Fire wardens

Introduction

If you remember attaching external SCSI hard drives to your Mac, you’ll know what a pain this could be. You can attach only seven SCSI devices – hard drives, scanners, CD burners, etc – on one chain, and each box could require different SCSI connectors and stupid big cables. Worse still, SCSI termination is a nightmare – each unit preferring different IDs, and many refusing to go at the start, middle or end of the chain. Awkward blighters… Although now eradicated from the standard Mac motherboard, SCSI still has a big part to play in professional systems – with the fastest internal or external drives being SCSI-based, so suiting heavy-duty audio and video pros better than the internal ATA/66 drives. However, the best external hard-drive choice for most of us is based on the FireWire connection – now standard in all Macs, and available to older Macs via PCI cards (from about £60). You can link up to 63 FireWire devices to your Power Mac, iMac, iBook or PowerBook, and never have to worry about IDs, jumpers, DIP switches, or termination issues. FireWire (also known by its technical name of IEEE 1394, and by Sony’s tag i.Link) is also hot-pluggable, meaning you can plug devices in and out while they’re still switched on, and without having to restart the computer. Speed
So much for the ‘Wire’ parts of FireWire. The ‘Fire’ part refers to the speed of the interface. FireWire has a theoretical data-transfer rate of 400 megabits per second (Mbps), which works out as 50 megabytes per second (MBps) – as there’s 8 bits to the byte. The Ultra ATA/66 internal hard drives that ship in today’s Macs have data-transfer rates of 66MBps; although you can install Ultra160 SCSI hard drives at 160MBps. Those figures seem to throw water on the Fire part of FireWire, but not when you compare it to USB’s data-transfer rate of 1.5MBps. Now you know why USB hard drives didn’t really cut it. That said, USB 2.0 can, on paper, muster rates of 480Mbps (60MBps). However, Apple is unlikely to adopt USB 2.0 before the next version of FireWire (IEEE 1394b), which will promise at least 800Mbps (100MBps) when it’s eventually ready – it could possibly be on Macs later this year. LaCie’s PocketDrive includes both FireWire and USB 2.0 ports, but you’ll need to buy a USB 2.0 card (about £45) to connect it via the non-FireWire link For more on FireWire 2, see page 85. All the drives tested worked with both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. We could even install OS X onto the SmartDisk drives, but actually booting from them proved intermittent. The problem seems to be that OS X doesn't support special-case booting from FireWire. We got it to work on some machines, but not on others. Future Mac OS X updates may fix this. Portable or desktop
FireWire hard drives come in three basic sizes: using either 1.8-inch, 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drive mechanisms. The portable FireWire hard drives use the smaller drives, which feature slower rotation speeds than the larger drives. When Apple rightly canned the floppy drive, it suggested email for small files and CDs for larger chunks of data. Portable FireWire hard drives offer a faster, easier, and more capacious option. For the purposes of this round-up, we’ll determine that a portable FireWire hard drive should be able to be powered via the FireWire cable and be small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. Portable drives are great for transporting files to and fro with your iBook or PowerBook, or between desktop machines in different locations. There’s nothing to stop you lugging one of the larger drives around with you, but the portables are often far-better protected for travel. LaCie’s PocketDrive, for example, has rubber edges, and the SmartDisk drives come with padded carry-cases. As the portable drives can draw power through the FireWire cable, so there’s no bulky, internationally incompatible power cables for travellers to worry about. Most portable drives also include the option of attaching a separate, external power supply – only SmartDisk’s tiny FireFly doesn’t have this option, because there’s simply not the space. We didn’t include Iomega’s Peerless drive (reviewed December 2001), because that’s really a removable-disk drive. Peerless is made up of three parts. The removable disk holds the data. The drive’s electronics aren’t in the disk itself – as with the FireWire hard drives tested here. Instead, they’re in the base-station module, which is meant to make it cheaper to add extra disks. However, the disks are still pricey in comparison: £159 for 10GB, and £199 for 20GB. On the bottom is the interface module, which connects the drive to your Mac’s FireWire port (there’s also a USB interface available). Its modular approach should make it more appealing, but the whole package costs £400, over twice the cost of the least-expensive drive we tested. The larger FireWire drives are based on the 3.5-inch mechanisms, and are more suited to staying on your desktop than in your carry-case. These desktop drives have the potential for faster rotation speeds. Our speed-test chart (page 83) shows comparative data-transfer rates when moving files from a Mac’s internal ATA hard drive and the FireWire hard drive. This shows which are the fastest drives for transferring large files, but it doesn’t prove much about performance when operating with files on the external disk. You should also look to a drive’s rotational speed; that is, the speed at which the disk platters spin. When transferring data from internal to external units or vice versa you have to take into consideration the two drive mechanisms, the Mac’s CPU speed, limitations of the motherboard FireWire chip, and the external drive’s enclosure and FireWire bridge, as well as the bandwidth of the cabling. If non-portable data-transfer is the be-all and end-all to you, you’d be better off fixing a new (preferably fast SCSI) internal hard drive. The speed of moving files between internal disks is not held up by bottlenecks, as they operate directly through the internal CPU bus. The faster (7,200rpm) drives come into their own when saving or retrieving large files. For example, working on huge digital video files greatly benefits from having a faster spin speed. A faster sustained transfer reduces the chances of dropped frames. Look to the mechanism specifications (see tables on pages 82-83) for this information. The mechanism’s rpm speed comes into play when you’re working directly off the disk, because then the disk has to spin fast to get to the sector it is trying to read. The faster it spins, the faster it will arrive at the desired sector, and the faster you’ll be able to work with that data. The manufacturer of the drive mechanism – usually either IBM, Maxtor, Western Digital or Toshiba – is also worth considering. Clearly, the model of mechanism will affect performance and reliability. Many people prefer to know which manufacturer made the mechanism. LaCie, EZQuest, Freecom and QPS vary the mechanism depending on market price, but will not release details of their drives’ internal components. If this bothers you, or you prefer the always dependable IBM drives, for example, stick with those vendors who specify the mechanism’s maker (see tables on pages 82-83) . The choice between slim Ice Warrior and bulky StudioDrive may depend on desk-space – although the latter drive will stack neatly with other LaCie devices. Some will be drawn to Box Clever’s trusty IBM mechanism, while others will snap-up the cheaper LaCie gigabytes. FireWire hard drives are getting faster and larger in capacity. If your hard drive is near capacity, your performance is suffering already, so treat yourself to some breathing room with one of the external FireWire drives available today. MWIf you remember attaching external SCSI hard drives to your Mac, you’ll know what a pain this could be. You can attach only seven SCSI devices – hard drives, scanners, CD burners, etc – on one chain, and each box could require different SCSI connectors and stupid big cables. Worse still, SCSI termination is a nightmare – each unit preferring different IDs, and many refusing to go at the start, middle or end of the chain. Awkward blighters… Although now eradicated from the standard Mac motherboard, SCSI still has a big part to play in professional systems – with the fastest internal or external drives being SCSI-based, so suiting heavy-duty audio and video pros better than the internal ATA/66 drives. However, the best external hard-drive choice for most of us is based on the FireWire connection – now standard in all Macs, and available to older Macs via PCI cards (from about £60). You can link up to 63 FireWire devices to your Power Mac, iMac, iBook or PowerBook, and never have to worry about IDs, jumpers, DIP switches, or termination issues. FireWire (also known by its technical name of IEEE 1394, and by Sony’s tag i.Link) is also hot-pluggable, meaning you can plug devices in and out while they’re still switched on, and without having to restart the computer. Speed So much for the ‘Wire’ parts of FireWire. The ‘Fire’ part refers to the speed of the interface. FireWire has a theoretical data-transfer rate of 400 megabits per second (Mbps), which works out as 50 megabytes per second (MBps) – as there’s 8 bits to the byte. The Ultra ATA/66 internal hard drives that ship in today’s Macs have data-transfer rates of 66MBps; although you can install Ultra160 SCSI hard drives at 160MBps. Those figures seem to throw water on the Fire part of FireWire, but not when you compare it to USB’s data-transfer rate of 1.5MBps. Now you know why USB hard drives didn’t really cut it. That said, USB 2.0 can, on paper, muster rates of 480Mbps (60MBps). However, Apple is unlikely to adopt USB 2.0 before the next version of FireWire (IEEE 1394b), which will promise at least 800Mbps (100MBps) when it’s eventually ready – it could possibly be on Macs later this year. LaCie’s PocketDrive includes both FireWire and USB 2.0 ports, but you’ll need to buy a USB 2.0 card (about £45) to connect it via the non-FireWire link For more on FireWire 2, see page 85. All the drives tested worked with both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. We could even install OS X onto the SmartDisk drives, but actually booting from them proved intermittent. The problem seems to be that OS X doesn't support special-case booting from FireWire. We got it to work on some machines, but not on others. Future Mac OS X updates may fix this. Portable or desktop FireWire hard drives come in three basic sizes: using either 1.8-inch, 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drive mechanisms. The portable FireWire hard drives use the smaller drives, which feature slower rotation speeds than the larger drives. When Apple rightly canned the floppy drive, it suggested email for small files and CDs for larger chunks of data. Portable FireWire hard drives offer a faster, easier, and more capacious option. For the purposes of this round-up, we’ll determine that a portable FireWire hard drive should be able to be powered via the FireWire cable and be small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. Portable drives are great for transporting files to and fro with your iBook or PowerBook, or between desktop machines in different locations. There’s nothing to stop you lugging one of the larger drives around with you, but the portables are often far-better protected for travel. LaCie’s PocketDrive, for example, has rubber edges, and the SmartDisk drives come with padded carry-cases. As the portable drives can draw power through the FireWire cable, so there’s no bulky, internationally incompatible power cables for travellers to worry about. Most portable drives also include the option of attaching a separate, external power supply – only SmartDisk’s tiny FireFly doesn’t have this option, because there’s simply not the space. We didn’t include Iomega’s Peerless drive (reviewed December 2001), because that’s really a removable-disk drive. Peerless is made up of three parts. The removable disk holds the data. The drive’s electronics aren’t in the disk itself – as with the FireWire hard drives tested here. Instead, they’re in the base-station module, which is meant to make it cheaper to add extra disks. However, the disks are still pricey in comparison: £159 for 10GB, and £199 for 20GB. On the bottom is the interface module, which connects the drive to your Mac’s FireWire port (there’s also a USB interface available). Its modular approach should make it more appealing, but the whole package costs £400, over twice the cost of the least-expensive drive we tested. The larger FireWire drives are based on the 3.5-inch mechanisms, and are more suited to staying on your desktop than in your carry-case. These desktop drives have the potential for faster rotation speeds. Our speed-test chart (page 83) shows comparative data-transfer rates when moving files from a Mac’s internal ATA hard drive and the FireWire hard drive. This shows which are the fastest drives for transferring large files, but it doesn’t prove much about performance when operating with files on the external disk. You should also look to a drive’s rotational speed; that is, the speed at which the disk platters spin. When transferring data from internal to external units or vice versa you have to take into consideration the two drive mechanisms, the Mac’s CPU speed, limitations of the motherboard FireWire chip, and the external drive’s enclosure and FireWire bridge, as well as the bandwidth of the cabling. If non-portable data-transfer is the be-all and end-all to you, you’d be better off fixing a new (preferably fast SCSI) internal hard drive. The speed of moving files between internal disks is not held up by bottlenecks, as they operate directly through the internal CPU bus. The faster (7,200rpm) drives come into their own when saving or retrieving large files. For example, working on huge digital video files greatly benefits from having a faster spin speed. A faster sustained transfer reduces the chances of dropped frames. Look to the mechanism specifications (see tables on pages 82-83) for this information. The mechanism’s rpm speed comes into play when you’re working directly off the disk, because then the disk has to spin fast to get to the sector it is trying to read. The faster it spins, the faster it will arrive at the desired sector, and the faster you’ll be able to work with that data. The manufacturer of the drive mechanism – usually either IBM, Maxtor, Western Digital or Toshiba – is also worth considering. Clearly, the model of mechanism will affect performance and reliability. Many people prefer to know which manufacturer made the mechanism. LaCie, EZQuest, Freecom and QPS vary the mechanism depending on market price, but will not release details of their drives’ internal components. If this bothers you, or you prefer the always dependable IBM drives, for example, stick with those vendors who specify the mechanism’s maker.
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