I bought a FireWire hard drive enclosure the other day, and I’m awfully happy with it. It cost about $45 and I filled it with an old 40GB hard drive I had lying around. It works beautifully — plug it into a FireWire port and you get a G: drive.
It makes me wonder what’ll happen to the venerable tape backup unit (TBU). I have a TBU on my server, but it’s old, slow, cranky, and only holds 20GB. Furthermore, 20GB tapes are like, $30 while hard drives are running less than a dollar per gigabyte these days.
Right now, I can think of no reason why I would use my TBU for anything anymore. Am I missing something? I imagine that tapes are physically pretty durable, certainly more so than a hard drive, but is there anything else?
I’m using this portable hard drive for off-site backups. Once a week, I’ll bring the drive in, copy the latest backups onto it, and take it home where it will sit on my bookshelf for a week until I bring it in again to refresh the backups.
FireWire hard drives, incidentally, are fast as lightning. I have a small RAID Tower which runs via FireWire. You’d never know it wasn’t an internal SCSI drive. Latency is non-existant. In fact, I installed a very CPU- and I/O-intensive server process on it once and it ran beautifully. Again, the simplicity is amazing — plug it in and you get an F: drive, end of story.
(So which is faster, USB 2.0 or FireWire? USB 2.0 is rated at 480 Mbps and FireWire at only 400 Mbps, but I found many resources that said, in practice, FireWire is faster. Here’s one such page that includes numbers claiming FireWire is between 16% and 70% faster than USB 2.0.
The throughput numbers would lead you to believe that USB 2.0 provides better performance. But, differences in the architecture of the two interfaces have a huge impact on the actual sustained “real world” throughput. And for those seeking high-performance, sustained throughput is what it’s all about…
That company sells FireWire peripherals, so they may be biased, but it’s still interesting.)
I’m so impressed with the utility of these things that I’d go so far as call them mandatory equipment for your PC. The enclosure will cost you $45. I found a 40GB Maxtor drive on Froogle for $32. I bought a FireWire card and cable on eBay last year for $15. That’s $92 for 40GB of removable storage that you can throw in a fanny pack — tough to beat.
On my next PC, I’m going to physically separate the operating system from my data files. I’ll keep all my data on an external FireWire unit, and only keep the OS and program files on the internal IDE drive. I’d love for my PC to be essentially disposable. If I have a problem, just pave and reload it knowing that all my data files are safe and secure because they’re physically disconnected from the PC. Perversely, I may mirror them on the internal drive just for redundancy.
For the record, I bought the Metal Gear Box from NewEgg. It was rock simple to get running — grab a hard drive, physically screw it into the unit, connect two cables, then plug it into the PC.
I’m not thrilled with look of the thing — it’s all brushed aluminum and black metal grating (product image above). It kind of makes me feel like a 40-year-old man driving around in a lowered Civic with a big wing on the back. Additionally, when you put it down, there’s no padding or rubber stops, so it kind of clanks against the desk, which makes me a little nervous.
Anyway, the theory is valid. External hard drives: good. FireWire: great. Go get one.