How-To: Choose the best external hard drive for your Mac (or iOS device!)

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I feel old saying this, but having used computers since before external hard drives existed, I can say with certainty that buying a hard drive is easier today than it’s ever been before. For traditional drives, prices are low, options are numerous, and capacities are so high that your only choices are “enough space,” “more than enough space,” and “way more than enough space.” I could point you towards a gigantic 5-Terabyte $139 Seagate USB 3.0 hard drive right now and end this article without another paragraph. Since Apple doesn’t even sell a Mac with that much disk space, you could back up five (or more) computers to that drive without running out of room. Or you could store a decade worth of digital photos alongside a giant media library. For $139!

But buying an external hard drive isn’t necessarily that simple. There are a bunch of factors worth considering before making a purchase, including everything from reliability to portability, design, capacity, speed, and connectivity. Some hard drives are really cheap but have a higher chance of failing after a year or two of heavy use. So in this How-To, I’m going to discuss the big issues you need to consider, and guide you towards the best external hard drive for your needs…

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How-To: Upgrade the SSD in your MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro, boosting size & speed

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Over the past two weeks, I’ve written about the (surprisingly easy) process of adding solid state drives (SSDs) to radically speed up older iMacs, and the varied challenge levels of adding SSDs to older Mac Pros, Mac minis, and non-Retina MacBooks. Today’s guide looks at the easiest SSD installations of all: the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro. A new SSD in one of these machines could have two, four, eight, or sixteen times the original storage, plus two to four times faster speeds.

Apple shipped most MacBook Airs and all Retina MacBook Pros with solid state storage, so upgrading these machines for extra capacity and speed is generally as simple as picking a new drive, then using two special screwdrivers during the installation process. Assuming your MacBook is old enough to be out of warranty — except for a few specific models — you’ll find that pretty much anyone can handle this swap with the right tools. Below, I’m going to show those tools to you, as well as the MacBook-ready SSDs that are worth considering…

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How-To: Update your old MacBook, Mac mini, or Mac Pro hard drive with a fast SSD

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My Mac is now silent. After installing a solid state drive (SSD) with no moving parts, the drone of my iMac’s hard drive and fans has given way to such an absence of sound that I only hear the high-pitched squeal of my office lights.

My Mac is now fast. Even with 400GB of available space, OS X Yosemite’s constant hard drive accessing had brought my quad-core, 3.4GHz Core i7 machine to its knees. Now I’m seeing five times the hard drive speeds, apps are loading instantly, and my iMac feels as responsive as the MacBooks and iPads that beat it to the SSD game.

Last week, buoyed by (finally!) reasonable SSD prices and a desire to try a DIY project, I walked through the steps to replace a prior-generation iMac’s hard drive with an SSD. Similarly excited readers have pointed out that older MacBooks and certain other Macs are also easy to upgrade… but at least one Mac (surprise: the Mac mini) is not. So below, I’ll show you some great SSD options that you can install yourself, ask a tech-savvy friend/repair shop to handle for you, or choose as external solutions.

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How-To: Now’s the right time to swap your old iMac’s hard drive for a fast new SSD

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If you bought your iMac 3-5 years ago, there’s probably nothing so seriously wrong with the hardware that you need to consider replacing the machine. Sure, the new iMac with 5K Retina Display looks a little nicer, but at a steep $2,499 starting point, it’s still a luxury, not a necessity.

Yet there’s something you can do for $200 to $500 that will radically change your iMac’s performance: install a solid state drive (SSD) in addition to or instead of its original hard drive. SSDs use high-speed memory chips rather than the spinning platter mechanisms in traditional hard drives, achieving up to 5X benefits in speed while requiring no moving parts. Five years ago, SSDs were both expensive and limited in capacity, making them unlikely components for most Macs. Today, high-quality, capacious SSDs can be had for reasonable prices, and they’re surprisingly easy to install in iMacs. With limited expertise and only three tools, I swapped out my old hard drive for an SSD in roughly 30 minutes. Here’s how I did it, and – if you’re up for a quick do-it-yourself project – what I’d recommend for you.

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Zac’s holiday gift guide – a little something for everyone’s iPhone, iPad, & Mac

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Most of my favorite gift picks this year fall into the category of using the iPhone and iPad on the road so I already shared my favorite gift items for road warriors including CarPlay in-dash receivers and more. The Mac, though, is less transit-friendly when it comes to gifts unless you’re looking for a power adapter for charging in the car, so below I’ve collected some more Mac-friendly gift picks as well as a few analog options and more. Catch up with the rest of 9to5Mac’s holiday gift guides for more ideas and follow 9to5Toys.com for the latest deals.  Read more

LaCie announces d2 Thunderbolt 2 drive w/ new design & optional SSD upgrade

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LaCie is out today with the new d2 Thunderbolt 2 drive featuring a new design with a smaller footprint and an optional SSD upgrade for adding faster storage to the mix. The new LaCie d2 is an up-to-6TB hard drive spec’d at 7200 RPM with speeds up to 220 MB/s and two Thunderbolt 2 ports alongside a USB 3 port. Aside from the new design, part of the LaCie d2’s story is the option to add a solid state drive to the package with a user-upgradable solid state drive panel from LaCie to make the d2 even faster and more capable. LaCie says the optional SSD upgrade offers a theoretical speed boost from 220 MB/s to 1150 MB/s for data transfer: Read more

Mini review: Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ (512GB external SSD)

I should say at the outset that this is not cheap. Very not cheap. What you’re looking at is $890’s worth of external drive in the 512GB version I have here, or $500 for the 256GB model.

This is not a drive aimed at a consumer wanting a bit of external storage for their movies, but rather a high-performance drive aimed at audiovisual professionals who need an external drive that delivers the kind of speeds in a mobile environment that they are used to from their office setup …  Read more

Latest MacBook Pro 15 gets blazing SSD performance thanks to 4-channel PCIe (updated)

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Update: It appears this may be a function of the 1TB drives fitted to both 13- and 15-inch models. The reason for this isn’t yet clear: it may be the drives used offer greater bandwidth.

Benchmark tests by French site Mac4Ever show that the latest MacBook Pro 15 is delivering SSD read and write speeds in excess of 1GB per second. The site repeatedly achieved these speeds when Apple claims only “up to 775MB per second.”

The MBP 15 is able to achieve these speeds because it has a 4-channel PCIe connection to the SSD, in contrast to the 2-channel link on the MBP 13 and MacBook Air models, though from some reader reports this may be the case only on models fitted with 1TB drives …

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Sonnet announces 15-port Echo Thunderbolt dock with built-in HDD/SSD & optical drive options

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The much-anticipated Belkin Thunderbolt Dock appears to be delayed once again unfortunately, missing its planned Q1 launch, despite taking pre-orders for the device in February after missing its original September launch date. While we’ve been recommending the popular Matrox Thunderbolt Docking station in the meantime, today Sonnet announced a new competitor in the space with the Echo 15 Thunderbolt Dock.

The 15-port dock includes many of the ins and outs you’d expect: Two thunderbolt ports, four USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm audio in and out (front and back), FireWire 800, Gigabit Ethernet, and two eSATA ports. However, there are two features this 15-port Thunderbolt docking station has that most others do not: extra space to install a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch SATA HDD or SSD and your choice of a built-in DVD or Blu-Ray drive:

the Echo 15 Thunderbolt dock has you covered—it includes your choice of DVD±RW drive, or Blu-ray Disc™ player (BD-ROM/8x DVD±RW). If you are a Mac user, you’ll also find that the included Blu-ray player software for OS X® is very handy, enabling you to watch Blu-ray movies on your computer or attached monitor.

The fast 6 Gb/s SATA interface supports an HDD at its maximum speeds, and an SSD at up to 380 MB/s… Best of all, the drive sits inside the Echo dock, so you don’t have to clutter your desk space with an external hard drive and its power brick and cable clutter to add more storage. Don’t feel like adding a drive yourself? Sonnet also offers the Echo 15 Thunderbolt Dock equipped with a 2TB HDD, available exclusively through the Sonnet online store.

The Sonnet Echo 15 Thunderbolt Dock is available to pre-order now in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico starting at $399 for a DVD drive and no built-in drive. The next model up comes with a built-in 2TB HDD for $499, while a Blu-ray drive and 2TB HDD brings it up to $549. Other options are also available through Sonnet’s website, and most models are expected to ship in Summer 2013.

LaCie updates Little Big Disk Thunderbolt Series with SATA III SSDs and speeds up to 635MB/s

LaCie issued a press release today announcing an update to its Little Big Disk Thunderbolt series that now includes a pair of 2.5-inch SATA III SSDs. The new Little Big Disk provides read speeds up to 635MB/s, according to the company, approximately a 33 percent increase from the previous generation. It is also capable of daisy chaining up to six devices via its dual Thunderbolt ports:

The product features a pair of 2.5” SATA III SSDs. A RAID array can be configured using the Mac OS Disk Utility for performance (RAID 0) or security (RAID 1). It supports daisy chaining up to six compatible devices such as displays and other peripherals.

An example of just how quick the it is: LaCie said the new Little Big Disk can transfer a 50GB project in under two minutes or edit six uncompressed 422 streams simultaneously… Read more

iFixit posts repair guide for Retina MacBook Pro, estimates battery replacement at $500

You might remember a couple months ago when our friends at iFixit tore down the new Retina MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, the device received its lowest repairability score with the company calling it “the least repairable laptop”. While the new MacBooks provide possibly Apple’s least accessible and upgradeable design out of the box, iFixit updated its website today with its official 2012 MacBook Pro Retina repair guide to make it as easy as possible. Fifteen separate installation guides for the AirPort Board, battery, fans, logic board, speakers, SSD, trackpad, etc., are included in the repair guide with one maintenance guide for reapplying thermal paste to the CPU and GPU.

Many components within the laptop can be removed without much fuss, provided folks use the correct tools. Pentalobe screws hold the lower case in place and Torx screws secure everything else. Spudgers and plastic opening tools are absolutely necessary, as many of the components are designed with such tight tolerances that using fingertips is simply not an option.

Fair warning: working on the laptop is no easy task. Some repairs are simply infeasible. For example, there is no way to replace the trackpad without removing the battery. And while it’s possible to remove the battery, chances are high that it will be punctured in the process. Puncturing Lithium-polymer batteries releases noxious fumes and can cause fires. Additionally, removing the LCD glass from the aluminum frame will almost certainly break the glass. So components residing under the LCD — such as the FaceTime camera — will have to be replaced with the entire assembly… Finding replacements for the machine’s proprietary components is currently difficult. We’re working to source parts, but it may take some time.

iFixit also estimated that third-party battery replacements —if done correctly— could cost over $500:

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New MacBook Pros will get Samsung’s fast 830 series SSD too

In January, following a meeting with Samsung Storage solutions at CES 2012, we told you that Apple’s next-gen MacBook Air would likely make the switch to the speedier 830 series SSDs from Samsung alongside an update to Ivy Bridge. This was of course before we revealed some major changes coming to Apple’s new MacBook and iMac lineups. In addition to Retina displays for almost the entire new lineup, the new ultra-thin 15-inch MacBook Pro will be getting a complete redesign, losing the optical drive, and bringing it closer to to the thin design of current Airs. Like the new MacBook Airs, we have been told that at least some of Apple’s prototype MacBook Pros have used Samsung’s 830 series SSDs…
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