When buying an external hard drive for your Mac you have numerous options, and price ranges, so its important to know what you are buying. Features like warranty, shock absorption and physical size are all factors can effect the price an external hard drive. However there is one feature that effects performance and that is how it connects to your Mac. The most popular connections are FireWire and USB 2.0. All new Macs include USB 2.0. All current iMacs, MacBook Pros and Mac minis included Firewire 800 as an alternative to USB 2.0. Only the MacBook Air lacks FireWire. Many new hard drives advertise USB 3.0 however Apple has not included USB 3.0 on any computers so this is not an important consideration when purchasing an external hard drive for a Mac.
So what’s the difference between USB 2.0 and FireWire 800? It all comes down to speed. MacWorld recently tested a LaCie D2 hard drive using both USB 2.0 and FireWire 800. The test was performed on the same Mac, same hard drive, just different cable connecting the hard drive to the Mac. Based on the MacWorld testing the FireWire 800 connection was at least twice as fast in all read/write tests.
So what do the tests mean?
Write speeds refer to how fast files are copied to the hard drive. For example, backing up your internal hard drive.
Read speeds refer to how fast files a copied off the hard drive. For example, copying a group of photos from the external hard drive to the internal hard drive of your Mac.
For backups the 2GB Folder tests is a best test to gauge performance. This test is copying many different files that add up to 2GB of total size.
For people doing video the 2GB file test (a single file) is significant because video files are typically large files.
See the chart below for complete speed test results. For all tests the larger number is better.
We strongly recommend purchasing a hard drive, like the LaCie D2, with FireWire 800 if you are using the drive for backing up large amounts of data, photography, and video editing. If you are simply using the drive to storage a few files or for small backups a less expensive USB 2.0 hard drive will be sufficient. Visit any of our stores to get more advice on your external hard drive needs.