Looking for an external hard drive
November 18, 2009 2:35 PM   Subscribe

My external hard drive has been making some very odd noises for a while and I’m looking for a good replacement. Your input would be appreciated.

I’ve been using an external enclosure for the last year or so, but shortly after I bought the drive it started taking a long time to spin up (10+ seconds) before making a loud click sound and finally starting to read/write, during which time the app accessing the drive beachballs. I think it would be a good idea to replace the enclosure with an actual external disk instead of the Super Nintendo-esque setup I've got now, but I'd like to run my criteria past the hive mind to get some advice first.

Key points:
  • I want something whisper-quiet. I live in a very small apartment and can't imagine how I used to put up with a noisy dual-GPU tower machine now that I have an iMac.
  • The current drive is 1TB, but I'm considering going with a 2TB drive for a bit of extra space. Depends on the severity of the price jump.
  • I want something reliable. My belief is that all consumer-grade hard disks are ticking timebombs that will all fail at some point, but I'd like to avoid buying another IBM Deathstar.
  • Physical size is irrelevant; I'll be sticking it behind my display and never looking at it again. Performance is also a non-issue as it will only be used for Time Machine backups and bulk data storage.
  • eSATA is unnecessary as my iMac doesn't have a connection, but it does have an unused FireWire port that I'd like to take advantage of (freeing up a USB port in the process).
I live in Canada and will probably be ordering from there, but I don't think there's much difference in cross-border product availability these days.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's funny, I also recently sent my noisy dual G5 tower to the graveyard, only in favor a Mac Mini, and suddenly noticed the noise from my external HD much more. When it recently gave up the ghost, I got a Western Digital MyBook, which is super quiet and is available for about $100. Their single-drive units top out at 1TB, but you can get their 2TB "mirror edition", which is actually two drives, for basically double the price- note that actually using it as a RAID drive will result in 1TB space.
posted by mkultra at 2:51 PM on November 18, 2009

I have a Buffalo 2TB and have had zero problems with it. It's ultra quiet and runs on FireWire.
posted by mattbucher at 2:51 PM on November 18, 2009

I have several Western Digital MyBook Studio drives here (first generation, not the new ones with the fancy displays), connected via FW800. Good performance, reliable, reasonably silent, but also quite pricy.

The Seagate FreeAgent Desktop drives are a good alternative, but I don't think there's models with firewire interface available.
posted by starzero at 2:51 PM on November 18, 2009

Best answer: My belief is that all consumer-grade hard disks are ticking timebombs that will all fail at some point, but I'd like to avoid buying another IBM Deathstar.

All disks, period, will fail at some point. In addition to all the usual offsite backup suggestions, I would suggest: (1) googling around to see if there's a known bad batch on the model you would like to buy, (2) comparing well-known manufacturers on all the usual bases plus warranty coverage, and (3) checking NewEgg comments (on this last point: people are biased toward reporting problems, but should at least in theory be biased toward reporting problems on a relatively uniform basis across drives above the cheapest fly-by-night models).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:52 PM on November 18, 2009

Speaking of warranty, what I forgot to mention: one of the reasons for the high price of the WD Studio line and the main reason I got them: 5 years of warranty, the Elements / Essentials only have 1 year.

Also WD's advanced RMA process is great, get RMA number from website, wait for WD to send you new drive, send back old drive after you get the replacement.
posted by starzero at 2:59 PM on November 18, 2009

I just bought a 1TB Western Digital My Book Firewire drive today. I plugged it in about five minutes ago. The thing is extremely quiet. I have to strain to even hear it. I'm backing up via Time Machine right now.

I can't attest for reliability, as this is my first one and it's only six minutes old.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:07 PM on November 18, 2009

Best answer: Might I suggest just going with a USB drive? If you're only using it for Time Machine, the speed of the backing up process is sort of irrelevant. Who cares if it takes ten hours the first time if you're planning on just hooking it up and forgetting about it?

Of course, if you need to recover stuff the speed might be an issue, but the USB only drives are much cheaper. A 1 TB WD USB-only drive was about $60 less at Best Buy where I bought mine. You need to reformat it first, but I can't imagine it's too hard if you just follow the directions.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 4:13 PM on November 18, 2009

It's always been my opinion that Hitachi drives are the best out there, and worth paying extra for. I've had Seagate and Western Digital drives die on me, but I've never had a Hitachi drive die no matter how old it is.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:24 PM on November 18, 2009

I've got a few Western Digital Element 1TB 3.5" drive that I like. They are a little louder than my laptop, but not bad at all. When not active for a little while, they spin down completely and don't make any noise at all.

I've had them for a few months and haven't had any issues. (Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean anything for long term quality, but it's nice none the less.)
posted by StimulatingPixels at 9:24 PM on November 18, 2009

If you've already got an enclosure, just save a lot of money and buy a new drive. Either that, or buy a smaller enclosure and a new drive. It will be cheaper than buy a prefab one, and just as reliable. 1.5 TB seems to be the best value for money right now.
posted by turkeyphant at 7:46 AM on November 19, 2009

I have horrible experience with Western Digital drives, so I cannot recommend them at all.

Seagate has been pretty reliable for me.

I did though, just buy a pair of 1.5TB Samsung Story drives (and an internal sata one). They have good reviews on Newegg (link), and the price was very right. Its USB, not the Firewire you requested - but the interface shouldn't matter too much: get a USB hub.
posted by ish__ at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

i'm about to get myself the drive mentioned above in ish____'s suggestion. it (and its 1tb sister) seem to have the best reviews on newegg. between that and a metafilter thumbs up, i'm sold.
posted by hagelslaag at 4:57 PM on November 24, 2009

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