General Question

rufuswashere's avatar

Firewire or usb for external hard drive?

Asked by rufuswashere (26points) July 11th, 2010

I have a new Mac Mini I’m using as a home theater device. Need to put some large files on it (lots of old videos for transfer). Should I get an external drive that uses the firewire or usb interface with the mac? There are of course many more available for usb, and they are cheaper, but I’ve heard the firewire is faster and worth the extra $.

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16 Answers

josie's avatar


jrpowell's avatar

Firewire is a bit faster but it isn’t enough of a difference to justify the cost in my opinion. I have both (I am anal about back-ups) and I am fine with USB 2.0 now. But if you are just pushing video it will play seamlessly. I just watched a 1080p video from a external USB drive and it was fine.

Protip: If you get a USB drive format it as a GUID partition map. This way you can run Super Duper and have your external USB drive bootable. I had the internal in my iMac fail and it restarted from the external USB drive. It actually took me a few hours to notice that I was running OS X on the external drive.

mhl12's avatar

Firewire is technically faster than USB 2.0. That being said, firewire external hard drives are becoming less and less popular compared to USB and are quite a bit more expensive.

Depending on how much you want to spend, USB 2.0 should be sufficient for most files. If you do want to pay the extra premium for firewire, make sure you get a device that supports firewire 800.

USB 2.0 has a faster max speed than firewire 400 (which is rarely gets to anyways). The advantage of firewire 400 is that it can sustain its speeds better than USB 2.0, which is nice for video but at that point, I’d rather just pay a bit more for Firewire 800.

ipso's avatar

Faster is better. To me the extra cost is nominal.

However, if compatibility is a concern (e.g. taking it around to share music) then USB is a better call.

Of course the best answer is an external drive that has both.

Austinlad's avatar

I agree with johnpowell. I’ve never noticed enough difference between Firewire and usb 2.0 to justify whatever additional cost there might be, especially with today’s super-fast drives.

mrentropy's avatar

Since Apple is phasing out Firewire you may want to go with USB in case you need that drive at a later date with a computational device that lacks a Firewire wire.

aveffects's avatar

Firewire usually comes with USB as well

reijinni's avatar

I agree with @dpworkin when he said USB 3.0. Firewire is on the way out, so USB 3.0 is your best bet.

dpworkin's avatar

Yeah, no one seemed to take that seriously, but it was a serious suggestion.

HungryGuy's avatar

Firewire is faster, but is proprietary, so it never caught on. USB is non-proprietary and, for that reason, became universal. USB 3.0 is slowly being added to computers and is compatible with USB 2.0. So if you want speed and want it now, and don’t care if your drive will be obsolete soon, then Firewire. But if you want your drive to be compatible for a time to come (very important when it comes time to copy your MP3 playlist and your porn collection over to the next generation of storage technology), and can settle for less than bleeding edge speed, then go with USB.

JoshuaB's avatar

According to Apple’s Mac Mini Specs, it says it specifically has Firewire 800 (max 786.432 Mbit/s or 98.3 MB/s [Wikipedia]) and USB 2.0 (max 480 Mbit/s or 60 MB/s [Wikipedia])
As you can see from those numbers Firewire can almost get an extra 40 MB/s. I have also found this comparison which might help you. Other than Firewire and USB 2.0, I know that Apple is surely working on putting probably either/or USB 3.0 and the new Thunderbolt. For more info on what is probably coming to the Mac Mini and the rest of the Mac line, you should go check out this page with tons of other info on it from Apple here.

blueiiznh's avatar

More information is needed.
How much data do you need to store?
How fast do you need to access this data?
Do you need or wish to have it avaliable to other PC simultaneously?

SU_ZANN's avatar

What are you using if for?——- video editing? the faster the throughput the better, in fact look at THUNDERBOLT – drives – if just backing up to have a copy… anything works. ........also some drives run at 5400 rpms and others at 7200 and some newer ones at even higher. Also…cheap is not always the best investment…

wds2's avatar

@dpworkin @reijinni Yes, USB 3.0 is far better than Firewire (about 5X i think), but he has a Mac and, therefore, no 3.0 ports. If you have Thunderbolt, that is by far the best but only a few of the newer Macs. I want that on my next PC build sooo much.

dabbler's avatar

USB2 and 3 are very capable.
The thing about a firewire connection is it has dedicated I/O hardware.
USB gets to share with all the other USB stuff you have like the keyboard and the mouse and the webcam and the…
If you keep your other USB usage low while doing transfers you can get full speed from your USB connection, otherwise it can get slowed down easily.

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