Portable Hard Drive Recs
April 28, 2008 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Need recommendations for portable hard drives. The reviews on newegg and amazon are too rah rah or doomsday.

I would like to get a 250GB portable hard drive to dump my RAW and PSD files and my music files into so as to free up space on my main computer hard drive. I've been looking at the LaCie portables. Most of the reviews on newegg and amazon are either 'this is fantastic' or 'this thing is crap it died in two days'. I have no way to judge criteria other than what I read in those reviews. Does anyone have any experience with the LaCie hard drives or other brands that may be more reliable/better deals? I need something that is easy to set up and will be reliable over the long term. It is just a dumping ground - back up.
posted by spicynuts to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: kalessin...these will be USB capable, like the portables? I should have specified that I guess.
posted by spicynuts at 9:25 AM on April 28, 2008

I have a 500 GB western digital "mybook". It connects either by USB(2) or FireWire 400. Western Digital drives have a long history of being very solid. I've had this for about a year now, I drop raw images and backup my mp3s on it. The -only- issue I have with it is that after a period of time of the drive not being used, when you attempt to access it, the drive has to spin up again. This saves life, so I'm not too concerned. It's a backup and only goes to sleep after not being used.
posted by grahamux at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, the crap/fantastic angle tends to be true for each person's personal experience.

I first had a LaCie Porsche drive that was a lemon right out of the box. Two very long customer service calls went nowhere, and on the third call the guy immediately told me it was probably a lemon and to take it back for an exchange. (I had zero experience with external drives at this point). I exchanged it for the exact same model, and have been using it successfully for around 3 years now without a single problem.

They're the kind of item that are fantastic when they work, and junk when they don't. There's not a lot of gray area other than size, design, USB vs. Firewire, etc.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2008

I've always built my own and have had good luck that way. I'm not an expert at all. But the problem, as I see it, is that you can't tell what kind of drive goes into the enclosure. I've had really bad luck with certain brands (samsung) and really good luck with certain brands (well, a certain brand, seagate). Not scientific, but so far, knock on wood, no problems with seagate. So I always buy their drives, and a decent enclosure from Newegg. So far, so good.

The thing to remember is that all drives are going to fail, horribly and totally, at some point. So you need to have everything backed up, at minimum, in 2 places, and hopefully dvds squirrelled away somewhere as you go.
posted by sully75 at 9:32 AM on April 28, 2008

The Seagate drives I bought have always been extremely reliable. *knocks on wood* One is a 60GB, the other is 500 - with the latter being used as my dumping ground for similar content. I've never had any problems with the brand, so it's up there on my recommendation list. A lot of people I've met (I work with computers) have horror stories about Western Digital, and while I've never had a WD drive myself, the look of haunted frustration in their eyes keeps me from trying.

Not at all familiar with the Lacies, however. Sorry!
posted by Bakuun at 9:37 AM on April 28, 2008

I've always just bought the packaged seagate external usb drives. I have a stack of them. I have never had any problems with them. Frye's usually has them fairly reasonably priced.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:37 AM on April 28, 2008

I have only ever had 2 external hard-drives (I upgraded when my size demand changed). Both were Maxtor. I have had absolutely not one second of a problem with the Maxtor drives. They are very sturdy, they look great, fast and reliable and they come attached with their own power adapter which means they can be used anywhere in the world without having to change voltage (a friend of mine blew up his Japan bought hard-drive in the UK because he forgot the voltage difference).

My oldest hard drive was an 80GB Maxtor and has been running smoothly now for almost 5 years.

I say go for a bigger drive that 250GB. There are now 500GB and 1000GB (1 Terabyte) drives available - you never know when you'll need more...
posted by 0bvious at 9:42 AM on April 28, 2008

One problem with an enclosure and separate HD is getting warranty can be a pain. The HD co. may claim it's the enclosure's fault, and the other way around.

Unfortunately, the crap/fantastic angle tends to be true for each person's personal experience.

Echoed for truth. Hard drives typically fall into two categories: either they don't work (1*) or they do work (5*, rah rah!!). Unlike other components where you can see the affect, HDs are normally a 1/0 proposition.

Every HD company is going to have its naysayers and fanbois, with the former usually based on a single epic crash. On someplace like Newegg, the best way is to filter out those kind of comments and look for specific nuggets (The HD never shuts off. I can't share certain kind of files over the network. I can't format this HD to NTFS. etc).

That said, I do use 4 500gig Lacie HDs at work that I use for backup purposes and am continuously transporting them between work and an offsite location. They have yet to fail me.
posted by jmd82 at 9:46 AM on April 28, 2008

Nth building your own. I got a WD 250GB drive from Woot.com and an Adaptec enclosure. It's worked like a charm for the last two and a half years.
posted by reenum at 9:48 AM on April 28, 2008

Also, the warranties for a the pre-packaged (in Western Digital's case) hard-drives differ from the warranty term for a hard-drive that you would purchase to build a storage solution on your own.
posted by Upal at 9:58 AM on April 28, 2008

Re: the WD 250GB drive... There's a coupon code for a WD MyPassport 250GB drive for $104 available here.
posted by dondiego87 at 10:00 AM on April 28, 2008

I also recommend building your own because it's cheaper, but I don't see how it solves the problem of knowing what to get. Whenever I look up reviews for internal drives (the kind you'd be sticking in an external enclosure) I see the same very good/horrid split. You even see lots of "every [brand] drive I've ever had has died!" versus "I swear by [brand]." The only think I can recommend is to look at the warranties. I know that at least for internal drives Seagate usually has five-year warranties, which is long.

Other objective criteria (while we're at it) that you might care about are noise levels and whether the drive or enclosure has an on/off button.
posted by trig at 10:20 AM on April 28, 2008

Good experiences with Lacie Porsche. Had mine for 3 years now and haven't encountered a single hitch. It's been kicked around and been half way around the world, and it's still going. Looks nice too.
posted by fire&wings at 10:22 AM on April 28, 2008

I've been carrying this one for six months and have had no problems. It's tiny and it weighs nothing. I very often forget that it's in my bag. I use it for my Time Machine backups.
posted by popechunk at 10:34 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got this Lacie about six months ago and I've been very happy with it!
posted by rmless at 10:45 AM on April 28, 2008

Most of the reviews on newegg and amazon are either 'this is fantastic' or 'this thing is crap it died in two days'.

Unless something big happens in hard drive design, this will pretty much always be the case for hard drives.

As jmd82 said, when you buy a hard drive, one of two things will usually happen:

1. It will work for several years with no problems. By the time it dies a painful death it will be obsolete and you will want a larger faster drive anyway.

2. It will fail out of the box or (more likely), it will fail within a few days of use.

People who get #1s write glowing reviews, people who get #2s write terrible reviews. Yes, different manufacturers have different failure rates (the infamous "DeathStar" drive, for example, failed at a significantly higher than normal rate).

In my opinion, the best solution is to buy from a place with a good return policy, work the drive as hard as you can for the first week or so, and send it back if it fails.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:46 AM on April 28, 2008

Most of the reviews on newegg and amazon are either 'this is fantastic' or 'this thing is crap it died in two days'.

What do you expect people to say? Release internal testing statistics?

What you should do is accept that fact that a HD can completely die at any time. So instead of buying one blessed by useless anecdotal "wisdom of crowds" you buy two and use that second one as your backup. Really quite simple.

I work with a lot of drives. They are all dying. There is no good manufacturer and usually the deviation between runs on models (not to mention we have no idea what your typical usage is, your ave temp, etc) is more than enough to make this a crapshoot.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:46 AM on April 28, 2008

Response by poster: This is all fantastic advice, people. Thanks. Damn Dirty Ape...I understand that all hard drives are dying..this is why I want a back up drive for my main HD on my computer.
posted by spicynuts at 11:02 AM on April 28, 2008

Here are my data points [[knock on wood]]:

  • I have a 500 GB WD MyBook that was cheaper than many similar 250 GB drives from other manufacturers, and I've had no trouble with it so far.

  • Have installed two brand-new WD drives in my time to supplement storage space on computers with existing WD drives. Neither has failed yet.

  • I ran my first PC into the ground, leaving it on for something like five years straight (nights included, only restarting, almost never shutting down) until some random component failed (haven't had time to test which yet). The one component I know for a fact didn't fail? The original 60 GB WD hard drive.

  • I've only had one WD hard drive fail, and that was the OEM drive on a 2001-era PowerMac G4 tower that had been left on almost constantly for approximately six years. And even then, it didn't fail completely—just limped along, clicked intermittently and beachballed a lot.

  • posted by limeonaire at 11:14 AM on April 28, 2008

    I used to be a build-it-myself guy, but there's little difference now in pricing.

    Latest drives I am happy with are the 500GB Buffalo external (Samsung drive). Quiet, runs cool. Got it for around $110 after rebate. Zero problems.
    posted by omnidrew at 12:09 PM on April 28, 2008

    Is price an issue? If not, the G-Tech G-Raid Mini is very, very good and very, very small. It's also very, very expensive. They're made for video streaming and are extremely fast.

    If you only need a 250GB one, you could get the much smaller and cheaper G-Drive Mini, which isn't quite as fast but should still be more than what you need it for. Plus they look really cute.

    My uncle's got many, many gigabytes of RAWs backed up on a few G-Tech drives and he's never had a problem with any of them.

    By the way - my mother, my father, my uncle, and two of my friends have all had (multiple) Lacies die on them. For what it's worth though, in all but one cases it was the enclosure, not the actual drive. I just swapped the drive over into another enclosure and they worked fine.

    I've had a Freecom 800GB one for a year or so now - it's very good so far.

    Apart from that... *shrug* All feedback suggests that they're mostly the same really, but that's the grand total of my experience.
    posted by Magnakai at 12:11 PM on April 28, 2008

    Response by poster: People..thanks for the input..I went a ahead and bought this.

    I figured if I could get 320GB for the same price I could get 250, and all HDs pretty much are the same, I might as well get 320.
    posted by spicynuts at 12:27 PM on April 28, 2008

    The reviews are always a crap shoot because external HDs are a crap shoot. Don't worry about the drive or manufacturer too much. Instead worry about the return policy of the store. If it drops dead in 30 days you want fast, low hassle turn around. Newegg certain meets this criteria.
    posted by chairface at 1:20 PM on April 28, 2008

    I used to be in the "buy the drive and box separately" camp, but the latest sale prices on WD Passport drives were just too low to ignore. I got a 320 GB USB 2.0 (my old one was USB and FireWire, but alas) for about 130 bucks from Buy.com.

    Problem is, drives have gotten cheaper, but a good MacAlly enclosure is still expensive.
    posted by CipherSwarm at 5:04 PM on April 28, 2008

    Everyone has different opinions. My experience is that my maxtors failed and my WD drives have been good to me. Reading above you'll get the exact opposite opinion.

    The end result is that any drive can fail, the only way to protect your data fully is to make sure you always have backups.

    Name brand hardware is all going to be pretty good, but the odd exception occurs. My opinion would be to get one which comes with decent backup software, like the WD drive I bought recently. Makes backup quick and easy, takes about 5 minutes to update the archive of my work computer and if it fails, I will immediately go and get another drive and do the backup again.
    posted by tomble at 5:57 PM on April 28, 2008

    I found it cheaper to buy a 1TB MyBook than buy a WD 1TB SATA drive by itself, FWIW. It worked fine as a USB drive (although slow thanks to USB2 limitations) before I cracked it open to use it as an internal drive.

    One can occasionally find good enclosures (read: ones with good ventilation) inexpensively, but they're often $30-$40 on their own.
    posted by wierdo at 1:01 AM on April 29, 2008

    If you roll your own, go with the Antec MX-100, it's an awesome enclosure. I have two and an offbrand enclosure that was cheaper, the offbrand one is already dying.
    posted by bertrandom at 2:16 AM on April 30, 2008

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