capsule review

FireWire Hard Drives

Once upon a time a floppy was all the additional storage you needed. In the here and now, you may have hundreds of megabytes of files and folders to store and transport. Adding storage to a FireWire-equipped Mac is a snap. In fact, the hardest part may be picking the right external hard drive. Macworld Lab tested five FireWire hard drives and a USB/FireWire drive to help you find the drive that best suits your needs.

FireWire hard drives come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest in dimension, VST's slim drives, are the size of a half sandwich. Although you pay extra for the portability, if you frequently travel between two different FireWire-equipped systems, you may be able to eliminate the need for a laptop. If only one of the systems has FireWire, but the other has USB, VST also makes a drive with both connectors.

Portable drives are more expensive because they use 2.5-inch drives designed for laptops. To shave off size and price, the VST drives do not come with power cords or AC adapters. Instead the drive relies on the power supplied by the FireWire bus. If you plan on using the drive with a PowerBook, you'll have to purchase a CardBus FireWire card and an AC adapter to power the drive, unless you have a PowerBook G3 with built-in FireWire ports. You will also have to purchase an AC adapter if you will be using more than one FireWire-powered device.

Unless portability is a priority, you're better off with a full-size rather than a slim drive. Although full-size drives are more bulky, they can be easier to set up since they come with built-in power adapters. They are also cheaper than slim drives because the standard 3.5-inch mechanisms used in desktop computers are more plentiful.

In terms of performance, while FireWire is substantially faster than USB, none of the FireWire drives we tested could beat the Power Mac G4's internal ATA drive. Of the FireWire drives, AcomData's 30GB FireWire Drive and VST's Full Height 20GB drive came out on top in our 100MB file and folder duplicate tests. Fantom's drive, which uses a Seagate mechanism, was the slowest of the bunch. Tests on VST's Combo Slim drive using its USB interface resulted in unsurprisingly slow performance, taking over five minutes to finish each task. USB maximum throughput is 12Mbs while FireWire is 400Mbs.

The drives all come with software to format and partition your new drive. VST's and AcomData's utilites are based on El Gato's Disk Control application. VST adds the ability to set "hot plug events" which automatically open a document or launch an application when the drive is mounted. Fantom bundles the very adequate Radialogic Storage Master formatter.

There's one caveat with VST's USB/FireWire drive: unfortunately, it's not bootable via USB. Using FireWire, we were able to boot from all of these drives, both when we formatted them with Apple's Drive Setup and the vendor-supplied formatting utility.

FireWire Hard Drives

Best results in bold.
Reference systems in italics.
Shorter is better.
100MB file Duplicate 100MB Folder Duplicate Optimize Disk
VST 10GB Slim Drive 16 21 126
VST 10GB USB/Firewire Combo Slim Drive (Firewire) 17 22 126
VST 10GB USB/Firewire Combo Slim Drive (USB) 317 321 1902
VST 20GB Full Height Drive 14 18 91
Fanton Drives 30GB Firewire Drive 18 24 116
ACOMdATA 30GB Firewire Drive 15 18 93
G4/500 Internal Drive 11 16 70

All times are in seconds. We tested each hardrive with a Power Macintosh G4/500 with Mac OS 9, 128MB of RAM, a default system disk cache of 4MB, and Virtual Memory disabled. We used Norton 5.0.3's speedisk test with verify media disabled for the optimize disk test. --Macworld Lab testing by Ulyssis Bravo

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Small case
    • Can work on desktop systems without an additional power supply

    Cons

    • Expensive
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