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Firewire External Hard Drive Review

October 12th, 2009

lacie-firewire-external-hard-drive.jpgAs the demand for backup and storage space has increased over the past few years, more people have begun to use external hard drives as a way of retaining and transporting their all-important files. Finding one with FireWire capabilities is especially important for Mac users because these systems actually use some of the hard drive space as virtual memory to run the operating system. One author at MacWorld.com, for instance, reported that his Mac OS X system uses anywhere from five to nine gigabytes of the hard drive, depending on how many applications are running.

A quick perusal of the listings at Amazon.com and other major retailers confirms that there are many FireWire external hard drives out there, along with a fair number of descriptive and helpful reviews. Some of the names are actually pretty funny. For example, one of them that caught my attention (and is shown in the picture above) is called a “LaCie Rugged All-Terrain 500 GB with FireWire 800, FireWire 400, and USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive”. Although this mouthful of a product name reads more like it could be a description of an automobile tire or off-road vehicle, it is actually getting pretty good reviews at Amazon. One of the top reviewers named Mike “Technology, Music, and Movies” gave it a good rating and mentioned:

This is a great unit that is ideal for those with fire-wire ports built in to their laptops and computers. Unfortunately while most Macs have firewire built in, right now the majority of Windows based laptops do not. That is changing as more PCs are getting them built in. I need drives for several computers, including Mac, Windows, and Linux boxes. Suffice it to say that this drive is definitely a must own if you have a Mac and may even be worth installing a fire-wire card if you have a PC.

Mike went on to write a very comprehensive review of this armored orange and silver box that could easily comprise a separate article or blog post. He recommended that some users may also like the Western Digital My Passport Essential 320 GB model for overall value and best performance. The features and technical specifications on the LaCie drive break down as follows:

  1. 500 GB external hard disk with rugged, shock resistant case
  2. Triple interface including FireWire 800, FireWire 400, and USB 2.0 for speed and universal connectivity
  3. Bus-powered so no bulky power adapter required
  4. Includes one year of online backup service that provides unlimited off-site backup storage
  5. Physical dimensions are 3.5 x 1.0 x 5.7 inches (width x height x depth)
  6. Backed by a 3 year warranty
  7. Model Number: 301371
  8. Capacity: 500 GB
  9. Interface: 1 x FireWire800 (9-pin) port; 1 x FireWire400 (6-pin) port; 1 x mini USB 2.0 port
  10. Rotational speed: 5400 RPM
  11. Data transfer rate: FireWire800: up to 800 Mbps; FireWire400: up to 400 Mbps; USB 2.0: up to 480 Mbps
  12. Burst transfer rate: FireWire800: up to 57 MBps; FireWire400: up to 40 MBps; USB 2.0: up to 36 MBps
  13. Average seek time (write): Less than 12 milliseconds
  14. Cache buffer: 8 MB
  15. Power supply: USB power
  16. System requirements for Windows: Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP (Windows 2000/XP for FireWire800 interface); Pentium II or higher compatible processor (Pentium III or higher compatible processor for FireWire800 interface); 128 MB RAM; available USB 2.0/1.1, FireWire400 or FireWire800 port
  17. System requirements for the Mac: Mac OS 9.x and 10.x (OS 10.x or higher for FireWire800 interface); G3 or greater (G4 or greater for FireWire800 interface); available USB 2.0/1.1, FireWire400 or FireWire800 port
  18. Operating temperature: 41 to 95 degrees F / 5 to 35 degrees C
  19. Dimensions: 3.5 x 1.1 x 5.6 inches / 90 x 27.5 x 142 millimeters (W x H x D)
  20. Weight: 8.82 ounces / 250 grams
  21. Actual Contents of the Box: LaCie Rugged Hard Disk, FireWire 800 cable, FireWire 400 cable, high-speed USB 2.0 cable (USB 1.1 compatible), USB power-sharing cable, and a quick install guide

There are many other brands to look at as well. If you want one of the biggest external hard drives, Seagate is offering its FreeAgent Desk model in a 1.5 TB size that is specifically designed for the Mac. It can hold lots of multimedia applications and includes both FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 connections. The price range on these is around $200 although you might be able to get a discount on this if you manage to find a used or refurbished model.

One of the cheapest FireWire external hard drives that I saw in the listing was a 320 GB model from a company called Verbatim. It was priced at under $100 but had several ominous one-star reviews, including this one from a less-than-thrilled customer in Atlanta, Georgia who described it as “a horrible piece of junk” and elaborated:

I bought this for my son and it failed within two weeks of use. It would not mount either via USB or Firewire. Tech support at my son’s school confirmed that it was useless. Customer service was very polite, but still has not managed to send out a replacement two months after I returned the drive. In short, a crappy product and a model of badly outsourced customer service. Avoid this like a disease. Backup to papyrus instead.

So it seems that most of the time, you really do get what you pay for. Meanwhile, those of you who might have some good ideas about what the best FireWire external hard drive is on the market right now can enlighten us about this in the comment section below.


3 Responses to “Firewire External Hard Drive Review”

  1. comment number 1 by: Jim

    We have had a LaCie HD Quadra 500GB running for close to three years. There have been problems. First, the power supply failed, and a few months later the unit would not boot. In each instance, LaCie tech support was unfailingly excellent. They shipped a replacement power supply asap, and after unit failure, rebuilt it with us incurring only the cost of one-way shipping. We backup several times a week from an iMac G5 PPC with a 250GB internal HD. With this kind of customer service, you can bet we will be looking at LaCie in the near future to replace an older Maxtor that only supports a Firewire400 interface.

  2. comment number 2 by: Bestbuyca

    My External Hard Drive missing space and how to reset to original settings?

  3. comment number 3 by: morisbecon

    Thanks for the information. I would like to suggest a site name for computer parts buying. It will be launch soon.

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