Apr 11, 2011

What is the fastest external hard drive connection you can get?

Firewire, USB, or another?

USB 3 eSATA MAKE Western Digital is the best for speed & service.

USB 3.0 is the fastest if you are connecting a 3.0 or 2.5'' inch hard drive.Never tried thunderbolt on Mac OS... 


Sandeep Seeram


Hi mgrater,

PCMag had a buying guide about how to buy an external hard disk. You might find it helpful:


Check out the nifty chart on this website:

Thunderbolt is great, but only works with iMacs and MacBooks. Next spring, Intel has promised to deliver Thunderbolt support with the Ivybridge chipset. Until then, you're probably better off using USB3, since USB3 cards are relatively inexpensive and USB2 devices gain a speed bonus when connecting upstream to USB3.

Intel, in collaboration with Apple, just released the Thunderbolt interface (while under development it was known as LightPeak).  It is a 2-channel bi-directional 10Gbps connection over copper, a huge leap in perfmance over anything else.  An optical interface is under development  for more distance.  It supports data transfer as well as providing input to your video display.
The latest MacBook Pro and iMac systems now include this latest and greatest change, and Apple will remove Firewire ports eventually.  The connector used is the mini-DisplayPort connector, part of Apple's contribution to this new "Standard".   It looks like the first external SSD drive to support Thunderbolt will be from LaCie this summer.  Wintel systems and more peripherals to support Thunderbolt are sure to follow.


Steven Vaughn-Nichols wrote an article for ITworld comparing USB 3 and eSata.  About a year old at this point but you hopefully will still find it useful.




In the age of cloud computing external hard drives are probably going the way of the 3.5" floppy, but in answer to your question, Firewire 800 is still the speed king until USB 3.0 proves otherwise.


Currently, eSATA is fast and has less overhead than the others.  And provided the PC picks it up as a SATA device, it also will do S.M.A.R.T.




USB 3.0 changes all this though, but not much in my opinion.  Not enough to declare itself the speed demon victor anyway.



Also, read this article:



Also, speed is relative to what you'll be doing with it, ie., copying large files vs. small files.  Read vs. writes.  And that will only happen as fast as the slowest link.


In general though, eSATA is faster than Firewire 800 and USB 2.0.  USB 3.0 changes things, but just barely.

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