Are All Drive Enclosures Basically The Same?
July 30, 2006 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Hello, Hive Mind. I'm about to buy a Mac Mini for my space-cramped office. However, I want to be able to use my two old IDE drives. So, what kind of enclosure should I buy? Are they all essentially the same? Should I go for USB or Firewire?
posted by optimuscrime to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
With NewerTech's Ministack case, you can use either connector.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:40 PM on July 30, 2006

They're pretty much all the same. For most people the performance differences between USB 2.0 and Firewire are negligible, so I'd suggest USB since it is more widely supported.

How old and what size are your two HDs? You may find it cheaper just to buy a large, new external HD than two enclosures for your old HDs.
posted by randomstriker at 1:44 PM on July 30, 2006

Randomstriker - They're 60 and 80GB. I'm not sure I'll save much money doing that as external drives seem pricy.

Though... I hadn't thought about getting a single, much larger internal hard drive (200GB, say) and just having one drive enclosure... Hmm.
posted by optimuscrime at 1:49 PM on July 30, 2006

Heat is your enemy and you can quickly toast a busy drive. Don't buy the snug little 3.5" enclosures - get the roomier 5.25" DVD/CD enclosures. These either double up for use with 3.5" drives, or will accept any variety of 5.25->3.5" mounting bracket to install your disks.

At vaguely similar raw Mbps speeds, Firewire is usually larger throughput with less CPU on the host for transfer between 1-5 client disks and the host. However, USB has a more efficient network transfer model when you start having lots of client disks attached to a single host. SO in this specialised case you will generally see USB transfer rates pull ahead of Firewire. But it sounds like you will not have that many clients attached.
posted by meehawl at 2:02 PM on July 30, 2006

I'm not sure I'll save much money doing that as external drives seem pricy.

Keep checking for deals. E.g. 200 GB for $99.99. Sold out in this case, but deals like this will keep coming up.
posted by randomstriker at 2:11 PM on July 30, 2006

You can only use Firewire drives as boot drives on Macs, so get Firewire. This way if something happens to the drive inside the Mac Mini, you can already have OS X installed on a spare, and boot the Mini from it.
posted by evariste at 2:16 PM on July 30, 2006

Based on whichever configuration you buy, either one of those drives could serve as a backup of the internal drive. Which I would *cough* recommend. If you're going with the Intel-based Mini, you can apparently ("apparently," because I have no experience with this at all) boot from a USB 2.0-based hard drive, in addition to the FireWire-based models we've long been able to use as boot drives. I know you didn't ask, but this is a boon to troubleshooting and recovery.

I concur with the suggestion to buy the bigger enclosures, if you plan on running the drives for extended periods of time. I've used the compact external hard drives for quick transfers with no problems, but with extended transfers (like doing something in Final Cut Pro), they tend to get incredibly hot.

As far as purchasing is concerned, I usually monitor Deal Mac when I'm looking for a new hard drive. You can scan the front page, search, or look things up by category (storage, in this case).
posted by evil holiday magic at 2:30 PM on July 30, 2006

Actually the differences between USB and Firewire are _not_ negible. External firewire drives on the mac are a lot faster (about 1.5X to 2X approx.) than a USB 2 drive with the same physical drive.

I've tested a number of drives and in every case the Firewire drive has been faster. I even have a pair of drives that have dual USB2/Firewire ports and the drives are faster when connected via Firewire.

This does seem to be a software/driver problem, it seems Mac OS X's USB drivers just aren't as fast/efficient as the Firewire ones. Perhaps in time (10.5) this situation will change. But right now if speed is the more important factor then go with Firewire.
posted by schwa at 3:15 PM on July 30, 2006

Should I go for USB or Firewire?

Actually, if you can afford it, why not get one with both?
posted by evil holiday magic at 4:08 PM on July 30, 2006

I'd like to add that, in my personal experience, noname firewire enclosure beats noname usb enclosure in terms of data transfer speed when connected to the same OS X powerbook.
posted by odinsdream at 4:13 PM on July 30, 2006

Wow. Your responses, as always, are thorough and well explained. Thanks everyone for your help.

Based on the feedback here, I think I will get a large external firewire drive and transfer my old drives' data onto it, as well as a backup of the primary drive's data. The NewerTechnology one would be about $140 for 250GB, compared to spending $80-90 on two decent-quality drive enclosures.


Does anyone have any firsthand experience with the NewerTechnology ministack? I like that it won't add much to the Mini's own footprint. To the poster who was talking about heat -- does this look like it would be sufficient for keeping a heavily-used drive cooled?
posted by optimuscrime at 4:14 PM on July 30, 2006

If you like the design of the NewerTechnology drive then by all means go for it. But it is quite overpriced compared to building your own. Consider:

Western Digital Caviar SE 250GB IDE drive ($75.90 shipped) + aluminum enclosure with fan ($29.99) = 105.89.

That enclosure is just one I picked from the Froogle results because it was all-aluminum and had a fan (and thus should keep the drive quite cool) but there really are TONS of enclosures in the $30 range that are just fine.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:37 PM on July 30, 2006

FatWallet has a canonical thread about external hard drive enclosures which is extremely informative, by the way.
posted by evariste at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2006

Firewire is a much nicer bus than USB. In reality, Firewire 400 Mbps is going to easily spank USB 2.0 480Mbps (each node an a Firewire bus is very smart, and that 400 Mbps is going to be easily attainable, even by multiple drives. On USB 2.0 480Mbps is very much theoretical, and shared as a total among all devices). I doubt it has anything to do with Mac USB drivers, and rather with the general nature of the busses.

That said, I'm not entirely sure Firewire is worth the price premium. Also, there is a Firewire chip-set made by Proliant out there, in the very cheap enclosures, that is pretty flakey.

One last note: the bargain basement FW/USB enclosure I got is louder than my wife's entire iMac Core Duo.
posted by teece at 8:47 PM on July 30, 2006

teece: "That said, I'm not entirely sure Firewire is worth the price premium. Also, there is a Firewire chip-set made by Proliant out there, in the very cheap enclosures, that is pretty flakey.

Just to reiterate this point, there are only 3 or 4 makers as far as I know of Firewire chipsets. I think the only trustworthy Firewire chipset is the Oxford chipset, Ive seen several corrupted drives with the other ones. Google around, as I did afterwards:(, and you can see it is a someway common problem.
posted by Boobus Tuber at 5:50 AM on July 31, 2006

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