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Firewire 800 vs Firewire 400 Hard Drive TestsReturn to News Page

OWC 180GB Firewire 800/USB 2.0 Hard drive Review:
Posted: 5/23/2003

NOTE: This review was from 2003 - for the current (much expanded/improved) OWC line of Firewire/USB/eSATA drives see this page.

Site sponsor Other World Computing sent review loaners of two of their Firewire 800/USB 2.0/1.1 hard drives (180GB model) and two Firewire800 PCI controller cards (since I don't own any FW800 Macs) for a review. This review focuses on Firewire 800 vs Firewire 400 performance (since I don't own any USB 2.0 Macs/controller cards). I tested performance of the following configurations/combinations (all FW tests used the OWC drive, so only the firewire interface was a variable to see what benefit FW800, FW RAID, etc. was using the exact same drives with the exact same system/OS, etc.).

  • Single Drive: FW400 ports vs FW800 PCI card
  • Dual Drive FW RAID (stripe): Onboard FW400 vs 1 and 2 PCI card FW800 RAID

Just for reference, many tests included results from a Western Digital 120GB/8MB cache drive connected to the onboard ATA/100 interface. (This drive had OS X 10.2.6/9.2.2 installed and had about 40% of the drive capacity used - so performance is lower than blank/erased drive would be.) All tests were run repeatedly after a clean reboot (to ensure as consistent/repeatable system/cache state as possible).

    OWC Elite FW800/USB 2.0/1.1 Hard Drive Features:
  • Two 9 Pin Firewire 800 ports
  • One 6 Pin Firewire 400 port
  • One USB 2.0/1.1 port
  • Hitachi 180GXP/8MB Cache hard drive
    (in test samples, OWC says these drives have proven faster than the Western Digital models)
  • Oxford922 Chipset (1394b)

    Kit Contents: (in addition to the drive)
  • Cables: FireWire 800, FireWire 400(short), 6pin/4pin (for PC notebooks or use w/unpowered FW ports)
  • Intech Utility CD (DeviceTuner, Disk Defrag, Integrity, QuickBack and QuickBench)
  • Folder of Freeware/Shareware (819MB) including:
    • Apple Updaters
    • Apple Movies
    • Desktop Pictures
    • Mac OS 9 and OS X Shareware/Freeware (utilities, Audio/Video, Games, Imagining, Business)
    • Newer Tech Software
    • OWC Software (Xpostfacto and VST/ATA66 Firmware update)
  • AC Adapter (12VDC/3AMP output rating)

Photo of OWC FW800 Kit Contents
OWC HD kit contents

For better photos and a complete listing and latest pricing on OWC's Firewire800 + USB Drives, see this page.

The latest Macs now have onboard Firewire 800 ports, but the first model MDD G4 Tower test system only has FW400 ports so OWC sent two of their Firewire 800 PCI cards for testing with the drives.

    PCI Firewire 800 Controller Card
  • Three Firewire 800 ports
  • 64Bit PCI card (can be used in 32Bit/33MHz PCI slots but performance will revert to FW400 performance)
  • Ti chip based
  • Has 4-pin floppy-type power connector
    (not used, not tested with bus powered drives)

    PCI Card Requirements: (from linked OWC product page)
  • FireWire 800: Macintosh with 33-MHz/64-bit PCI slot. Power Macintosh Blue & White G3* or later, all AGP Power Macintosh G4 systems fully supported. FireWire 800 requires Mac OS X 10.2.3 or later, Mac OS X 10.2.5 or higher recommended. FireWire 800 is NOT supported under Mac OS 9.
  • FireWire 400: Must use 9 pin to 6 pin adapter cable (not included). Macintosh with 33-MHz/32-bit PCI slot. FireWire 400 requires Mac OS 8.6 or later. If used in a 33-MHz/32-bit PCI slot, FireWire 400 speed will be maximum attainable. (*Blue & White G3 / Power Macintosh G4 "Yikes" will not see maximum performance with this card due to an architecture flaw in the logic board design. There is nothing that can be done to rectify this situation. Note: the low write speeds/performance of the B&W G3 (same logic board as the Yikes G4/PCI) 33MHz PCI slots was noted some years back here in an article on Adaptec Ulra160 SCSI card performance. Using the 66MHz PCI slot (even though 32bit) was suggested for best performance with those cards-Mike)

  • Does not support Deep Sleep in tests here in OS X 10.2.6 (will sleep but fans still running).
    Update: (5/4/2005) If you're running OS X Tiger, it's been reported to solve the problem of deep sleep support with may Firewire 800 PCI cards including the OWC card. See the May 4th, 2005 Summary list of Tiger/PCI card Deep sleep reports. If you're running an OS before 10.4/tiger, no FW800 PCI card (Lacie, OWC, FWDepot, etc.) I know of has been reported to support deep sleep by actual users of the cards. See Reader reports on Firewire, USB and Firewire+USB PCI card and deep sleep.

Note on Booting from PCI FW Cards: Although B&W G3/G4 PCI (yikes) and older Macs can't boot from Firewire drives (even w/their onboard FW ports), I was able to boot from the FW800 PCI card connected drives using this MDD G4 tower. (I cloned the boot OS X 10.2.6 disk using Carbon Copy Cloner to a 2-drive FW800 RAID volume. Note that some apps store the volume name in their preferences, such as Lightwave 3D, so you may want to name the cloned volume the same as the original.)

Test System:

  • Mirror Drive Door (MDD) Dual 1GHz (first model from August 2002)
  • OS 10.2.6 (with all updates to date)
  • ATI Radeon 9700 Pro
  • Western Digital WD1200JB (8MB cache) boot drive (40% full)

Note that all my FW800 tests used the OWC FW800 PCI card, onboard FW800 ports may have less latency than a PCI card and might show slightly better results.

Finder Duplicate File/Folder Tests:
To eliminate the effects of copying files to/from another drive, I timed how long it took to duplicate both a very large single file (1.92GB QT movie) and a folder with thousands of files. (Copying folders with thousands of files has more overhead than single file copies.) Of course since these are timed tests - shorter bars are faster.

Duplicate 1.92GB File

Duplicate Folder Tests

Benchmark Tests:
I used some common/popular benchmarks, including the bundled Intech Quickbench. As with all tests, they were run after a clean reboot to OS X 10.1.6. (To minimize the effect of OS caching and ensure as consistent/repeatable a test condition as possible.) Results are in Megabytes/Sec so longer bars are faster.

I ran Quickbench's "Extended" (100MB largest size) tests with the following results:

QuickBench 100MB Tests

Although the max size is 1MB, I also ran Quickbench's standard Sequential and Random Read/Write tests:

QB Seq/Random RW tests

Xbench 1.0 test results shown are from the "256K block size" (the 4K block size tests results are typically very low with any drive combination, ranging from under 1MB/sec to under 10MB/sec depending on test.)

XBench Disk Tests

These are the first Firewire 800 drives I've had to test and was pleased with the results. If I were buying another Firewire hard drive, I'd definitely choose a FW800 model which clearly has higher performance/bandwidth and is a better choice performance-wise even if you have only FW400 ports currently. (IDE drives just keep getting faster, cheaper and larger so I'd want a FW800 case to take advantage of them in the future, even if I didn't have a FW800 Mac or controller card currently.)

The included software (including Intech Utilities CD), several types of FW cables, Hitachi 180GXP drive and 2 year warranty is a nice plus that may be missing from other dealer's offerings, so for the drive rating I'm giving it 4 Macs. The only downside was the lack of deep-sleep support with the PCI FW800 card (Update- 10.4.x./Tiger solves this issue usually), although that is typical with current cards and OS X versions (before OS X 10.4). I rarely if ever sleep my desktop Macs, so this may not be an issue for some, but I wanted to mention it as I had not see it noted in any other review/test of FW PCI cards on the web to date. If you're using a Mac with onboard FW800 ports, of course that isn't an issue.

OWC FW800 180GB Drive Rating

For a complete list of available models and current pricing, see OWC's FW800/USB 2.0/1.1 hard drives page.
Although I don't have other 'brands' of FW800 drives to test currently, many will use the same chipset/case bridge and have similar performance (although the drive inside of course can affect performance a great deal - the Hitachi 180GXP large drives are said to be the best performance drives available currently - so check that before you buy another 'brand' of FW800 drive).

Other Storage Articles/Reviews: See the Firewire, IDE and SCSI topics pages for reviews and related articles on drives and controllers. They also include links to the searchable database of over 10,000 Mac owner reports on drive upgrades of all types/interfaces.

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