Purchasing an external drive. Questions...
March 1, 2007 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Need more hard drive space... am about to buy a 500 or 600 gb external (LaCie) drive and mentioned it to a friend and she said not to go higher than a 320 due to overheating problems. Experienced MeFites, what do you say? Also, being a Firewire person, I have a dumb USB 2.0 question: can they be chained together? Any other drive anecdotes that might be useful in my purchase are appreciated. I'm on a Mac.

She also says the 500s are just two 250s in an enclosure. This seems impossible to me as they look physically to be the same size. True?
posted by dobbs to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are several series of Lacie drives. Earlier 500's were two 250's in the same case, the new series is a single 500gb mechanism. You can tell because the older drives are much longer than the single mechanism units. I haven't heard of any problems with overheating, but the older units are Raid 0 stripes and they often failed due to bad controller boards. I work for a company that owned 7 at one point and 6 of the 7 failed in the first 2 years.

Most Lacie D2 drives have a single USB port, so you wouldn't be able to chain them via USB, but they will chain via FW400 or 800 (you can chain these two standards together but you'll only get the speed of 400 if you do).
posted by bcnarc at 3:13 PM on March 1, 2007

Yes, to echo what bcnarc said, be careful of the stripped drives. Some of the new 1TB drives are 2x500. if one drive fails, you lose the data on both.
posted by sharkfu at 3:15 PM on March 1, 2007

I have 3 500gb+ USB drives at home, hanging off various PCs. While during summer I've had overheating issues on some of the PCs (must find cat-hair dissolving aerosol someday), I've never noticed a problem with my drives.

I did have a LaCie external DVD burner die because the power supply went wonky, but other than that, my LaCie experiences have been good.

USB does not support chaining, but does support external hubs, so that you can plug a 4-port hub into your PC, and then 4 drives into the hub (make sure your hub and PC are usb 2.0, or you'll likely run out of bandwidth).
posted by nomisxid at 3:17 PM on March 1, 2007

Dobbs, at my university we've had a lot of LaCie drives fail. They tend to use Maxtor internal disks. Which are garbage. You might consider getting an enclosure and a single Seagate 500gb, and putting them together yourself. I recommend enclosures with fans (though they are not silent, they seem the most reliable).

I know this complicates your situation, but that's my advice. These days drive compatibility with mac/pc is not an issue, brand wise. I've used LaCie, CHeapShitNoName enclosures and all kinds of others from windows-mac.
posted by fake at 3:29 PM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

How do I know if it's an old or new one? I was looking at this drive and this refurb, which is probably an old one, right?

fake, weird, I've have two Lacies for years (a 160 and a 250) which have been rock solid for me. I'm just outta space. I also have an IBM drive in an enclosure and it's just too damn loud and it doesn't mount/unmount by itself (though it's usb).
posted by dobbs at 3:35 PM on March 1, 2007

If you're on a mac, I recommend getting a drive with both USB (2.0) and Firewire so you can boot from the drive if you need to.

Don't have any experience with LaCie, but two external Seagates (160 GB, 400 GB) and one internal (160 GB) have been great for me. In my research I generally found that Seagate was considered the more reliable brand, but that is of course subjective. A good rule of thumb is to expect hard drives to fail (have a good backup solution in place for when they do!)--that way you're pleasantly surprised when they continue to work, and not SOL when they don't.
posted by cosmic osmo at 3:43 PM on March 1, 2007

I just bought an external LaCie 500GB Big Disk on the recommendation of my bosses at my university's media services. They use the crud out of those things, and the ones they've had are over a year old (at least).
posted by crayolarabbit at 4:16 PM on March 1, 2007

Anyone have an opinion on these enclosed Seagates? Are they loud? Do they power down themselves like the LaCies?
posted by dobbs at 4:17 PM on March 1, 2007

crayolarabbit, is yours the one in my link "this drive" above?
posted by dobbs at 4:18 PM on March 1, 2007

Google released a research paper recently that shows that, on average, about 10% of drives fail immediately, and then most are pretty good for about two years. After the second year, another 10% of the remainder fail each year for a couple more years, and then the percentage goes WAY up.

Basically, drives aren't terribly reliable over time, and you REALLY want to avoid RAID-0; that doubles your chance of total data loss. Any company that would sell you two drives in a RAID-0 without telling you exactly what they're doing is a company you do NOT to deal with anymore. In order to save $20 on materials, they're cutting your already-poor reliability in HALF. Given that you know they're willing to screw you over that way, why would you ever trust any of their products with your data?

It is, unfortunately, very hard to say which drives are the best, because hardly anyone has an adequate sample to know. Storagereview.com will give you an idea of drive reliability, but it's a self-selected survey, so it's not a very good number. It is, however, better than nothing.

As long as you get a single drive, it should work okay, but I'd look for an enclosure with good cooling. If there are no fans on a case, don't use it routinely. IMO, enclosures sans cooling are best used as intermittent backup drives at most.
posted by Malor at 4:22 PM on March 1, 2007

fake, weird, I've have two Lacies for years (a 160 and a 250) which have been rock solid for me.

Right on. We just had a rash of failures -- 4 drives of 5, purchased at different times, from 120-320gb. They were all used in different conditions for different purposes, some heavily, some not. Guess, as Malor says, it's the luck of the draw. I lost two years of music (my own) and pictures to cheap Maxtor disks (not in boxes) three years ago. Just wanted to throw out that word of warning, whether it's right or not.
posted by fake at 4:28 PM on March 1, 2007

All the "OMG! UR DRIVE IS GONNA FIAL@!!!" talk is mostly fear mongering.

If you're STRICTLY using a drive for storage and only access it occasionally then the possibility of failure is remote.

I will say that as drive capacity has increased I've personally noticed that in general hard drive reliability has gone down over the years. I have a few 40 and 60 gb drives which are trucking along fine after six or seven years, and I just recently retired a nine year old 20 gig drive which worked flawlessly (and would still use it if I had a need for it.) At the same time I've had nothing but headaches in recent years for several different 250 and 300gb drives, but ONLY when these drives were used as primary operating system drives (with lots of disk access over their life...)

There is a reason that those awesome Raptor drives usually only come in small capacity flavors...

If reliability is paramount then you should invest in one of the RAID 1 boxes out there - the data is mirrored on two drives simultaneously. If one fails the other works as a backup until you can replace the flaky one...
posted by wfrgms at 4:39 PM on March 1, 2007

USB is designed to be a tree, not a daisy-chain.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:08 PM on March 1, 2007

I'm currently considering buying an NAS drive due to having to back up multiple computers and not wanting to hang an external off of each one on my home network. Are you consdering this, or can anyone weigh in on how this might affect the O.P?

I can add, FWIW, that Maxtor has been the absolute WORST over the years (about 15 now) that I've been using computers. I know hard drives fail, but I found that they failed, with regularity, immediately after the warranty expired. So either they had really good actuaries on staff or a really devious plan to boost sales.

Finally, it should be really easy to tell from a picture if it's one HD. An enclosure has to be SIGNIFICANTLY bigger (like LaCie's double width ones) to hold a whole extra hard drive.
posted by raconteur at 7:06 PM on March 1, 2007

I'd second the recommendation on Seagate drives. Your friend is, well, ill-informed. There's single hard-drive sizes of up to 750GB now, with 1TB planned to be delivered in a few months time. Outside of rather extreme environmental conditions or stacked drives in a very small space, heat is not an issue. You might also want to check out the MyBook line, which offer USB 2.0 with Firewire 400 and 800 on the higher-end models.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:54 PM on March 1, 2007

I have used Seagate extensively (7200 RPM) and use my drives hard, for music serving throughout the house and for movies and I copy all my game images to them ... I have yet to have one fail (knock on wood! knock on wood!). The oldest is about 8 years old.

I've used them in servers (albeit in a RAID capacity) which had high (around 80% constant) load. None have failed.
posted by geoff. at 7:56 PM on March 1, 2007

320GB drives are still the cheapest per gigabyte, AFAIK. So if you want a terabyte of capacity, buy five of those and RAID-5 them.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 PM on March 1, 2007

Save yourself the money and buy a generic USB/FW enclosure with a good chipset.

All this hard drive talk is blasphemous. There is nothing wrong with Maxtors or any other drive unless the drives were defective. I could flame DeskStars all day long, but I won't.

Seagates do have 5 year warranties, which is nice, and FWIW, Maxtor is owned by Seagate now.
posted by mphuie at 8:38 PM on March 1, 2007

Anyone have an opinion on these enclosed Seagates? Are they loud? Do they power down themselves like the LaCies?
posted by dobbs at 4:17 PM PST on March 1 [+] [!]

Dobbs, I have a 400GB version of that Seagate model. With no read/write activity it is practically silent, but once you start reading or writing data, there's a loud clicking sound from the motion of the heads. However, we had a 750GB version at work that was dead silent when reading and writing. So, that works out to 50% :). Also, the hard drive itself powers down after a certain amount of time of inactivity.

Now that I've read my comment, I'm worried about disk failure and data loss :(
posted by phrayzee at 8:58 PM on March 1, 2007

Thanks, all!
posted by dobbs at 9:50 PM on March 1, 2007

In my experience, Maxtor drives perform very well but they tend to run hotter than similar drives from other manufacturers, so you need to ventilate them properly. I would not be happy to run a Maxtor drive in a poorly ventilated enclosure.
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 AM on March 2, 2007

i'm not a fan of lacie drives. i've seen a LOT of them die relatively quickly. they overheat like crazy. and the power-conversion brick they force you to use drives me nuts.

i'm all about rocstor firewire hard drives. they are slick and reliable. they hardly ever crash. i use two of them on my mac and they always run fine. they don't seem to overheat (one of them is 500 gig, the other 250 gig). plus you can use a standard ac power cord on them.
posted by fac21 at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2007

I have had experience with internal Maxtor drives and I have to say it hasnt been great, its been pretty bad to be honest.

Regarding external hard drives, I recently purchased this Western Digital MyBook Essential Edition 500GB External Hard drive from Amazon for just $177 + shipping, and my experience so far has been great, and Id highly recommend it.

There are a couple other versions of it. The version I have just has USB 2.0 connectivity, but there is the Premium Edition for $229 that has USB 2.0 and Firewire 400.

And the Pro Edition for $239 that has USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 and 800. This version even comes in white, apparently to match up with Macs that mostly use the Firewire 800 it seems.

Hope this helps.
posted by althanis at 9:42 AM on March 2, 2007

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