Hands Down: The Best 1TB External Hard Drive… is Custom

Mercury Elite-AL Quad-Interface 

Mercury Elite-AL Quad-Interface

1TB external hard drives are widely available now at any major retailer with Western Digital, LaCie, and Seagate topping the lists with their respective models.

I closely examined each of these options and was forced to eliminate the Seagate FreeAgent Pro 1TB because it only offered Firewire 400. I’m looking for longevity and speed at a great price.

That leaves the Western Digital MyBook and the LaCie d2 Big Disk. The LaCie has a Maxtor hard drive with many reports of premature failures. A percentage of all hard drives fail prematurely for various reasons; however, I’d prefer to perform surgery myself rather than having to chunk the drive and possibly the enclosure too.

That leaves the Western Digital MyBook. Honestly, I think the enclosure is sort of silly looking, but that’s shallow. The price did appear very nice, but the performance left something to be desired clocking in below 7,200 RPM with, at most a 16MB cache.

At this point, I gave up on out of the box solutions. I turned my attention to actual drive performance. The Seagate Barracuda was well received but underperformed in the benchmarks. The five-year warranty was tempting, but I wanted better performance and the price was higher than my final solution.

As I mentioned before, the Western Digital drives touted their eco-friendly qualities, basically, they’re slower so they use less energy spinning the platters. After learning that piece of information, I realized that I should consider power consumption as well. I don’t want to burn energy if I don’t have to and if less energy can get the job done well, why not look into that?

Samsung Spinpoint F1

Samsung Spinpoint F1

So I did just that and discovered the Samsung Spinpoint F1. It boasts a 7,200 RPM drive, a 32MB cache, and a three-year warranty. Samsung is new to the hard drive arena and I wasn’t sure it would be a good choice. I read some expert and customer reviews and took a peek at some benchmarks which showed the Spinpoint to outclass all other 1TB drives in sequential read/writes and was in the top three in nearly every other benchmark.

The secret to the success the perpendicular write technology, something Seagate also uses, but also in the way it is implemented. The Samsung drive is the only drive to have just three platters that pack in 333GB/platter. This means less distance between sequential sectors, a light-weight arm and head, and less power consumed by the spindle motor versus the competition. The best part was paying $179.99 for the drive. Other 1TB drives were selling for $189.00-$209.00.

Finally, the enclosure. I wanted something that would not have a weak point — lots of ventilation, a controller that would push data as fast as possible, and an exterior that would also look cool at a respectable price. I chose the Other World Computing Mercury Elite-AL Quad Interface hard drive enclosure. It was pricier than other enclosures but also had more interfaces including eSATA, two Firewire 800, Firewire 400, and USB 2.0. It also looks slick and the aluminum helps to dissipate heat from the drive itself.

I’ve waited a month to write a review to allow time to test the product. It is used as my Time Machine backup drive, my Adobe Creative Suite scratch disk, my iTunes library, and installation media backup drive. It runs many critical tasks at the same time and doesn’t flinch. With Firewire 800, it writes files at about 65MB/sec and reads them at about 80MB/sec. This was a major upgrade from my previous USB 2.0 drive that could only muscle about 20MB/sec write and nearly 30MB/sec read.

Since this is custom, how hard is it to put together? If you can use a screwdriver (included, along with instructions and all other cables necessary for each interface), then you can put this together. It really takes no more than 10 minutes until it’s plugged up and ready to go.

All things considered, I did my homework and found an easy, superior, custom combination that outperforms the competition in quality, capability, functionality, and class at the same price point. I couldn’t be more pleased.


2 Responses

  1. hey mike,

    killer review! i’m looking at throwing down some lettuce for this exact combo. however, i’m curious — have you had any problems with the particular setup? do you still like the owc external enclosure?

    any feedback would be greatly appreciated!


  2. The only issue is that I had to turn off the “put hard disks to sleep”. There is apparently an hiccup with the controller in the enclosure not waking and sleeping right. There may be a firmware update, but it’s not a big deal to me. Same is true sometimes when switching back from boot camp.

    All in all it’s still awesome though.

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