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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LaCie’s new Porsche Design Mobile Drive USB-C will support 12″ Retina MacBook

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LaCie today announced that its upcoming Porsche Design Mobile Drive USB-C (USB 3.0) will be its first design with a “user-friendly USB-C connector,” compatible with Apple’s just-announced 12″ MacBook laptop. The USB-C connector will be built into the plastic edge of the distinctively boxy solid aluminum housing, with an included adapter cable for traditional USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 connector compatibility. Using USB-C or USB 3.0, the drive promises transfer speeds up to 100MB/second, with a speed reduction when using USB 2.0.

The drive will come in three capacities: a slim 500GB model (shown below) and regular-sized 1TB and 2TB units (shown above). LaCie has not yet announced pricing for the drives, but plans to release them in the second quarter of 2015. We would expect to see quite a few USB-C drives by then, as both Apple and its customers continue a transition away from Thunderbolt that seemed inevitable back in 2013.

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Seagate zaps Thunderbolt drives, LaCie to continue lineup

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Seagate will discontinue its lineup of Thunderbolt storage products in favor of pushing Thunderbolt under its premium LaCie brand, 9to5Mac has learned.

A company spokesperson confirmed the move noting that the product life cycles for the company’s USM technology, which allowed integration of interfaces like Thunderbolt through adapters, is “coming to a conclusion.” Read more

Review: Transcend’s JetDrives add whopping 240-960GB SSD to MacBook Air at a great price

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See that little $190 daughter card up there^? It houses 240GB of Transcend SSD and it could replace the 64GB or 128GB SSD that came in your MacBook Air in as little as 5 minutes. Even better, Transcend just released larger versions in 480GB and 960GB sizes to blow your SATA III MacBook Air or Pro into new worlds of space. Keep in mind these are SATA-based SSDs and Apple’s latest round of MacBook Pro/Airs came with speedier PCIe SSDs so you can’t use these on Apple’s late 2013/2014 models (see bottom of the article for compatibility list).

I got my hands on a demo unit and took it for a test drive…

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Review: OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini dual-drive external enclosure with RAID

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One of the reasons I like Macs is that their useful life tends to be significantly longer than that of a typical Windows machine. This is especially true of the pre-Retina MacBook Pro models, where it’s trivial to upgrade both the RAM and the drive.

I’d previously swapped out the 750GB hard drive and optical drive that came with my late-2011 MacBook Pro 17 for two 1TB hard drives. Along with a RAM upgrade, that gave me a 16GB RAM, 2TB hard drive machine. The plan was to use the machine in that form for a year or two, then do a further upgrade to SSDs once 1TB models arrived and fell to a halfway sensible price.

When that finally happened, and I did the upgrade, that gave me two 1TB hard drives surplus to requirements. I could have placed each into its own external drive caddy, but one 2TB drive is more useful than two 1TB ones, so I decided instead to try out OWC’s Mercury Elite Pro mini. This is an external enclosure for two 2.5-inch drives, which supports both USB 3 and Firewire 800, drawing power from either source – making it a portable drive without the need for external power …  Read more

Mini review: Elgato Thunderbolt Dock

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There are Mac accessories that are exciting or fun, and others that are boring but useful. The Elgato Thunderbolt Dock most definitely falls into the latter category.

As regular readers will know, I’m of the view that wires are evil. Anything that can be wireless should be wireless, and any wires that are unavoidable should be hidden from sight. This is particularly easy if you have an Apple Thunderbolt Display, of course, since all you need in the way of wires from a MacBook is power and Thunderbolt: everything else can be plugged into the back of the monitor.

But if you share my aversion to visible wires and don’t have a Thunderbolt display, or you are frequently connecting and disconnecting your MacBook from a bunch of devices on your desk, the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock may be the answer …

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Review: Satechi’s 4, 7, & 10 port USB hubs compared

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Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to try out a number of Satechi’s USB hubs in my effort to combat my growing need to wire in more stuff to my Mac’s 4 USB ports. While wireless is often more convenient and downright necessary on laptops to have a good experience, I still enjoy the speed and reliability of a wired connection on my desktop setup. To have a completely ergonomic experience and avoid plugging and unplugging things, a USB hub of some sort is definitely needed. The challenge to buying the right hub for your needs is deciphering how each hub differs; it’s not just limited to the number of ports available…

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Review: $90 Kanex SimpleDock is a beautiful USB 3/Gigabit Ethernet Mac dock, without expensive Thunderbolt

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We’ve reviewed a fair bit of Thunderbolt docks for Mac here and one thing remains constant: The starting prices range well over $200 (Belkin’s a deal at $150) and that’s before you buy an expensive $30 Thunderbolt cable. The question is: Do you really need Thunderbolt to have a quality/usable dock for your MacBook? Can you get almost all of what you need just from USB 3?

Kanex sent me their $90 USB 3 SimpleDock a few months ago and I’ve put it through its paces ever since.  The first thing you’ll notice out of the box is that it is made extremely well, looks very ‘Apple’ and is substantial in weight. It doesn’t move when you plug in devices because of that weight and a rubberized bottom. On top, all you’ll see is a space that coincidentally fits an iPhone perfectly with a charger cable hole through the bottom. Around back, you’ll find 3 USB 3 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port as well as a 10W high powered ‘Charge-only’ port.

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So you are getting 3 products in one here: An iOS device quick charger, a USB3->Gigabit Ethernet adapter and 3 port USB 3 hub. The question is: Is the SimpleDock worth the $90?

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Thunderbolt’s future looks even more precarious as 10Gbps Superspeed USB announced

Photo: notebookcheck.com

Photo: notebookcheck.com

Our concern that widespread adoption of USB 3 might leave Thunderbolt out in the cold now looks even more likely as the USB 3.1 – aka Superspeed USB – specification has been announced. This allows USB transfers of up to 10Gbps, the same speed as the original Thunderbolt standard.

Thunderbolt is technically superior to USB 3 – combining PCIe, DisplayPort and power signals into a single cable – and the recently announced Thunderbolt 2 version (which will debut in the new Mac Pro) doubles throughput to a blistering 20Gbps. And Thunderbolt can deliver that bandwidth to more than one device at a time. But technical superiority alone is no guarantee of success, as the history of Betamax or Firewire demonstrates …  Read more

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.

MacMall Special: Lowest prices on MacBook Airs plus Free Parallels & Free FedEx Overnight until Fri 9:15PM ET

From 9to5Toys.com and 9to5Mac Product Pages comes a special deal from MacMall for our readers who are looking for MacBook Airs at the lowest prices. Across the board, Macmall has the lowest prices when coupled with additional 3% off 9to5Mac promo code NTFMMWB38592 

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MacMall goes beyond lowest prices: Until Friday at 9:15PM ET, readers will get free overnight shipping and a free copy of Parallels Desktop with every order. MacMall also offers financing and/or no payments for 6 months and accepts payments with Paypal or Amazon as well as major credit cards. This week’s MacMall specials include half off Quickbooks 2013 for Mac, iPad  SmartCovers starting at $26.99 and other Blowout deals on peripherals.

MacMall has additional MacBook Air 8GB BTO configurations that knock an additional 3% off the already lowest prices we could find: Read more