Powering an external drive on my Powerbook?
April 24, 2006 8:04 AM   Subscribe

How can I be certain that the external hard drive I want to buy to backup my Powerbook hard drive will not require an external power source?

I'm looking to backup my Powerbook G4 hard drive. I'm going to get an external hard drive or an enclosure and drive seperately. My most important requirement is that no external power source be necessary. USB only would be fine, but I bought one USB only drive in the past that said it was bus powered, but apparently my PB did not put out enough juice. I'm assuming it would be safer to get a firewire drive, as they put out more power (?). But will all firewire drives put out enough power, or do I need to get a portable drive? How does this work w/ enclosures? Is it the enclosure that must have an "internal power source" or does the type of drive I put in it matter? I'm probably going to order this over the internets, so need to be certain that my PB will be able to power it b/f I order. Thanks.
posted by gregoryc to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Stick with the 2.5 inch laptop drive enclosures. You will pay a little more per GB for a laptop drive, but it will be a smaller package to carry around and will fit your no power cord requirements. I have used several of these in the past and they are a great way to breath life back into an old laptop drive for only $10.
posted by jduckles at 8:17 AM on April 24, 2006

Try ordering from NewEgg. They have excellent photos from all angles of all of the enclosures they sell, and all the accessories that come with them. If you don't see a power input jack and no AC adapter or power cord, you can be pretty sure it's 100% bus powered. You can also do an advanced search, filtering out all non-AC powered enclosures. They all take 2.5" or 1.8" laptop drives.

Strangely, I've never seen a bus-powered firewire enclosure. You'd think it'd be a great idea, as Firewire has more than enough juice to power a 3.5" drive. Their scarcity may have something to do with that many Firewire ports on PCs, especially laptops, are the 4-pin ones that do not provide power. There may be a Firewire enclosure from a company that caters to Macs, though.
posted by zsazsa at 8:45 AM on April 24, 2006

I have dealt with this issue recently. I was using USB, so I can't speak to Firewire. Will you need to use the drive while the laptop is running from battery? For my laptop (a little Vaio SR17) this was a major consideration, since the power output of the USB port was much less on battery.

The enclosures I chose (cheap ones) came with a split USB cable, where one side had two USB plugs: one for data and another for more power. This was a problem for me, since I only had one USB port, but it's a decent solution in general.

Larger, faster drives require more power. I chose a 2.5" drive of moderate size and speed, but I didn't know to check the power requirements before I bought. Maybe someone else here can tell you (and me) what specs to look for when buying a drive, and what specs to look at in your Powerbook manual, to ensure that you'll be okay.
posted by dammitjim at 9:10 AM on April 24, 2006

Just chiming in to say I've had success with Firewire-based 2.5" drive enclosures. No extra power required.
posted by lowlife at 9:28 AM on April 24, 2006

get a firewire enclosure, and have it use a laptop-sized hard drive. there's a possibility (given your story there) that you've got an older PowerBook with USB 1, which (AFAIK) doesn't supply enough power to really power a hard drive. FireWire definitely can, though, even the older versions, and if your laptop is USB 1 only, FireWire will be a lot faster.

(fwiw, you can get a pre-built drive from the Apple Store, online or mortar, that'll sport FW ports and is self-powered. try, for instance, the SmartDisk Fire Lite.)
posted by mrg at 9:29 AM on April 24, 2006

zsazsa, nothing against Newegg, I like them too. But TigerDirect also has photos from all angles for most of their products, just click on the Photo Gallery tab for pretty much any of their products.
posted by jduckles at 9:34 AM on April 24, 2006

Thanks, jduckles. I haven't been to TD in a while.
posted by zsazsa at 9:52 AM on April 24, 2006

I like to buy from here (scroll down for 2.5" drives). I use the macally enclosure and it's great. Note that the picture shows a dc plugin port for external power but that's only needed if you have an older USB 1.0 port and not enough juice. The enclosure is bus powered via firewire.
posted by inviolable at 10:24 AM on April 24, 2006

You definitely want to go with a 2.5" drive and remember that many of the bus powered USB 2.5" enclosures use 2 USB ports to power the drive. So you will have to have 2 free on your laptop (not a problem in most cases) to run it without external power. The bonus is that most of these enclosures will take an external power source that is basically just a plug on a cord with one of those largish AC adaptor plugs. So if you need to externally power it for whatever reason (battery low) you can.
posted by ChazB at 4:32 PM on April 24, 2006

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