Sunday, May 18, 2008

A terabyte in the palm of your hand

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This weekend, I assembled a 1TB hard drive for my Mac. I purchased a Seagate Baracuda ST310005 1TB internal SATA drive at Micro Center for $210. I installed this drive into a Vantec NexStar-3 360UFS external drive case, which cost $70. This is an all-metal case that provides USB, FireWire and eSATA ports. It is currently attached to my Mac via FireWire, that being the fastest interface I currently have. (I may install an eSATA card for better performance, but not now.)

Overall, installation was very simple. The drive just snaps onto the circuit board in the case. The circuit board is also attached to a metal frame that contains the case's external connectors. Thanks to the standardized (and simplified) ports used by SATA drives, there is no need for actual cables. Just a simple connector that mates with both of the drive's connectors. The drive then attaches to the board's frame with four screws. It was important to use the screws that came with the case, and not the ones that came with the drive. The former are pan-head, while the latter are round-headed. The round-headed screws scrape the bottom of the case when the drive is inserted. After attaching the drive to the circuit board, the assembly slides into the case. A single wire attaches the case's in-use LED to the circuit board.

After assembling the drive, I attached it to my Mac. Although simple from a technical point of view, this was tricky trying to find a place for it on my desk. My other external drives (two hard drives and a tape drive) reside on top of my Mac. When I tried to put the new drive there, however, the power cord proved to be too short to reach the power strip on the floor. I found another location, on my desk, behind the monitor, only to find that the bundled FireWire cable was too short to reach from there to my FW hub. Fortunately, I have other FireWire cables and was able to swap it for a longer one.

After physically attaching the drive, the rest was smooth sailing. As soon as I turned it on, Mac OS informed me about the new drive and asked me if I would want to format it. I said yes and the system's Disk Utility launched. The drive was partitioned and formatted in a few minutes. Afterwards, I chose to explicitly zero-out the partition - this is unnecessary, but I do it with new drives, to check for any damaged sectors. That operation took nine hours. (This is a trillion bytes we're talking about!)

After formatting, the drive appeared on my desktop and Mac OS asked me if I wanted to use it to store Time Machine backups. Since this was my purpose for buying the drive, I said "yes" and it was automatically set up.

Time Machine took about four hours to make the initial backup of my data (about 90GB). Subsequent snapshots (taken every hour) take only a few minutes, because they only back up files that have changed.

I don't yet know what the overall reliability of this system will be, since it's a new drive and a new case, but so far I am suitably impressed. The drive case has no fans, so it gets a bit warm but the aluminum case seems to dissipate the heat well. It does not get hot to the touch, and I don't have any other devices stacked on it. Mac OS X seems to have absolutely no problem supporting a single disk volume of 1TB.

Update 6/13/2008:
See also my review on Epinions