External Hard Drive Advice Needed

Discussion in 'Apple' started by Al, Sep 10, 2007.

  1. Al

    Al Guest

    I am considering buying a portable external hard drive with either or
    both USB and Firewire interfaces. However I use Mac OS, Windoze and
    Ubunutu operating systems depending upon the task at hand. When I ask if
    a particular drive will work with all of the OSs, I get a lot of
    waffling from the "experts" who sell them. One such kid, who said he
    uses Ubuntu said that he was not suppposed to tell me! Huh! He could
    only repeat what it says on the box.

    Now I can use flash drives interchangeably with all of these OSs, so why
    not an extrnal hard drive?

    Does anyone have any experience with this?

    Al
     
    Al, Sep 10, 2007
    #1
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  2. Al

    David Empson Guest

    Physically, any USB or Firewire hard drive should work on any of these
    operating systems, assuming you have the appropriate drivers installed
    in the case of Windows (for Firewire) and Linux.

    The only technical problems I can think of are related to power:

    - A bus-powered USB hard drive might try to draw more than 500 mA from
    the USB port, which will only work on a computer which doesn't enforce
    the current limit. (Recent Mac models do enforce this limit, but older
    ones might let you get away with it.) You can sometimes get around this
    with a dual-head USB cable which gets power from a second port.

    - A bus-powered Firewire hard drive won't work on a computer with a
    4-pin Firewire port (Sony "i.Link" connector). You need a 6-pin port for
    Firewire 400. No problem with Macs - they all use full sized ports
    (Firewire 400 and/or Firewire 800).

    Once you get past the hardware, there is an issue of file system
    compatibility, and what you want to do with the drive.

    If you want to wipe and reuse the drive according to the task at hand,
    then no problem.

    If you want a drive which will semi-permanently hold data which can be
    accessed on any platform, you have more problems.

    You will need to select a partitioning scheme which is compatible with
    the operating systems in question, and a file system which is suitable
    for the task you want to perform.

    For cross-platform data transfer, FAT32 on an MBR partitioning scheme is
    the best option (and is the standard for USB flash drives). Things get
    more complicated if you want to deal with files larger than 4 GB,
    volumes larger than Windows likes for FAT32, more efficient or tidier
    storage for Mac OS files (avoiding the "._" droppings for metadata), or
    you need to boot any particular system from the drive.
     
    David Empson, Sep 10, 2007
    #2
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  3. That's called "we've been burnt in the past, and can make no guarantees
    beyond stated facts" and is to be expected. Why should they risk
    providing any conflicting information for a commodity item they make
    only a small amount of profit on?
    A flash drive is a much simpler device, and typically come in sizes
    smaller than the largest allowable (or recommended) FAT32 partition.
    This is an important distinction.

    However, you have some decisions to make:

    Bus-powered or not? Only smaller laptop-sized drives can be reasonably
    bus-powered (unless they are eSATA). Many system refuse to run
    full-bus-powered items (or are physically incapable of doing so), so you
    might have to get a hybrid model that supports both ways. If you choose
    a non-bus-powered device, with its own wall-wart things will be simpler
    (and you can choose from a wider array of devices).

    How much space do you need to have accessible to all systems? If you
    want full read-write access for all systems you list above then you are
    pretty much limited to FAT32, which has certain limitations and caveats
    when used as the basis for larger partition sizes. Or, you can divided
    the drive up into HFS+, FAT32 or whatever you want to use for Linux
    partitions, and only share some of those.

    How fast do you need this to be, and what are the various levels of USB
    and FireWire support you can expect across all systems?

    There may also be chipset/adaptor issues with the specific drive
    enclosures, but most manufacturers all use the same parts. The
    difference is if they bothered to test with a Mac (or Linux). Most of
    the time this will not matter. Until, of course, it does matter, and
    then it matters very, very much.

    As you can see, depending on how many of these decision are important to
    you, the matrix of connections can get very complicated very fast.
     
    Clever Monkey, Sep 10, 2007
    #3
  4. Al

    Al Guest

    OK guys, thanks for the advice. I have more questions.

    What does the external drive like like to the OSs? Does it look like HD4
    or something of that nature in Linux, and D: in Windoze, or what in Mac
    OS?

    The flash drives look like folders. So does the external USB drive look
    like a folder on the desktop?

    Al
     
    Al, Sep 10, 2007
    #4
  5. Al

    Tim Murray Guest

    Not at all.
     
    Tim Murray, Sep 10, 2007
    #5
  6. Al

    Adam Guest

    A USB 2.0, externally powered, FAT32 formatted drive would work best
    as the posts above mentioned. Windows and Mac OS will be plug and
    play, it'll pop up on the desktop in Mac and it'll show up in My
    Computer on Windows.

    But... I just tried this using Ubuntu ( x86, latest version ), and in
    order to see the external usb drive I had to manually run the 'mount'
    command. The external box I'm using is a cheap $30 external USB/
    Firewire 3.5" case - shows up as a PI-035 in System Profiler on OS X.
    Basically, I had to create a folder in my Ubuntu homedir, mounted the
    external drive to that folder, and then I could browse the drive by
    going to that folder in my home dir. It's not a big deal, but one
    extra step you may have to do in Linux to 'see' the drive and your
    data.
     
    Adam, Sep 11, 2007
    #6
  7. Al

    Al Guest


    Thanks, lots of good info here. The next, and hopefully the last
    question is: What vendor's drives have worked best for you? Maxtor,
    Seagate, IBM, Quantum, ...... ? I've seen some inexpensive USB enable
    drives for sale at Staples, for example. The prices seem to vary by
    vendor more then by capacity.

    Al
     
    Al, Sep 11, 2007
    #7
  8. Al

    Al Guest


    Thank you all. I must say I never had a hard drive fail on me. And I
    bought my first "real" computer in 1986, a MacPlus with a 20MB external
    drive. I do back up all of my data weekly anyway. I used to burn CDs,
    now I burn DVDs. But they don't have enough capacity nowadays. Damn
    progress ;-)

    BTW, threre will be more failures of hard drives as the world switches
    from lead based solder to tin based solder. The dreaded tin whisker
    problem will resurface. And I have been told that some hard drives have
    been failing lately due to the tin whisker problem. Ah, again, progress!

    Al
     
    Al, Sep 12, 2007
    #8
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