USB 2.0 or not to – that is the question?

From time to time I get emails asking for suggestions and advice. I always respond and am happy to do so, but with this one from Darren I thought I would open it up for discussion, as I think the topic is one that many will be considering as we approach the launch of Leopard.

Darren’s Story

It’s my birthday soon. This year I’ve really wracked my brains to see what Mac gadget I can convince my wife to buy me.

So I’ve decided to try and get my back-up strategy/plan up to date and purchase an external hard drive maybe even two!

I don’t push a lot of data (is that the correct term?). I don’t buy a lot of music online, instead sticking to conventional CD. But one thing I do have is an expanding iPhoto library.

I own a MacBook 60GB Intel Core Duo. It’s currently running with approximately 30GB free. So I’m not bursting at the seams yet! What I want to be able to do is have a fool proof plan in place if I was ever to lose my digital pics.

Here’s my predicament… what to buy?

Firewire 400, 800, ESATA, USB 2.0 so many choices? After a bit of digging around I quickly realized that USB 2.0 drives are significantly cheaper than their Firewire cousins. 50% cheaper in some cases!

After discovering this, I quickly calculated I could afford to buy two USB drives for the price of one Firewire drive. This would mean I could mirror my back-ups for extra protection. But then again, FIrewire has always had the reputation of being better and faster, but more expensive.

Currently I back-up to DVD’s using Backup from Apple. This seems to work OK for me. But a back-up is only ever really tested when it’s executed.

So I thought I’d ask you the faithful. What would you recommend? What do you do for Back-ups currently?

Important factors to consider are:

• 1 x 500GB Firewire drive, or

• 2 x 250GB USB 2.0 drive

• Needs to be a Bootable drive (Have heard conflicting reports about USB 2.0 being bootable)

• Reliable Brand

• RPM – do I need to worry/what should I get?

• Software

Any comments very much appreciated.

My Views

The old adage is true – buy as big and as best you can with this type of technology.

Personally I would go with the 500GB Firwire, for the speed, capacity and ability to reboot. I would use something like Super Duper to clone your Mac, and make it bootable when you do so.

Additionally I would copy all of my photos (and any other content) to DVD and make two copies, one for the house and one for off site.

Why so much capacity – well your digital library is only going to grow. There is a good chance that your next Mac will be in addition to your current one (even if you have no plans for that at the moment it just sort of sneaks up on you) and it will be useful to be able to fully back them both up. Leopard’s Time Machine will swallow up a lot of space if you allow (or want) it to.

Brand wise I like LaCie, especially the USB and Firewire Hub models as it is always useful to have more ports available.

One other thing to consider is your Workflow for your photographs. What I do is copy every new picture onto the Mac. I then copy them all over to the external drive and IF they are vitally important I copy them straight to a CD/DVD. If they are not that critical I wait until I have enough on the external drive to fill a CD/DVD and I make two copies. One I keep in the apartment, one I keep away from the apartment. I do this before I do any editing and before I delete any of the pictures off the camera.

What are your views and suggestions?

And Happy Birthday – July is a good month to have been born!!!

30 thoughts on “USB 2.0 or not to – that is the question?

  1. Wayne LeFevre

    Agreed. August is it.

    Back to it. I am considering myself the LaCie 500G USB 2 drive from MacMall. Why the USB? One, this is a 500G HD at less than $120. I know it won’t be the speediest, but I want to hook it up to the USB port of my 802.11n Airport Extreme. Currently I have a 160Gig on there, and it works fantastic. Everyone in the house can access the data on it.

    That being said, if I was to hook it up to my computer, I would agree with everything Chris said. Most often, any enclosure with firewire will most likely also have a USB port on it. ESATA is king, but we probably won’t see that until the next generation of Macs. I have a WeibeTech 250G connected by FW800 on my iMac. Not sure if the MacBook has an 800 port on it, but it’s pretty darn quick. Personally, I would stick with 7200 RPM with at least 8Meg of cache.

    Good Luck!

  2. Mac Sokulski

    Personally I’m partial to raid NAS storage systems myself. They are not cheap, but give the extra protection of a RAID system, and now most have hot swappable drives. Recently I’ve acquired a Seagate FreeAgent Pro.
    This a very nice drive, with all the connection options you might want. Stylish as well.
    As for backup…. I’ve been using superduper, but unless I’m mistaken, if you want to make your backup drive bootable, then you will have to assign the whole drive to the backup. So doing a 60gb backup on a 500gb drive using superduper is waste of space.
    I’m still looking for good reliable backup program for my mac.

  3. Mac Sokulski

    I was going to look at it in depth, but got side tracked rebuilding my MacPro. It’s on my lengthy todo list.

  4. Wayne LeFevre

    That is what I originally did with the WeibeTech. On the Mac mini I only had 80 Gig, so I partitioned the 250 Gig drive with a 90 Gig partition strictly for backup. Using SuperDuper, I could clone the whole drive into the partition, also making it bootable. After the initial clone, I would then do incrementals with a little extra space on the drive for any other kind of temporary backup.

  5. Mac Sokulski

    I’m currently looking at memeo LifeAgent. This looks very promising, according to the writeup on their page, and it’s not that expensive either. Of course a full 30 day demo is available.

  6. Mac Sokulski

    Wow. So far I’m very very impressed. LifeAgent seems to be working as advertised. I have it set to keep upto 2 versions of my files and it does. I just edited a document that was initially backed up, and upon saving and overwriting the original file, I can go back to LifeAgent and restore the original. Right now I have it set to backup my document folder, and the moment I save a file there it gets backed up. So if I delete it by accident, I can recover it moments later.Pretty impressive if you ask me. Some more testing to be done, and I think I’m ready to plop down the 29.95 they ask. Try it out, it’s pretty slick.

  7. Wayne LeFevre

    @Mac, Define what LifeAgent does, and what differences in other programs, please. I’m interested, but wary with Leopard on the horizon.

  8. Chris Marshall Post author

    Wait for the big cat would be my advice 🙂 At the very least see what that does for you before spending your hard earned!!!

  9. Mac Sokulski

    LifeAgent seems to be like Time Machine. I haven’t seen Time Machine, so I don’t know the details, settings etc. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to LifeAgent when Leopard comes out, and how will it differ from Time Machine. They do have a 30 day demo of it, fully functional that you can try. From the limited testing I’ve done so far, it seems to be working quite nicely.
    There are people in this group that should be able to say something more about TM (if they can). I just wish that I found this program earlier.

  10. Chris Marshall Post author

    Hmmm – that would be me then!!! You remember Cover Flow, great third party application one day then ‘bang’ it’s incorporated into iTunes……..

    Now I think it would be fair to assume that Apple are ‘cherry picking’ all the best bits from the market for Leopard wouldn’t you?

    I really can’t see anything in this thread that wouldn’t make me wait for Leopard.

  11. David Sparks


    I currently use 2 usb drives and SuperDuper to back things up and they work just fine. This wasn’t any sort of intentional plan but more a consequence of finding very good deals on external USB drives. When I bought the second I thought about Firewire but I saved about $100 going with USB 2.0 and that was compelling for me. Using a licensed copy of SuperDuper which allows for smart update it really doesn’t take long to mirror your drive so long as you do it regularly. I keep one at the office and one at home. That way if either place burns down, I’m okay. You don’t get that with a single firewire drive.

    Another point. Regardless of which drive you get you will want to partition it with the first partition to match your HD space and the second for random other media and storage. Again this makes me think you should get 2 drives because the other bits on the second partition will not have a backup unless you do.


  12. Mac Sokulski

    The only problem is that Leopard is months away. So for now we have to do with what we got. I’m really curious if TM takes over a whole drive (I’m assuming it needs a separate drive for backups), or can it use a folder or network drive?

  13. Chris Marshall Post author

    @Mac: Time Machine can be set up to back up to a folder on the same drive, or an dexternal drive. Haven’t got a network drive so can’t say that for sure but I think it can – the theory being that you can have one huge network drive and TM all your Mac’s to separate folders or partitions on the Network drive.

    @David: I have done that, it is a good point!

  14. darren rolfe

    @MAC… I have heard good things about the Seagate Free Agent Pro.

    And unsually they come with a 5yr warranty.

    Unheard of these days!!

    Also had my eye on Western Digital MyBook range.

  15. darren rolfe

    @ Dave… thanks for taking time to come on over to and sharing your two penneth on your back-up arrangements.

    Yes the price difference is very attractive! It’s interesting to see you have been using USB 2.0 and not had any speed issues.

  16. David Sparks

    “speed issues” hmmm

    Well I’ve never used a firewire drive which I’m sure is faster but for the usage I need (superduper backup), it seems fine.


  17. Mac Sokulski

    @Chris … In this case LifeAgent is TM without the pretty interface. I think I’m going to take your advice and wait for Leopard.

    @Darren … USB 2.0 in theory is faster than firewire 400. The question then is if the USB drives can be bootable on an intel Mac. From what I heard only firewire drives are bootable. I can be wrong though. I think USB drives are cheaper, because there is a bigger market for them, both Macs and PCs. Another way of doing this, is having to get your hands on a naked hard drive and then find an enclosure for it. This usually becomes a lot cheaper than getting the whole thing together from a manufacturer like WD or Seagate.

  18. Chris Marshall Post author

    I have an ‘old’ Acom external that Sands uses. It has Firewire 400 and USB 2.0, the Firewire is a LOT faster in my experience.

    I have never tried booting from USB but I know it works on Firewire – I personally would still go with Firewaire.

    @Mac:I don’t think you will be dissapointed

  19. darren rolfe

    Yes the enclosure does interest me as it does seems a cost effective route. But have found it hard to ascertain how much tech knowledge you need to assemble/build the drive.

    Plug and Play appeals to me. Getting the soldering irons out doesn’t

    @MAC did you get a 5yr warranty with your drive? Am I right about that fact?

  20. Mac Sokulski

    Yes, my seagate came with a 5 year warranty. Naked drive + enclosure is the simplest thing in the world. All you need is a (most likely) a philips screw driver. Attach the drive to the internal board with screws, plug the existing cables, slide the drive in and close the enclosure with more screws (usually 2). Plugin power and usb/firewire cable and that is it. The only thing you have to becareful with is if you get and ATA or IDE drive you need an appropriate IDE enclosure, and if you get a SATA drive then you should get a SATA enclosure. Done a few of them, so I know it’s simple.

  21. Wayne LeFevre

    @Darren, Enclosures are extremely easy. No soldering! Basically just a couple of screws. I’ve got a couple of spare enclosures from ICYDOCK that work really well, I just need a couple of spare hard drives to put in them! They are fairly inexpensive. The Mac shop OtherWorldComputing has a page on DIY Enclosure kits that I recommend glancing at.

    As far as USB 2.0/Firewire. USB is rated at 480 Mps and Firewire is 400 Mps. The speed difference comes in when you figure burst speeds versus sustained speeds. USB can do bursts of speeds up to 480 Mps, but cannot sustain that rate, whereas Firewire can sustain 400 Mps. It all depends on how large the file and how much data will be transferred at a time. That’s why Firewire is preferred for video and audio because it will sustain higher rates. Hope this helps! 🙂

  22. Mac Sokulski

    Wouldn’t all that starting and stopping, sleeping and waking up decrease the life of the drive? Also this in only the enclosure that has all these functions, what type of drive is it inside?

  23. darren rolfe

    Well the big day is fast upon us…

    And the winner is the Lacie D2 Quadra 500gig.

    I have tossed and turned about whether to go USB 2.0 or firewire and in the end I thought I would cover all options.

    This drive has F400, F800, USB2 and ESATA.

    I did extensive research based on the recommendations posted here. And the one thing that seemed to crop up was that no one brand was any better than the next one. All had mixed bags of feedback.

    Lacie in the UK has a reputation for quality and is regarded as one more of the more expensive Maccessory brands. I particularly like the build quality of them. They’re built like sherman tanks. This gives me the impression that they’re built to last.

    But this truly was a sale of the century. £117.00 inc VAT. which is a very, very competitive price. Also has a 3yr warranty.

    500 gig probably a bit of overkill with my teeny weeny 60 gig MacBook but I figure it’s handy to have around and it will probably live on longer than current mac and be used with any future macs.

    Thanks again for all your help.

  24. Chris Marshall Post author

    Congrats – great price and I personally like the LaCie drives a lot.

    You IM’d earlier about partitionoing the drive. I see no reason not to, but if you are going to have a System partition to back up all of your Mac’s drive think ahead beyond the current 60. Take a view on what you would either put in if you added a new drive or bought a new MB or MBP – so maybe partition it at 120GB. That still leaves you about 340GB of useable space for a Data partition.

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