I will keep this updated. Here is the first shoot. I will/can answer the following. Please feel free to ask new questions. I will leave space for those no one can answer for sure Thanks for your participation. Hopefully we all can learn from each other's experience!
1. Why do I need to consider buying an external enclosure?
1) your computer is running out of slots for your new drives.
2) you want to carry your drive around to share data or burn CD/DVD at any computer without buying a new one.
3) your laptop needs larger storage space or better burners.
4) you want to save electricity bill by turning off unused drives off.
5) you want to hopefully let the drive live longer by turning them off when not being used.
6) those retail external drives are too expensive
7) or it just simply looks cool
2. Which size should I choose?
2.5" is for notebook Hard Drive (HDD).
3.5" is for desktop Hard Drive (HDD)
5.25" is for optical drives like CD/DVD-ROM, CDRW, DVD-RW drives
Multi-bay enclosure comes in both 3.5" and 5.25".
* with adaptors, 2.5" notebook HDD can be fit in 3.5" or 5.25" enclosures. But you will have a hard time to fix it in the enclosure.
* Many 5.25" enclosures have holes on the bottom for 3.5" devices. However, not all of them are like this, in particular some aluminum enclosures. In this case, with 3.5" to 5.25" brackets, you can put a 3.5" HDD inside any 5.25" enclosures. They brackets usually come with Maxtor retail HDDs, 5.25" HDD coolers or other 5.25" front panels. Or you could buy it from local stores.
3. Which interface should I choose, IEEE1394a(firewire400) 1394b(firewire800) USB2.0 or SATA?
Check your PC. Whether there is a firewire/IEEE 1394, USB 2.0 or SATA port? If you only have one and do not want to spend extra, the choice is clear. If you have none or want to play with others, read below.
3.1 Firewire 400 Performance wise, firewire beats USB2.0, although USB2.0 claims 480Mbps versus Firewire 1394a's 400Mbps. This is from the benchmark of my devices (16X DVDRW and 7200rpm WDC drives) and some reviews I read from tomshardware.com. It may not always to be true. FYI, RightHere provided a different opinion here and here.
-Firewire gives more consistent transfer rate, meaning that your average HDD performance or CD/DVD burning quality is better.
-Firewire uses less CPU power, meaning that I/O of you external devices will less interfere with or be less interfered by other ongoing tasks.
-You do NOT need a firewire hub! Firewire allows you to daisy-chain devices. For example, from your PC firewire port to drive A, from your drive A to drive B and C, B to D, C to E and F, whatever you like. RightHere and SickTeddyBear mentioned some potential problems one may need to pay attention:
RightHere: Too many hops may result in device errors and poor performance. Also, it's difficult to find out the speeds that the devices operate at. You wouldn't want to plug an S400 device downstream of a S200 device. I can't think of any S200 devices off the top of my head, but I know most camcorders are S100. Doesn't really matter in this case since few camcorders have a port for daisy chaining.
SickTeddyBear: There's nothing wrong with daisy chaining as long as you are chaining the same type of devices. Firewire 400 hard drives with other Firewire 400 hard drives, etc. I don't recommend that you mix-and-match, and you should especially never chain hard drives with anything other than hard drives.
(More technically, 1394 devices are daisy chainable meaning you can plug one device into another device and so on. The signal is repeated from one device to the next. Each device has a unique ID and every device in the chain is notified of every other device as it is plugged or unplugged from the chain. Devices can be hot-plugged and unplugged. Since 1394 devices can be connected to other 1394 devices, you can have several device branches of devices. You can have up to 16 devices linked or daisy chained in any one branch and a total of 63 devices connected.)
3.2 High Speed USB2.0 USB2.0 is cheaper. Easier to find a host to plug in when you carry around your device.
Or maybe just buy a firewire/USB2.0 combo to make sure you are on the safe side. Usually a combo just comes extra $10.
SickTeddyBear’s comments on FW/USB2:
2. On a Macintosh, you can boot OS X from an external 1394 port, but you can't from a USB2 port.
3. On a PC, you can boot Windows from an external USB2 port, but not from a 1394 port.
3.3 firewire 800What is up with firewire 800 ( 1394b )? It is a promising future with 800Mbps transfer rate. Problems are: first, It is still very expensive; second, the host card usually works in 64 bit PCI-X slots (mostly only available on server motherboards) and switches to 400Mbps when they are used in regular 32 bit PCI slots. We are expecting PCI-E (PCI Express) versions to come out soon, hopefully. Note: using firewire 800 devices in firewire 400/1394a mode may give even worse performance than native 1394a set up. Has anyone tried a firewire 800 toy? Please provide your experience.
3.4 SATA SATA is the fastest interface at 1.5Gbps. This comes at a cost: you only can connect one device to one port. No hub, no daisy-chain is possible. Has anyone tried a SATA set up? Please provide your experience.
4. Which type should I choose, plastic or metal/aluminum, no fan or with fan?
In summary, get aluminum enclosures for your data safety. For 3.5/5.25", having a fan is very preferred.
For 2.5/3.5" enclosures, aluminum/metal cases are always preferred. This is mainly for heat dissipation. Heat is the No.1 killer of Hard Drives, in particular for 7200rpm drives. In 2.5" and 3.5" enclosures, there is virtually no room between drive and the case thus cooling due to air flow is minimum. 2.5" usually does not have a fan and a small fan in a 3.5" enclosure does not help much. !!!Your hard drive relies on the enclosure as its heat sink!!! If you use your drive not very often and only copy several hundred MBytes each time, it may not be a big problem. If you leave you hard drives on for hours, copy several GBytes each time, you really should worry about your data safety. Usually aluminum case is $10 more than plastic ones, this is a worthwhile investment.
For 5.25" enclosures, aluminum enclosure is not a must for hard drives since hard drives do not really have a close contact with the enclosure and now cooling mainly depends on air flow. Thus a fan at the back panel is desired. If your AC is around 70F, this usually is good enough for 24/7 operation. Higher than 80F? You¡¯d better get a 5.25" front panel hard drive cooler (basically 2 or 3 more fans in front of your hard drive).
How about 5.25" used with optical drives, in particular burners? Well, heat is not likely to kill your burner. But after consecutive burns, burning quality decreases due higher temperature inside, according to my test on 52X CDRW. Bad burning quality, again leads to shorter media life, poor playback and reading speed. I expect the same thing to happen with DVD burners. If you burn a lot CDs DVDs, get an aluminum one with a fan!
5. Does chipset matters?
The answer is YES. It is probably the most important factor that determines whether your drive will work properly or how well it will perform. HOST is the controller on your PC side, for example, your PCI firewire/USB adaptor, your onboard firewire/USB controller or your laptop¡¯s PCMCIA firewire/USB cardbus. CLIENT is the the controller on your enclosure side. You should see the chip when you assemble your external drive. Information on both of them can be found in Windows System Information and Unplug or Eject Hardware tray icon.
5.1. What are good firewire 1394a hosts?
Most users report happy experience with TI, NEC. Via and Ali are not bad. Performance wise, they are close. However, some report compatibility issues with Via and Ali. I myself can NOT update firewire client firmware through Via but can do so through TI. Anyway, host chipset usually is not as important as client chipset.
5.2. What are good firewire 1394a clients?
Oxford seems to be the No.1 player here. They have a line of chips OX911, OX911+, OX912(fw800) and OX922(fw800+USB2.0). In US market, OX911 is very popular. It is a solid performer. I would recommend OX911 to be used with all drives EXCEPT 16X DVD BURNERS! I have not tested other OXFord chips myself yet but I heard they all work well with 16X DVD burners.
Prolific PL-3507 currently attracts a lot of attention since it may be the only chipset on the US market that support 16X DVD burners. It can be found in many enclosures like Bytecc ME-320U2F and ME-340U2F(or any ME-320U2F, ME-340U2F. All OEM, made in China anyway). You need update its firmware at least to Nov.2004. Later versions are similar but improve hard drive performance.
Initio firewire chip also supports 16X DVD burner and performs very well, as reported by a few users. Not very popular in US. I only saw it in a WDC retail external hard drive.
Ali is not as good as OXFord. It is slow on hard drives and have problem with 16X burner as well.
Cypress is not recommended. A lot of problems.
5.3. What are good USB2.0 hosts?
Both NEC, Intel and VIA are good and popular. ALI, in particular its firewire/USB2 combo seems to have a lot of problems when installed with Windows. This could be just a driver issue. However, it is a headache to work around as the proper driver is hard to find.
5.4. What are good USB2.0 clients?
SickTeddyBear: Cypress is not recommended as a FIREWIRE chipset.
However, Cypress is the INDUSTRY LEADER in QUALITY and RELIABILITY in USB chipsets.
Cypress is WIDELY recommended as the best USB2 client, hands down. The better manufacturers combine an Initio or Oxford FIREWIRE chipset with a Cypress USB2 chipset. That is the winning combination in the higher quality single-drive enclosures.
5.5. What client chipsets support my large HDD(>137GB)?
Large drive support is a.k.a. 48bit LBA. For internal drives, this requires a compatible BIOS and proper Windows update and registry hack (If you do not want to do it manually, there is a tool that can be found on Maxtor website). If your motherboard is too old, a safe solution is to obtain a ATA card. For Windows version below 2000, it is recommended to have partitions smaller than 137GB.
As for external drives, most new enclosures should support 48bit LBA. Many retailers list this feature in the product description explicitly. I am not sure whether BIOS and Windows update are still necessary. But it would be safe to have them. Old enclosures may not support 48bit LBA but with firmware update they may be able to do so. For example old Oxford 911-TQ-A firewire chipset should support 48bit LBA starting firmware 3.8.
Different hard drives also behave differently. Maxtor large drives are generally safe even in old enclosures due to their interference implementation. Western digital seems to have most troubles in old enclosures.
Anyway, do a test for yourself is the safest answer. Try to see whether you can make a single partition on a large drive and format and fill the whole disk without problems. I had a WDC 160GB HDD which can be formatted correctly but still corrupted the files when the data reach 137GB threshold.
5.6. What client chipsets support my 16X DVD burner at real 16X speed?
This is now the most annoying problem. You want your 16X burner to really burn at 16X. If your hardware fail to achieve real 16X, even if you can choose 16X in the burning software, the drive will give you a zigzag burning curve and lead to poor burn quality. All the following conditions have to be satisfied in order to have your 16X burner burn at real 16X:
6. Why my devices are not recognized by Windows?
6.1 Power supply
This is a common thing with 2.5 enclosures. When using bus power (power by USB or firewire interface, no external AC), it may not be sufficient for your hard drive. Dell computers are know to be weak on their USB port. You need special Y cable to get some extra power from another USB, firewire or PS2 port.
6.2 Jumper settings
Read the instruction to make sure you have the right jumper setting. Some require Master, some require Cable Select and some even require Slave.
6.3 File system
Make sure you drive is partitioned and formatted. In addition, Windows 98 and Me and old versions will not recognize NTFS file system. Here is the detail info on setting up new hard drive. Thanks to DragonsLore:
For Windows 2000 & XP, you need to do this
- 1) Connect the cable to the computer
- 2) If USB - Drivers need to be installed (Windows may or may not have them already)
- 3) Go to Administrative Tools > Computer Management
You will see two window panes - On the left will be management options
Select "Disk Management" - Two new window panes will appear on the right
Top Right will be the list of "Actual" Drives
Bottom Right will be the "Physical" Drives - The new drive should show here.
Physical drives which is the actual hardware will show in the list as "Disk 0" "Disk 1" and son on.
You will recongnize your new drive because it will either have NO drive letter associated with it
or the drive letter will be one that previously was not on your system. Also, the physical size of
drive will show here too.
- 4) Once you find your external drive listed here, select the drive by clicking on the wide bar
you see there. All operations are performed by right clicking in this area.
Now, keeping this simple, ((MAKE SURE you are not selecting your C:\\ Drive)) you will want to
delete any partitions that may be present on this drive. After this, you will want to
create a "Primary Partition." While doing this, there will be an option to Format the
drive. Make sure this option is NOT checked. The reason for this is it's faster to use
Windows Explorer to format the drive than it is useing the Disk Management Consol.
- 5) In the same window pane, where it says the disk number, make sure there are "no warning marks."
I forget whether the mark would be yellow or red. If there is one of these marks in this
area, then you need to either right click or double click on the warning mark, then in the
context menu that pops up, select "Initialize Drive" If you don't see a warning mark, then
you are good to go.
- 6) Close the Computer Management Consol, then open Windows Explorer and click on the Plus sign
to the left of My Computer. You should see the new drive listed here. Right click on the
new drive and select "Format Drive" Before you do this, you can always click on the drive
letter to be sure you're not doing the wrong drive.
7. Why my hard drive is not fast enough?
There are speed differences among different combination of host-client chipsets. It also depends on whether your host is onboard or plug-in or PCMCIA on laptop. These usually lead to negligible difference in performance. Here refers to those extremely slow performance.
7.1 firewire enclosure
Most likely your enclosure's client chipset is configured conservatively. For example, some old enclosures have their UDMA mode turned off. You need tools to turn on the support for all UDMA modes. Tools usually can be found on online enclosure retailers, see below.
7.2 USB2.0 enclosure
Maybe you have too many USB devices. Maybe you connect through only a full-speed USB2.0 hub instead of a high-speed USB2.0 hub.
7.3 File system
I heard sometimes, FAT32 is very slow in some enclosures. I did not meet this problem. Anyway, NTFS is recommended.
8. Do I need to update firmware and how?
8.1 Update client chipset's firmware for the enclosure.
Usually you can only do so for firewire chipset.
8.2 Update CD/DVD drive's firmware.
Here is how to update drive¡¯s firmware in their enclosure. Thus Windows utility is required. Most drives can use their internal firmware version even in an external enclosure. BenQ 1620 however has different versions for internal and external use.
9. OK, I have heard enough. Where to buy???
See quick summary for recommendations on good products ( thanks to SickTeddyBear)