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Buyer's Guide: Multi-interface External Enclosures

Last updated 2009-11-10 - Send Feedback
Related: backup, how-to, storage

This page covers recommended hard drives and enclosures for any Mac, though some choices described here are appropriate for certain models only.

In general, eSATA-only enclosures offer slightly higher performance, but are eSATA only and require an eSATA card for the Mac Pro or MacBook Pro.

Recommended Firewire 800 and eSATA enclosures

Mercury Elite-AL Pro quad-interface enclosure

Firewire 800 can serve a useful function as a boot drive. Single and dual-drive solutions are available, they are bootable, and they sleep when the system goes to sleep (unlike eSATA).

A dual drive solution can be configured as a RAID mirror, ensuring the ultimate in system reliability. It can also be configured as a striped RAID, for higher performance (especially with eSATA).

The “quad interface” models are recommended for maximum flexibility (Firewire, eSATA, USB), , but for applications where every ounce of speed is required, dedicated eSATA is advised.

Single-drive solutions

These fanless units are a very nice choice. Don’t expect silence though—the drive itself makes some noise.

Remember, higher capacity is not just for storage but also for the best performance as the drive fills up—see Why you need more space than you need.

Recomended units include the enterprise grade model and the 1.5TB model. Other capacities available — see all quad-interface choices.

Remember, part of the cost is the enclosure, so usually it makes sense to go with a higher capacity unit. Alternately, as drive prices drop and/or capacity rises for the same price, you can swap the installed drive for a faster or larger model (a screwdriver is all that's needed).

Mirrored or striped solutions

Dual drives mirrored

Choose a mirrored unit where reliability is a priority: if one drive fails you lose nothing. A mirrored unit is a great way to go for any kind of backup or reliable system or data drive, knowing that even if one drive fails, the data is still intact, with no downtime.

These units include two internal drives in one case. Connect a single cable (eSATA, Firewire 800/400 or USB2). The Mac (or PC) sees the unit as a single drive. For example, a 1.5TB mirrored unit contains two 1.5TB drives replicating the same data.

Recomended mirrored units include the 1TB enterprise grade model and the 1.5TB model. Other capacities available — see all choices (quad-interface recommended).

Striped solutions

Dual drives striped

Choose a striped unit for maximum performance and capacity, though increased speed won’t be evident unless it is connected via eSATA; Firewire 800 is slower than the speed of even a single modern hard drive.

These units include two internal drives in one case. The Mac (or PC) sees the unit as a single drive. Connect a single cable (eSATA, Firewire 800/400 or USB2). For example, a 3TB striped unit contains two 1.5TB drives.

Recomended units include the 2TB enterprise grade model and the 3TB model (quad interface). Other capacities available — see all choices (quad-interface recommended).

Recommended RAID 5 solution

Mercury Elite-AL Pro quad-interface enclosure

RAID 5 is striping + parity, which means that one of the drives can fail with no data loss!

The OWC QX2 accepts to four (4) drives and can be used in a variety of RAID modes (RAID 0 striping, RAID 1 mirroring, RAID 5, etc). The unit is a great choice for plug-and-play RAID 5: just turn the internal switch to the appropriate setting, hook it up, initialize it like any single hard drive, and you’re done.

See the full review of the OWC QX2, and also the Drobo.

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