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External Hard Drive Suggestions

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October 28, 2010 1:56:24 AM

I need to pick up a new external Hard Drive. I've got an old MyBook of some kind from WD that I've been using, but I told my mother that I was planning to get a new one soon and that the next time I saw her I would give her my old one.

But this time I don't want to rush into a decision and pick up a hard drive on a whim. I'm the type who likes to buy something right the first time and then be satisfied with the purchase. Nothing I hate worse than realizing I'd have been happier waiting for X or buying Z instead.

So. There's all sorts of things to consider and my various google searches for relevant information have either not been helpful or have provided conflicting information.

I do not want a SSD because of the high cost and low storage. If I need something that fast I can pick one up at a later time.

I am not sure if I want a portable hard drive or one of the versions meant to sit around on a Desktop most of the time. I do carry mine around a good bit, and will continue to do so, but I don't want that to be a huge consideration.

I know that eSATA is faster than USB 2.0, but fewer computers have this option. Also USB 3.0 is out now and supposedly awesome but I hear that it is still too new and therefore buggy and not extremely effective (yet).

If I just get a standard USB 2.0 connection is that going to be the bottleneck if the drive itself is, say, 7200 rpm? Or is the drive the bottleneck? I have heard both things from various websites.

I am currently looking at the Western Digital Elements series of hard drives because I like the matte black look they have and it's my understanding that they don't come with a bunch of extraneous/unwanted software. I do not want software on my hard drive but the look is not vital.

Specifically I am looking at the WD Elements Portable 500GB from Target for a mere 70 dollars.

But I'm frustrated because I can't figure out what the difference in that one and the SE versions of the same drive are. Even the WD website seems mum on the topic. I want to know the details about what I'm buying so I can make a more informed decision.

Will I notice a real difference if I am running a program of some kind from an external on USB2 vs. USB3? I know the read/write speeds are different but not sure how that affects program usage.

Would I be better off picking up a Desktop type External now with USB3.0 and waiting for a while to get a more Portable one until those also offer (1) good looks, (2) small size, and (3) USB3 in one package?

Sorry for all the questions, but I get frustrated when I'm trying to buy things like this. I end up wanting to say "forget tech altogether" if I buy something then realize there was this other product for 20 bucks more that I'd have liked so much better and would have lasted longer before being obsolete, etc.

So I don't want to simply ask "What should I buy?" I want to ask what to buy, and why it's a good choice with maybe a pros/cons comment. Not to mention that I'd appreciate any links to articles explaining the terminology I mentioned being unclear on, but that's beside the point.

Thank you in advance for any advice,
CT

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October 28, 2010 9:29:51 PM
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First off, you can get a 640GB SE edition from newegg for $5 more in shipping (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136739&cm_re=wd_portable-_-22-136-739-_-Product).

It appears that SE is purely a capacity distinction. Most likely this refers (internally) to the number of platters or the density on each platter. The non-SE versions go from 250-500GB, while the SE versions go from 500-1TB. I'm guessing SE has one more platter (which might make the drive a little bit thicker/heavier). Don't wrack your brains over it. Here's WD's comparison page, the only difference is the capacity for the Elements (http://www.wdc.com/en/products/index.asp?cat=9).

Now, as for the interface (which is your big dilemma I'm assuming). If you buy big-name manufacturer (Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba), you'll probably be stuck with USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. They don't really seem to combine them in a convenient USB 3.0/eSATA package (WD offers 1 drive on Newegg with eSATA, Seagate offers none). Yes, you can get USB 2.0/eSATA combos from other companies, but if you go with a company like Buffalo or Cavalry, you're on your own (and at that point, I'd recommend getting an enclosure and hard drive and putting your own together).

Question: Do you currently have eSATA on your computer? If not, avoid it. Chances are, you won't have it anywhere you need it. If you do have it, you can consider an eSATA drive. eSATA does have the benefit of functioning just like an internally-connected SATA drive, fast speeds and low overhead (USB induces overhead, you'll never see full-speed transfers, but USB 3.0 has lots of room for overhead).

If you don't have eSATA now, I would stick with USB. This leaves you with USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0. First off, 3.0 is backwards-compatible with 2.0, you won't have compatibility issues, you just may not find a lot of USB 3.0 interfaces out there just yet. I would get a USB 3.0 drive anyway, like this 500GB WD My Passport: ($90 + $5 shipping http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136750). No its not matte-black, they make the passports shiny for some reason. It's a little more expensive, but a year from now if you get a new computer with USB 3.0, you won't be upset using a slower USB 2.0 interface.

As for bandwidth issues, yes, USB 2.0 will be the bottleneck. Harddrives have been faster than USB 2.0's roughly 40MB/s limit for some time now. USB 2.0 is fast enough to allow you to stream a single HD-movie, but you probably won't want to play games installed on it. For running programs, the difference is how much data must be loaded off the drive during run-time. Most productivity applications probably won't show much of a difference (i.e. Firefox and Office should run fine over USB 2.0). They'll be a little slower at start-up (maybe not noticeably), but they don't interact with the harddrive much while running. Games tend to load a lot off the harddrive. This can have an impact on performance when using a slower interface. If you do things like edit home movies, you will see a difference between 2.0 and 3.0. USB 3.0 is already proving 3-4 times faster than 2.0 (http://www.tomsguide.com/us/USB-3.0-speed,review-1587.html).

Think about it this way, the more data to be copied, the better USB 3.0 is than USB 2.0. It's like your internet connection. 1.5mbps DSL is just fine for checking email, updating facebook, and whatnot, but 20mbps cable is much better when downloading games and streaming movies. The same for USB 2.0 vs. 3.0. you might find that USB 2.0 is fast enough for most things like streaming MP3s or even watching an HD-movie. But when you have to copy 1000 mp3s or a 2GB movie or load a game, that's when you'll notice the difference.

In the end, if you want to stick to big-name brands, you really only have the USB 2.0/3.0 option. I would go with a 2.5" USB 3.0 (like that WD MyPassport I linked to). Even if you currently have no 3.0-capable computers, it will run over 2.0, and be ready for 3.0 when you get it. The smaller 2.5" size means no power-brick and its more portable. You get more storage with a 3.5" drive, but it requires a second power supply and is bigger and less portable (not a problem if you don't carry it with you all the time and don't need it on the go).

Another, more risky option is to buy from a lesser-known company that offers eSATA/USB combos or to buy an eSATA/USB or USB 3.0 enclosure and put your own harddrive inside. However, this is hit-and-miss. The lesser-knowns may not have sleep/suspend modes (thus the harddrive is always running), and sometimes an interface will drop dead on you. This can induce headaches that can be avoided with a product from a well-known company with a good warranty (all products can fail, but 2 years from now, you'll know that 3-year WD warranty is still good).

I hope this helps and doesn't just bore you to death.
October 28, 2010 11:41:55 PM

Best answer selected by Cheddartrek.
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October 29, 2010 4:39:37 AM

Doesn't bore me to death at all -- got a lot of great information. For me there is no such thing as too much information. I like having it so I can make a good decision.

Great post!
August 6, 2011 1:16:02 PM

I have a esata on my computer, and I am thinking of adding a USB3 card. I am interested primarily in data transfer speed. If I am not going to pick up a lot of speed, I may as well stick with esata since I have it already and don't need to bother adding a card. So, which will be faster for transferring data, USB3 or esata? Thanks.



hellwig said:
First off, you can get a 640GB SE edition from newegg for $5 more in shipping (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136739&cm_re=wd_portable-_-22-136-739-_-Product).

It appears that SE is purely a capacity distinction. Most likely this refers (internally) to the number of platters or the density on each platter. The non-SE versions go from 250-500GB, while the SE versions go from 500-1TB. I'm guessing SE has one more platter (which might make the drive a little bit thicker/heavier). Don't wrack your brains over it. Here's WD's comparison page, the only difference is the capacity for the Elements (http://www.wdc.com/en/products/index.asp?cat=9).

Now, as for the interface (which is your big dilemma I'm assuming). If you buy big-name manufacturer (Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba), you'll probably be stuck with USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. They don't really seem to combine them in a convenient USB 3.0/eSATA package (WD offers 1 drive on Newegg with eSATA, Seagate offers none). Yes, you can get USB 2.0/eSATA combos from other companies, but if you go with a company like Buffalo or Cavalry, you're on your own (and at that point, I'd recommend getting an enclosure and hard drive and putting your own together).

Question: Do you currently have eSATA on your computer? If not, avoid it. Chances are, you won't have it anywhere you need it. If you do have it, you can consider an eSATA drive. eSATA does have the benefit of functioning just like an internally-connected SATA drive, fast speeds and low overhead (USB induces overhead, you'll never see full-speed transfers, but USB 3.0 has lots of room for overhead).

If you don't have eSATA now, I would stick with USB. This leaves you with USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0. First off, 3.0 is backwards-compatible with 2.0, you won't have compatibility issues, you just may not find a lot of USB 3.0 interfaces out there just yet. I would get a USB 3.0 drive anyway, like this 500GB WD My Passport: ($90 + $5 shipping http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136750). No its not matte-black, they make the passports shiny for some reason. It's a little more expensive, but a year from now if you get a new computer with USB 3.0, you won't be upset using a slower USB 2.0 interface.

As for bandwidth issues, yes, USB 2.0 will be the bottleneck. Harddrives have been faster than USB 2.0's roughly 40MB/s limit for some time now. USB 2.0 is fast enough to allow you to stream a single HD-movie, but you probably won't want to play games installed on it. For running programs, the difference is how much data must be loaded off the drive during run-time. Most productivity applications probably won't show much of a difference (i.e. Firefox and Office should run fine over USB 2.0). They'll be a little slower at start-up (maybe not noticeably), but they don't interact with the harddrive much while running. Games tend to load a lot off the harddrive. This can have an impact on performance when using a slower interface. If you do things like edit home movies, you will see a difference between 2.0 and 3.0. USB 3.0 is already proving 3-4 times faster than 2.0 (http://www.tomsguide.com/us/USB-3.0-speed,review-1587.html).

Think about it this way, the more data to be copied, the better USB 3.0 is than USB 2.0. It's like your internet connection. 1.5mbps DSL is just fine for checking email, updating facebook, and whatnot, but 20mbps cable is much better when downloading games and streaming movies. The same for USB 2.0 vs. 3.0. you might find that USB 2.0 is fast enough for most things like streaming MP3s or even watching an HD-movie. But when you have to copy 1000 mp3s or a 2GB movie or load a game, that's when you'll notice the difference.

In the end, if you want to stick to big-name brands, you really only have the USB 2.0/3.0 option. I would go with a 2.5" USB 3.0 (like that WD MyPassport I linked to). Even if you currently have no 3.0-capable computers, it will run over 2.0, and be ready for 3.0 when you get it. The smaller 2.5" size means no power-brick and its more portable. You get more storage with a 3.5" drive, but it requires a second power supply and is bigger and less portable (not a problem if you don't carry it with you all the time and don't need it on the go).

Another, more risky option is to buy from a lesser-known company that offers eSATA/USB combos or to buy an eSATA/USB or USB 3.0 enclosure and put your own harddrive inside. However, this is hit-and-miss. The lesser-knowns may not have sleep/suspend modes (thus the harddrive is always running), and sometimes an interface will drop dead on you. This can induce headaches that can be avoided with a product from a well-known company with a good warranty (all products can fail, but 2 years from now, you'll know that 3-year WD warranty is still good).

I hope this helps and doesn't just bore you to death.

August 8, 2011 3:39:37 PM

dwess said:
I have a esata on my computer, and I am thinking of adding a USB3 card. I am interested primarily in data transfer speed. If I am not going to pick up a lot of speed, I may as well stick with esata since I have it already and don't need to bother adding a card. So, which will be faster for transferring data, USB3 or esata? Thanks.


First, let me say that unless you plan to use an SDD, the harddrive will be the limiting factor regardless of interface. If you plan to use an HDD, just stick with e-sata. Even if you use an SDD, you'll be hard-pressed to saturate the 3gbps afforded by SATA2 (assuming that's what you have).

Now, I don't have any hard benchmarks (you might search the Tom's archives), but I am pretty certain 3gbps e-Sata (assuming that's what you have) will be faster than 5gbps USB3 for file transfers. The difference lies in the communication protocol. USB is a shared-bus architecture, and even if you only have 1 device on the bus, there's a lot of overhead that saps away transfer speed. Add on to that the fact that many devices don't support the full 5gbps, and the fact that if you're using a motherboard with PCIe 1.0 or 2.0, you'd need at least a x4 slot just to handle the full 5gbps of a USB3 add-in card (so if you're looking at an x1 add-on card, you'll be limited to your PCIe bandwidth), and you're quickly eating away at USB 3.0s bitrate advantage.

Of course, I'm assuming your e-Sata port is wired on your board with the proper bandwidth, but it's probably on there using a single PCIe channel, so if your board only has PCIe 1.0, it will be limited to 2gbps. I'm also assuming you have SATA2 (3gbps) and not SATA1 (1.5gbps).

However, even SATA1 at 1.5gbps will provide you with 150MB/s of max theoretical throughput. You could transfer a full single-layer DVD in under 30 seconds at that rate.

Just to make my point, the old Western Digital Raptor line of HDDs (the fastest HDDs of their time) used the old SATA1 1.5gbps interface until 2008. While the speed of HDDs has increased since then, even the new Velociraptor line, using SATA2, does not have more than double the performance of the old Raptors, so it wouldn't saturate the SATA2 interface.

Tom's benchmarks have shown some SDDs reaching transfer rates of 200+ MBps (2gbps), but I'm assuming that if you're looking for external storage, you are not going to pay $400 for a higj-performance 64GB SDD when $100 will buy you a 2TB HDD, but I've given the facts as I understand them, the choice is yours.
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