« British PM Responds to Photographers' e-petition | Main | Gordon Lewis Collector Print Offer: 'Precipitation' »

Friday, 02 October 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

'Fraid my LaCie's equally sloth-like. I've heard better things about the Samsung 1.5TB, which seems a good price into the bargain

No conventional drive, but you could use a solid-state drive (SSD) -- much more money for much less space, but much faster -- or you could configure your machine not to spin down your disks, assuming you leave them powered up all the time.

I just purchased a few 1.5TB SATA Seagate Barracuda drives and external cases made by NexStar at Fry's and at Micro Center. They seem pretty fast to me and show up on my desktop 15-20 seconds after I turn them on.

The casing matters not a lot - but put a RAPTOR in it - any Raptor will do.

What are you using now?

An SSD would fit the bill, although at a high cost. How about an additional internal drive and a careful backup strategy?

Slow hard drive?
More gerbils=faster drive

I've had good luck with OWC's line of Elite Pro.

But I use them for back-ups, not to work from.

Clear out the hard drive on your computer, max the RAM, would probably be the fastest.

Write a post on Chet Baker. Or two.

There used to be a setting on macs where you could choose if you wanted your external drives to spin down or not but I think it is long gone. There is a function for this in energy saver which I have always had off but the externals still go to sleep. The funny thing is I have read a test that proved it was better for a drive to be going all the time rather then be shut down and started again. That was how I lost my last drive.

"What are you using now?"

500 GB Acomdatas. (Firewire 400.)


Solid state drives would be the fastest since there is nothing that needs to spin up. Size and price would be the limiting factors though.


Your drive is probably set to go into sleep mode after a certain period of time. You can either extend that period or just not have it go into sleep mode at all.

How you adjust that will depend on what OS you are using and what the drive make is.

What is your current hard drive and how much are you willing to pay?

Solid-state drives (essentially big chunks of RAM) are very fast, but they cost 5-10 times more than hard disks.

Hi Mike:

I have been very happy with the Fantom Green 1TB through an esata connection. Very quiet, cool-running and fast (unlike the hot-running, noisy LaCie I have).




many tests by Lloyd Chambers here:



You need a real wall-powered drive, not a notebook one powered by the USB port. I like the Buffalo Technology drives -- they work on your network or firewire/USB. I also use the Lacie Neil Poulton external drives.
Hope that helps!

I've converted to WD Passport series of external HDs. They get power through the USB cable - no PSU needed! They're small, portable and looks great in the bookshelf above my desk. I've got 10 of them and haven't had a single failure yet, although I regard all HDs as potential disasters.

I would skip the 3.5" drives and go for a 2.5" one. The 7K200 Travelstars in particular are very reliable, fast and I believe go up to 500GB these days. In addition, you can get the 'E' version, which is designated to work non-stop, so just turn off the spinning part.

a solid state , amigo , but 64gigs' cost not a little !

Some external hard drives can be prodded to never spin down, though this shortens the life of the drive. Doing this requires changing settings in your operating system. I can't help you there.

Internal hard drives can be prompted to not spin down in Windows XP by going into the Power Options control panel and selecting "never" under "turn off hard disks." If you are merely working with lots of data, and not using the external drive as a backup, conventional internal hard drives are ludicrously cheap, so if one can fit inside your computer case, order one today.

If you are using the external drive as a backup, you may want to consider a offsite backup service like Mozy, which is quite reasonably priced, or a dedicated, always on, network storage device (NAS). Disks are always spinning, so no drumming fingers. Higher maintenance costs, though. Reading/writing files over a local wired network should be adequately fast, provided you are not editing video.

You could look into the newer, SSD drives. Basically, ram chips in a hard drive case, immensely faster than any flash memory chip.
140$/30gig from Newegg.com [Look for Solid State Disks. e.g.: http://www.newegg.com/Store/SubCategory.aspx?SubCategory=636&name=Solid-State-Disks ]

No moving parts, no spin up time, no heat, no noise, low power, and they have the usual physical interface. You can put one in any external hard drive enclosure you want.

Disk is always slow. Eventually solid state drives will be robust (long-term) and cheap (on a dollar per byte basis) but for now we are all stuck with magnetic media.

What will have the greatest impact on your user experience in the short-term is to get significantly more memory for your computer (somewhere near the double digit mark in gigs). Then never shut off the computer and never close down applications.

This works best if you can setup virtual desktops on your machine. One of the desktops could be for Photoshop, another for MS-Word, etc. This would allow you to keep the desktops relatively uncluttered.

If you have a multi processor, the machine should be able to do "paging" behind the scenes with minimal impact to your use. In principle the only time you will witness any slowdown is when you access a new file to operate on (image for Photoshop, word document, etc.).

Somehow I assume you use a Mac. If my guess is right you can set the hard drives not to go to sleep. Go to Apple --> Preferences --> Energy Saver and deselect the option "Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible". This will keep them running spin up time of hard disk drives will always be slow. The other option is as mentioned an expensive SDD.

I can recommend the Western Digital My Book Studio Edition - it automatically spins down and up with the system (quickly!) and features Firewire 800/400, eSata and USB.

Don't let them sleep.

On a Mac:
System Preferences > Hardware:Energy Saver > uncheck "Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible.

I haven't let my drives sleep for 10+ years. Buy top-quality drives, though. I've only had one drive crash - a LaCie. Based on that experience, and the word of a few different tech guys, i stay away from their products. I buy a lot of stuff from OWC/Other World Computing. Hitachi and Seagates, i think. Call their customer service line and ask them.

I agree with several of the others...an SSD drive would be the way to go. When I purchase new internal or external drives, I'll purchase SSD drives.

For conventional home use purposes, a pair of Western Digital VelociRaptors in RAID 0 would be blistering fast. However, they are only 300GB, cost more than your standard 1 TB drives, and RAID 0 does not offer any kind of data redundancy.. But it would be fast.


Unless you go with SSD, all hard drives will power down depending on the power scheme set by the hardware and software (i.e. OS X) manufacturer. In addition to this, the onboard hard drive on a MacBook will park its heads if you move the laptop suddenly.

There are hacks to allow you to never power down a drive so you don't have this spin up lag and to disable the accelerometer. The link is below.


Other options include buying a NAS -- which I strongly recommend if you can put up with a slight tradeoff in performance. I use one in RAID for my photos and it works wonderfully. It even ships with an iTunes server so that you can put your music on it and it will automagically share it out to iTunes over your home network.


I've personally gone the way of purchasing and enclosure then stuffing a decent drive in side. I've had good experience with Bytecc and CoolMax units. Personally, I also prefer to have a unit with a fan and is made of aluminum to attempt to reduce heat buildup. Just don't use the included software with the units - it's usually terrible.

Maybe you can adjust the 'sleep time'.
Basically you open your 'Terminal' program and follow these instructions:

Running hard disks steadily doesn't reduce but rather _extends_ disk life.

Forget a new drive. Just configure it to stay spun up, as others have mentioned.

Google for "usb windows spin down" yields a number of good-smelling hits on how to do this.

I'm not sure I understand the question. My external drives spin up in about 3 seconds and I only need to use them when I'm making a new off-site backup. So 3 seconds every couple of days.

I have a pair of cheap 1TB disks in my machine which are mirrored (so-called 'RAID-1') so I won't lose anything due to a single drive failure. The write speed is identical to a single disk as far as I can tell.

Then when I want to back up, I plug in my external drive, unlock the encryption and synch. Then I take it to work and swap it for the other one which I bring home, sync and forget. Rinse and repeat every time I have new photos to keep safe.

Are you syncing a single internal disk with an external one (permanently connected) actively while you work? I can see how that would be really infuriating if the OS keeps shutting the disk down after a short period of inactivity.

The firewire 400 connectivity might be the problem, Mike. Had a similar problem with my WD 500. When used with firewire, once it went into some sort of sleeping mode it was almost dead. I had to unplug it and plug it again to get it work. One day I've lost my firewire and switched to the USB. Left it standby all night and in the morning I was able to access it in milliseconds :) Try the USB, if you have the option.

If I remember correctly, Steve Gibson, who makes SpinRite at grc.com, says that spinning disks up and down is what kills them, not running them continuously. So his advice is likely to be to leave the drive running all the time. It's just more expensive (in electricity, and money) to do that...

What you need is a server drive that never spins down when the computer is connected. There may be a driver setting or jumper option that will just keep the drive going.

Or perhaps you just need a server.

(Keep in mind this will shorten the life of the drive & remember to keep regular backups.)

Solid State, vote umptybillion. Apparently Intel's X25s are the best. Check them out at newegg.com.

Contrary to popular belief, letting a good, well-cooled drive run all day won't shorten its lifespan. It will suck a little juice, and make some noise, though, of course. Of course, you should always back up all data, otherwise data loss is not a question of if, but of when.

External 3.5" drives are much cheaper and faster than 2.5" drives, which in turn use less power and are much more quiet.

SSDs are way too expensive right now, and they surely are complete overkill for external use over USB (especially on a Mac) or FireWire-400.

Unfortunately, I don't have any recommendations to make, though I can tell you that cheap external enclosures (which are most often sold without a harddrive) tend not to spin down at all.

as others have said, SSD is much faster but expensive. Otherwise look for the faster spinning disks - 7200rpm - with larger cache if possible. The OWC on-the-go line look good.

The other thing is I'd challenge why you're needing continuous access to an external drive and whether going eSATA might help, or shifting stuff from internal to external to free up space on the internal for more regular access.

I've got a ready-made 250 gig external disk braded Verbatim, but with a Samsung disk inside. It's plugged into a front USB port and it works from the moment I turn the computer on.

I've also got an external USB enclosure (Sharkoon) with a 200 gig disk (5400rpm, Maxtor) inside. Now, that one needs a bit of time for the first access in the morning and the same thing happens once or twice a day. Nothing really annoying, though.

So yes, I think there's something fishy with the spin-up every time you access your disk. Have no idea what you need to do on Mac to stop the downtime.

Sorry Mike, but there's just no getting around the laws of physics. As has been said by others, Solid State Drives (SSD for short) are actually just notebook-drive sized enclosures filled with flash memory. No spin-up time, but expensive...

For all of the disk drives that actually have disks in them, momentum is the key. The combination of platter size (2.5" or 3.5") and the drives speed (measured in RPM) are they key factors.

Smaller platter means less mass means faster spin-up.

Slower RPM means less time to reach rated spinning speed means faster spin-up. In this case, you typically pay a throughput tax because less RPM means slower data access (all else being equal).

I think Jim Lindor hit the nail on the head. Your drives are going to sleep.

I can't help you with Windows, but if you're on a Mac, check System Preferences > Energy Saver. The "Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible" option should be unchecked.

If on a Mac:

1) System Preferences

2) Energy Saver

3) Uncheck "Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible"

If on Windows, the option is buried deeper in the Control Panel Energy Saver settings

I think you're on Mac OS X. If so, you can manipulate some hidden Energy Savers preferences to prevent the drives from spinning down. This works very well, and I don't think it really has much of an adverse effect on the drive. Here are the instructions for how to do this (it's really very easy, though it does require the terminal): http://www.szilveszter.ca/blog/archives/289

I'm with the other Mac users who say not to let them sleep in the first place. I rarely have to wait for my external drives to become responsive.

I just googled "controlling external hard drive spin with Mac OS X" and
This nifty software utility
popped up

I haven't tried it myself but it looks promising...

Mike's problem is not the 'spin-up time', it is the time that it takes for the drive to be recognized by the Mac OS every time the drive comes back from it's sleep state. It is almost like plugging in a different drive and waiting for it to show up on the desktop every time that the drive wakes up. The disk spins up in just a few seconds, but then there is a whole lot of talking back and forth between the OS and the drive before the OS is ready to present it to the user.

As far as if it is better to power up and down the drive often, here is the truth:
a) Hard drives are prone to failure during startup.
b) Hard drives are VERY prone to failure due to physical shock when they are ON, but very safe when they are off.
So, don't put hard drives to sleep unless you have to, but always turn off an external drive if it is going to be moved.

And Mike... how are your backups doing? You do have that external drive backed up, don't you????? It will break eventually.

"And Mike... how are your backups doing? You do have that external drive backed up, don't you?????"

Right. I have one 500GB drive that I use for music and pictures, and another one just for backup. I only turn on the backup drive every few days.


Yes, and I'd recommend getting an external mirrored device if you haven't already. That way if a drive fails, it's mirrored on another drive; plug in a new drive and it will re-mirror.

My recommendation is this one:

I have the 1TB mirrored version. There's no spin-up time (takes more power, but it's available immediately). There's an on/off switch, though, so you can turn it off when you're not using it.

If you use a windows PC, see if there is an extra INTERNAL ESTA drive connection. If so, buy either a Seagate Barricuda or a WD Caviar in the size you need - and it will be on always.

If you use Mac I can't help you.
OC Garza

I may well be far too late to the party here but the one point I did not see made as I skimmed through the other comments was that (in a general sense) if you're having to wait for an external drive that often, you may want to reconsider the where's and how's of your storage strategy.

What I mean is that if you're storing data on an external drive that needs frequent or constant access, maybe there's a way to shuffle the location of data such that you're heavy use info is on the local, internal drive(s) and less frequently needed data is external. If memory serves, you are using Mac so a PC like me can't make sensible suggestions beyond the general but someone in your circle of experts should be able to tell you how to segregate the always-on from the occasionally needed.

I have had great success using the Mini-Max line of external drives from Iomega. You are getting a box with a Seagate drive in it, along with a Firewire 400 hub and a USB 2 hub. The drive will run continously if so configured; the design is both esthetically pleasing and practical.

I have several of these in service - most are running 24x7, all are over 2 years in service without problems... and all were purchased through the "outlet" store. They work fine with PC or Mac.

..."external hard drive"..."spins up"...

Oops...I still hadn't had my morning coffee when I responded...

I realize my suggestions may fall firmly into the "spending more money than you'd like camp." Furthermore, I am also moving into the "that's not what I asked" realm; but here goes:

1. Agree with all about drive wear and tear being in spin up from sleep. Don't put the drive to sleep.

2. I would suggest you replace your internal drive with a really big one, and store your OS, music and pictures on that. No lag time, and ...

3. I would upgrade, if you haven't, to at least Leopard, as it has Time Machine. Effortless back ups, and more importantly, some amount of version control.

So: Internal drive for all your data. External drive for Time Machine back up. A second external drive is a mirror of your OS/data drive, using CCC or SuperDuper! Move that drive offsite.

Two copies of data is kind of a bare minimum.

BTW if you upgrade to Snow Leopard (if you have an Intel box) the Finder rewrite is much better with disk I/O issues. Worth the $29 upgrade for me.

There are a few reasons why a SSD is not the solution:
1. Price
2. Capacity. I'm guessing you are running Time Machine and storing some data on that external HDD, so keeping the same kind of capacity would mean two 250GB SSDs in a RAID/JBOD unit. Which takes us back to 1.
3. Interface. Most Macs (again I seem to remember you have a Mac) have Firewire and USB2. No eSATA to take advantage of the throughput a SSD offers. It would then be a waste.
Conversely, there are now some very capable 2.5" magnetic drives out there. They would provide enough capacity (500GB), low consumption and very likely little noise (although the same could be said of some 3.5" drives).
My question to you, Mike, is: do you want to buy a ready-to-use external HDD, or are you ready to buy a external HDD cabinet and a HDD separately (greater flexibility but a bit more time-consuming)?
Either way I don't understand how a HDD can take more than 5 seconds to spin-up. Unless you were exaggerating, of course.

So how's it going, Mike? Did you work out a way to keep the drive on, spinning and accessible? I suppose a better way to put it would be: a way to make your photos and music more available?

The Mac OSX Energy Saver Preference Pane does not affect most types of external drives, as they are controlled by their own firmware. That Preference is mainly for your internal drive(The one your OS resides on). In most cases, even the manufacturer of the drive will tell you it is to prolong the life of the drive... however, I believe that Spinning up/down too often creates too many points of failure. Plus, how frustrating is it when you want record something and you actually have to wait for the drive to spin back up.

To really address your problem, you want a drive that DOES NOT spin down when idle. I've had some external USB/FW drives (early WD ones) that would spin down and whenever I went to use them, I'd always have to wait for them to spin up.

Having said that, if I were you I'd just buy my own case from Newegg, asking either newegg or the manufacturer if the controller in the case will spin down the drive when idle. And then just toss your own drive in.

I suppose that would work, but that may cost more money and time than most people would want... as you probably already went thru the steps of getting your drive just the way youe want it. External exclosures, are cheap, yes, but one that has this much control is most certainly going to cost you.

"No Spin" was developed by me and has received nothing but great reviews, and was actually picked as macfixit.com staff pick. It has also been mentioned in the "FCE4 Editing Workshop" book written by Tom Wolsky.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007