I bought my G4 in August 2001, though the model had been around for a little while. I didn't know this about older Macs. So it'll only 'see' 130 gigs - can I still use the other 120 (if I got a 250 gig drive) on other machines? I'm confused.
posted by item at 8:23 PM on May 16, 2005

Lacie. I have a discontinued 120GB HD, a new 160GB HD, and a CD-RW drive from them. I'm thoroughly happy with all of them. LaCie's the only place I go to when I want a new drive of any kind.
posted by bitpart at 8:29 PM on May 16, 2005

I should have said mirrored, not striped, RAID. Though the striped RAID will give you better performance if you are using Digital Performer to mix multitrack work. It is riskier.

And your G4 will see a 250GB firewire fine. To use that capacity of internal drive you have to install a new ATA card. But they are cheap (cheaper than an enclosure, and faster than firewire if you use ATA 133).

And I know the Oxford 911 is supposed to be rock solid. But I am reporting from experience. I run a lab full of G4s and G5s, and we've had 4 different ADS Pyro enclosures with 250 GB drives in them develop problems mounting across several machines in the last year. ADS told me it was a firmware issue and it is supposed to be solved with new chipsets and G5 FW bus, but after what my lab went through we're steering away from firewire drives except when portability is the issue, and storing on a networked drive (LaCie, 1 TB EtherDisk, awesome machine for the money) and using internal drives to beef up workstation storage. Another advantage, if you are doing music work (which we do), is that the internal drives are marginally queiter, though of course it's easier to isolate a firewire drive with a long cable.

Our problem may be specific to ADS Pyro enclosures, or it may be some freak occurrence. But with bare drives so large and cheap, and all that free space in these towers, and the low price of ATA cards, unless you need portability that is the more elegant solution.

USB hard drives are not worth considering, even 2.0 (which didn't hit Macs until the G5 line) for music work (other than straight backups). The slow speed of the bus creates latency problems. And it will drive you nuts over time that it is worth the $20-50 extra it costs to go with firewire externals.

Firewire 800 drives are preferred for serious multitrack audio in any case, but the G4 never had that. You can also buy a Firewire 800 PCI card v for the G4 (check out Other World Computing for all kinds of storage needs for Mac). Oddly, we had better luck with various firewire drives (not only the ADS enclosures, but various others, LaCie, OWC, etc) running them from a PCI card firewire bus rather than the built in FW on the G4s.

What's really driven me nuts is that the firewire problems we had (and we put a lot of time into solving them) recurred when we moved from G4s to G5s. I can't get straight answers out of Apple or the drive enclosure manufacturers about why. So whatever you do, I do NOT recommend ADS enclosures.
posted by realcountrymusic at 10:31 PM on May 16, 2005

Our problem may be specific to ADS Pyro enclosures

Yeah, ADS cases have always been a bit dodgy. Are they actually using Oxford bridges now? I seem to recall that they used to have their own. I have personally had excellent results just buying the cheapest enclosure with an Oxford bridge I could find on Pricewatch, and installing the best value EIDE hard disk I could find via Fatwallet. I currently have three hard disks (120, 160, 400 GB) in two separate Firewire enclosures (the one that holds two drives is Firewire 800).
posted by kindall at 11:29 PM on May 16, 2005

ADS are terrible; don't buy them.

If you want a premade package with drive already included, get LaCie. We recently had a student whose enclosure died; he called LaCie and they gave him approval for me to pop the enclosure open - breaking the warranty seal - and not void the warranty. I was able to recover his data without a problem (his drive was fine - it was the enclosure that was hosed) and he got his warranty fulfilled. LaCie shipped him a new drive/enclosure as soon as he mailed the dead one back to them.

Combine that with a very lengthy success rate of LaCie drives here (we've got dozens in use, none of which have failed, even after years of abuse) and I'm a big fan. The student's failure was the lone exception I've seen; compare that to Western Digital (these seem to die constantly, despite the fact they are constructed like a damn tank; it took me a good twenty minutes to remove a drive from one, there were so many screws and latches) and other, shadier, no-name companies that we've seen lots of failures with.

If you're building your own, Wiebetech is the way to go. Their stuff is pricy, but it's tough as nails and performs flawlessly.
posted by Floach at 10:02 AM on May 18, 2005

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