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Legacy Mac (1998-2001) Hard Drive Considerations, Tips and Info:
Published: 7/13/2001
(FYI - this article is from 2001, before the era of much larger hard drive (1TB and over), SerialATA drives (and onboard SATA interfaces), Intel-based Macs, etc. - Check the Drive database or later articles on the Storage pages for more current info/articles/discussion.)


I've gotten a lot of mails since starting this site in 1997 about hard drive upgrades or purchases. (Firewire/External, internal, portable or AC powered cases, build your own vs buying a completed drive, how to upgrade a drive in a desktop or powerbook, what model/revision machine they have, etc.). I know most regular readers already know what I'm about to discuss and/or have read the articles/guides here already, but there are many computer owners that are less experienced or new to this site (or have never checked the topics page links and FAQ). Most of them own IDE based Macs, so that's what I'll focus on. For those readers, here's some practical advice and things to consider. I'll use some concrete examples to help you decide what's the best path and value and include some links to more info and guides.

(I've not had a lot of sleep recently so this may be a bit rambling, but bear with me and skip over anything you're not interested in.)

First a reminder on IDE drive specs - although most all IDE/ATA hard drives as of 2001 are ATA/100 (or ATA/133) rated, but in general they're backward compatible with even the ATA/3 controller in the Beige G3 (and even older IDE based Macs like the Starmax and PowerBase clones - the drive database here has reports even on those older models from owners that installed large, modern ATA/100 or ATA/66 drives). (FYI - drives larger than 137GB will be limited to appx 128GB (binary - appx 137GB decimal) capacity with the onboard/internal IDE/ATA interfaces in Macs before the Quicksilver 2002 G4 tower, iMacs before the G4 model and Powerbooks before the Alum models. This later topic on 48-bit addressing (aka "Big drive support") is covered in later articles/FAQ items, etc. here.)
For desktop Macs with an open PCI slot, you can add a PCI Controller card to increase performance if your Mac has an older interface, or to add more drives if the onboard connections are full. See the IDE articles page for more info. (OS X compatible PCI IDE cards currently include the Acard ATA/66, Turbomax ATA/66, Sonnet Tempo ATA/66 (both made by Acard), and the Acard and Sonnet ATA/66 hardware RAID cards. (The VST IDE card and out of production Turbomax ATA/33 are not OS X compatible as noted previously on the OS X and PCI IDE card owner reports page.)

  • Remember your internal drive is where the OS and most (usually all) of your applications reside and where 90% (or more) of your disk activity occurs even for owners of external drives. Therefore it should be the first drive you upgrade unless you already have (or your Mac came with) a large/fast drive. An external drive will get less use and have far less impact on your overall system performance than a large and fast primary internal drive. (And the external drive will usually cost more also due to the added cost of the case.)
    External drives are great for backups, data storage, or sharing between computers (sneakernet), but if your primary internal drive isn't large enough or is old/slow, take care of that issue first for the best bang for the buck.

  • If your Desktop Mac supports two IDE drives (Master/Slave) you can add a 2nd (slave) drive, which could be used just for data, or for OS X only, etc. (There's no room for 2 hard drives in the iMac or Cube however.) Here's a listing of Beige G3 and later Mac models (IDE based) with some general info on adding/upgrading drives to be aware of:

    • Beige (Platinum) G3s - the first models (so called rev A/rev 1 - see the FAQ for how to check this) do not support more than one drive per IDE cable. Personally due to potential issues I noted in my 1998 Beige G3 MT drive upgrade guide (where to mount the drive so the 6" master/slave cable spacing will reach, etc.), if you're still running the original 4GB drive, that's no big loss when you can get a 40GB drive for under $100 now (as of 2002) and copy your data to it. (See the guide for a tip on using the CDROM cable temporarily to do this). Another simple option is to replace the IDE CDROM drive with a hard drive and use a SCSI CDROM drive in its place. If your Beige G3 has an IDE ZIP drive, it's a rev B or later model (since the IDE ZIP is a slave drive, the CDROM always ships set to master.)

    • B&W G3 Revision 1 - as many readers unfortunately already know (and has been reported here ad nauseum since about spring 1999), the IDE chip revision on the rev 1 B&W G3 motherboards doesn't like slave drives or even many modern replacement drives run as Master alone. (See the drive database for reports, the FAQ for a data corruption tester and the rev 2 features page for how to check your IDE chip to see if it's the revised one.) If you have a B&W G3 with a rev 1 IDE chip on the motherboard, a PCI IDE controller card is the safest and best way to upgrade/add additional drives. See the IDE articles page here for more info and remember the comments above on OS X compatibility with certain brands.
      If you have a B&W G3 rev 2 (or at least the revised motherboard IDE chip), then you can easily add a 2nd (slave) drive or replace the original drive using the onboard IDE controller. See the IDE articles page here for guides w/photos, etc.

    • G4/PCI and G4/AGP Towers all shipped with a dual drive cable and stacked drive bracket to make adding a 2nd drive easy. See the IDE articles page for the guide to adding a 2nd drive.

    • G4 Cube - Apple has a PDF file and Quicktime movie on replacing the hard drive at their G4 Cube Customer Installable Parts (CIP) page. They do not cover jumper settings but most IDE drives ship set to master as noted in the other mac articles here. (But check the settings on the label to verify this before installing the drive.)

    • iMacs - The drive database here has some owner comments that might be of help, but the iMac DV (slot loading) off-site article linked in the FAQ's iMac/iBook section vanished. With the iMac, beware the CRT assembly stores hazardous voltages even with power disconnected, so officially I'd suggest a qualified person perform any HD upgrades in those models (although I and many readers posting in the database have done it.)

    • iBooks - perhaps the most difficult Mac to upgrade the internal hard drive due to an almost complete disassembly of the computer being required. The FAQ noted a reader's guide and PDF file, but those also vanished from the web, although I may have saved the PDF file and if I can get the author's permission I'll mirror it. As noted in the FAQ - even the 2001 iBook has a max drive height of 9.5MM. (The largest 9.5mm high drive I'm aware of is 30GB.)

    • Powerbook Series - Guides to 1998 Wallstreets (G3/233-300Mhz), 2000 Pismo (G3/400-G3/500 Firewire) and PowerBook G4 Titanium models are linked here on the IDE and Systems page (PB section). The 1999 Lombard (G3/333 and 400mhz w/no onboard firewire) case is practically identical to the Pismo so that guide should be of use. For the G3/333 Mhz and up Powerbooks, a 12.5mm high drive is the max height drive you can use inside. The 1998 wallstreet series (G3/233 to 300mhz) can accept up to a 17.5mm high drive. The later Mac notebooks typically have 9.5mm max drive heights. (This is not as big an issue now as in the past, as most modern notebook drives are 9.5mm high, although there are some exceptions.)

  • A Firewire hard drive case kit can be a good value as far as allowing you to reuse the original drive in the Firewire case (assuming you a Firewire interface either onboard, PCI card or PCcard). You'll retain all your old data if the drive was formatted on the onboard IDE after moving it to a FW case.

    Not sure how to upgrade your desktop or Powerbook internal drive or how to install a drive in an external case?
    There are both desktop and powerbook articles here with photo illustrated guides to installing/replacing the internal drive and guides on Firewire case kit builds - see the IDE and Firewire articles pages for links.

    You can buy a fast, large (60GB or more, 7200 rpm/2MB cache) IDE drive for a desktop Mac very cheaply now. You can partition the new drive to have separate volumes for MacOS 9, one for OS X, and/or have separate volumes for applications and data (making backups simplier and reducing drive fragmentation).

    A prime candidate for this is the G4/450 Cube here. It has a relative sluggish WD 20GB/5400 rpm drive. (Most noticeable in OS X.) For a system like this, I'd upgrade the internal drive to a larger/faster first before considering any external drives. I'd then reuse the original drive in a Firewire case later. If you have a Firewire case, after installing the new drive, you could boot the old drive in the firewire case (option key at powerup) and copy the data over after formatting/partitioning the new drive. (The G4/AGP HD upgrade guide here has a page on how to use Drive Setup for those that have never done so.) If I could not afford to get the FW case right away, I'd still go for the internal drive upgrade, as again that is the primary drive being used.

    Firewire case kits cost appx $100 (often less) now for a fast Oxford 911 bridge model. (Portable/2.5" drive or 3.5"/AC powered model cases with the Oxford bridge both cost about the same currently.) See below for more comments on FW case kits and pre-assembled FW external drives.

  • For notebooks, the same rules apply - 2.5" notebook drive prices drop and capacities increase frequently. And a portable external (Firewire preferably if your Mac has FW ports) case will let you reuse the original internal 2.5in drive. (Or if you have an expansion bay equipped PowerBook G3, you can put the drive in one of the MCE exp. bay kits - a build guide is here on the IDE articles page.)

  • If you already have a fast/large primary drive in your Mac, but are considering a Firewire drive and wonder whether to get a portable (2.5"/notebook drive) model or AC powered (3.5" desktop drive size) model. Consider your needs and use first. AC powered/3.5in (desktop drive) based models have higher performance (and capacity cost per GB) but for some users - the freedom of a portable (bus powered) external drive is a big plus. Here are some things to consider:
    • Is the small size of the portable drive and lack of AC adapter important to you? (do you travel a lot, or need to carry the drive between work areas to use with many different computers?)

    • Do you have a spare drive already? (If you do the type of drive - notebook or desktop - dictates the case type/size.)

    • If you need the largest drive possible, then the 3.5"/AC powered cases mean you can use lower cost per GB drives and have a much wider selection (and sources) of them. 2.5" notebook drives have come down in price/up in size but are still more expensive per GB than 3.5in drives.

      If you own a desktop Mac, another consideration is that should the Firewire case fail, with an AC powered/3.5" drive case, you could remove the drive from the case and install it in your desktop Mac. (Assuming the case controller/AC adapter failed and not the drive itself of course.)

    • If you don't already have a spare drive or would rather not assemble a case kit (see the guides here on case kits - it's not hard to do), then buying a completed drive may be a better fit for you.
      Building the case kit yourself however is satisfying (in my opinion) and you'll know how to replace the drive in the future should you want to do so (upgrade it to a larger IDE drive, etc. as prices drop/sizes grow as they always do.)

    • Some Firewire drive cases from "name brand" sources are not designed to have the drives inside easily replaced (i.e. you void the warranty by opening them - often some sort of "evidence tape" or seal used over one of the case's retaining screws).

    • Firewire Drive/Case Noise: Portable Firewire drives are almost always quieter than 3.5"/AC powered drives. All drives make some noise, especially when the drives are accessing data (head movement), although most I have used are not really noticable while you're working. Some 3.5"/AC powered cases have no fan in the case and depending on the drive inside, are very quiet in my opinion. Multi-drive cases typically have (and should have) cooling fans although there are some dual-HD cases that do not.

    • If you shop around at the parts dealers selling case kits, you'll see many similar cases being sold under various "brand" names. Like various controller cards, many buy from the same OEM (original equipment manufacturer) source. What may vary is the brand of 'bridge board' inside the case. (The bridge board does the FW (or USB, etc) to IDE/ATA interface conversion. I've typically preferred Oxford bridge board based cases in the past, based on my own experience.)


  • Internal IDE Drive Noise: I typically rarely drive noise when they're installed in towers (the case fans are far louder than the drives). All drives make some noise when the head is seeking data, but you don't normally hear it with most drives inside desktops/towers due to other noise from the computer power supply fan or case fans. The G4 Cube being fanless (if there's no Radeon or other fan-cooled card inside, or fan cooled CPU upgrade) is an exception. You can search the drive reports database here for Cube owner comments on drives which often include comments on drive noise.

    Notebook drives (internal) are another story. The drive database reports sometimes include comments on noise levels also and is a good place to check before buying.

    Helpful Resources:
    If you'd like to see comments from owners of your Mac model regarding drive upgrades, you can search our Database of Drive Upgrade reports. (Tip - when your search criteria results in many entries - you can use the browser "Find" feature to jump to reports that cover more specific details you're interested in. Or if there's too few results, widen your search scope by omitting some search optional items (Brand, OS, etc.)

    The Frequently Asked Questions area here is topic/systems based also and may be of help.

    Performance tests and comparisons of drives are also linked on the IDE, Firewire and SCSI articles pages here. (See the topics links under the logo above and at the bottom of this page.) The articles usually have links to sources and pricing, but remember prices can change literally daily, so check sources for the latest pricing. For internal hard drives, often local retailers may have good prices during sales or special offers.

    I know most of this is nothing new to many of you and I can't cover everything or every option, but for less experienced users that are torn between external or internal drive upgrades, portable vs AC powered, etc., I hope the above comments and links are of some help.



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