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I've recently bought a new macbook pro.

Since my old backup hard drive is failing, I'm planning on buying a new one. I don't want to spend a lot of cash and I would like a decent amount of extra space, so I'll be going for an HDD not an SSD.

Yet I'm wondering, what would be the best data protocol to buy (USB, FW800, Thunderbolt)?

I'd say thunderbolt is overkill since the speed of an HDD won't come near the speed thunderbolt can go (and it's pricey, and has low availability).

Is it worth it to go FW800 over USB2/3 (my mac has USB2 anyways)? I just want the speediest solution.

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FireWire, USB, Thunderbolt, none of these are 'protocols'. See Wikipedia's list of protocols. – Jason Salaz Jan 5 '12 at 10:48
Hmm yeah, thought I might be violating nomenclature there. How would you call it then? – romeovs Jan 5 '12 at 12:03
@JasonSalaz: They are not networking protocols, but each of them does indeed denote one or more protocols (google "firewire protocol", "usb protocol" or "pci protocol"). They are more than just protocols, however (for instance, they each also specify electrical and mechanical interfaces). I wouldn't say it is incorrect to call them protocols, but maybe calling them interfaces would be even better. – Dan Moulding Jan 5 '12 at 13:43
"Which connection interface should I use with my next external HDD?" or "Which port should my next external HDD have?" – Jason Salaz Jan 5 '12 at 16:20
up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you simply want speed, then FW800 is faster than USB2 (you do not have USB3).

USB has drawbacks which result in a lower then promised sustained speed (FW800>FW400>USB2).

Edit: I've done some research to get real world numbers. While the theoretical speeds are (100MB/s vs 50 MB/s vs 60MB/s) the real world results result are (90MB/s vs 30MB/s vs 30MB/s) due to limits cause by bridge-chips (german source). Since hard drives allow transfer speeds above 30MB/s, you should take FW800.

If you want to be upgrade safe for a future Mac, I'd take USB2/3. Firewire support is probably going to be dropped in the near future (see Macbook Air).

Thunderbolt is overkill - as you said.

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This is good advice. I'd add that from the question, there was no need to spend any extra $ on something faster than USB 2.0. Unless you are doing high bandwidth video capture or regularly waiting for large file transfers to finish, the money spent on FW or Thunderbolt is usually wasted for consumers. When you are earning a living or have hard data that USB 2.0 isn't fast enough, then you'll know it's time to spring for ThunderBolt enclosure and a RAID or an SSD as needed for the specific situation. – bmike Feb 7 '12 at 15:11

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