Best setup for external drive for Macbook Pro?
October 2, 2008 3:29 PM   Subscribe

What kind of external drive setup should I use for my new Macbook Pro?

I'm a musician and Mac newbie. Having just made the switch to Mac (I love it, BTW, don't know what took me so long!), I'm pretty ignorant of the available options. It needs to hold hundreds of GB and it needs to be speedy (suitable for use with Kontakt or other software samplers). Smaller physical size is better, but speed is more important. What are some reasonable choices? USB? Firewire? ExpressCard/34? ....?

posted by semblance to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I have a Western Digital external hard drive as well - a 500GB "My Book". Both the case and the drive itself seem to be well made and I haven't had a problem with either. In contrast, I've had a few failures of external enclosures (not the drives themselves, thankfully) where I was using off-brand hardware. Western Digital drives also come up with a reasonably good warranty, if I remember correctly. I would browse around NewEgg and look for drives that are not only well-rated but have consumer-posted information about how easy the manufacturer has made RMAs for any bad units.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:26 PM on October 2, 2008

You definitely want FireWire - 400 is okay, 800 is better. (The connectors are different, and you have one of each.) Fast as it gets. The WD MyBook line is pretty good, and I can recommend it.

Basically, there are two classes of external HDs: Tiny ones that are USB and don't require any external cables, and bigger ones that can have USB, FireWire 400/800, eSATA (depending on model) but need to be plugged in separately. They're a lot bigger, and a lot heavier, but also a lot faster.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:30 PM on October 2, 2008

Use FireWire; even though USB 2.0 has a similar theoretical speed, it depends heavily on the CPU to do data transfer. If you transfer a lot of data and/or your processor is otherwise occupied, USB tends to run at a lower rate. FireWire can deliver data without leaning too hard on the host CPU.
posted by panic at 5:12 PM on October 2, 2008

Use USB. Firewire is a bit faster, but USB is way more flexible. I've got several external hard drives, and the firewire ones have much more limited usability, since almost no PC's have firewire cards. Plus, firewire stuff tends to be more $$$.
posted by paanta at 5:45 PM on October 2, 2008

I just bought an Iomega UltraMax Hard Drive (500 gigs) for basically $200. It's got USB/FireWire/eSATA inputs and came with all the appropriate cables. So far I've been using it to backup mostly video files which it seems to do nice and quickly (less than 1 minute per gig). It's not specifically "portable" but it's about the size and thickness of an average hard cover book and I doubt it weighs three pounds.

So far so good.
posted by philip-random at 6:25 PM on October 2, 2008

I've had huge problems with USB2.0 external drives on my Macbook Pro -- random disconnections, transfer problems, etc. This with 2 separate drives that work perfectly on Linux PC hardware.

In researching the problem, I discovered several other folks having problem with USB for mass storage on Macbook Pro's. The solution was to get an enclosure with Firewire. Problem solved, never look back.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 9:57 PM on October 2, 2008

The solution was to get an enclosure with Firewire. Problem solved, never look back.

Yeah, I'm hardly an expert on this stuff but that's pretty much in line with what the sales guy said that sold me my Iomega. Added maybe thirty bucks to the purchase price.
posted by philip-random at 12:23 AM on October 3, 2008

Best answer: You don't mention which software you'll be using to make music.

If you're using Pro Tools, you'll need to use a Firewire drive, ideally 7200RPM. This rules out most "portable" (i.e. 2.5", bus-powered) drives. I manage the studios at a university in the UK, and I always use LaCie D2 drives. The new ones have four connection options - Firewire 800, Firewire 400, USB 2.0, eSATA. Firewire 800 would be the best option for a Macbook Pro.

Even if you're not using Pro Tools, the D2 will be solid for making music and running audio with high track-counts, especially on Firewire 800.

Hope this helps.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 3:04 AM on October 3, 2008

Apologies - I meant to say you don't mention which DAW software you'll be using, although you mention Kontakt.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 3:05 AM on October 3, 2008

500gb or 1tb MyBook has eSata, Firewire 400 and USB connections. I picked up a 500gb MyBook at Costco; it was pretty cheap. Using it as a backup on two systems now (Mac and Windows). It's fast, it's quiet, and it goes to low-power standby or shuts itself off automatically when it isn't being accessed.

If I buy a hard drive I buy Western Digital. I have had really good luck with their stuff.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:08 AM on October 3, 2008

Go with Firewire for your Macbook Pro. (Firewire 800 will command a slight premium over a FW 400 drive), but a USB-only drive will slow down your overall computing experience when transferring data over the USB connection. If you're worried about compatibility with other computers, get a drive with both FW and USB connections, but a firewire drive is going to work much faster and more smoothly.
posted by andrewraff at 6:35 AM on October 3, 2008

I put a 320 GB in my MBP together with a 120GB from MCE. That helps too, but does void your warranty.
posted by KimG at 11:15 AM on October 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to all for the advice -- WD My Book is very tempting, but looking at the mixed reviews on Amazon scares me away. Looks like if you're lucky enough to get a good unit, then all is well, but it seems there are a lot of bad ones out there. (Surprising; I've had a lot of WD drives in the past and never had a problem...)

coach_mcquirk - I didn't know anything about LaCie before, but it looks good. Nearly all reviews are favorable, from what I've seen. I think that's what I'm going with. (BTW, I'm using Logic for my DAW software. ;)

Thanks again hive mind!
posted by semblance at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2008

If you can afford it, I'd recommend going with a RAID unit for protection against drive failures.
posted by kenliu at 9:22 PM on October 3, 2008

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