The Woes of External USB Hard Disks

Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise � The woes of external USB hard disks Ed Bott posts on Alex Scoble’s troubles with USB drives and his large digital library and concludes that he’s “seen and heard of enough problems in demanding digital media applications that (he) recommends strongly against using them.”


I am so down on using external USB hard drives to manage my digital library. I have had drives from Maxtor, Seagate, Cobra and LaCie ALL fail. I’ve lost music. I’ve had tons of copy problems. I’ve spent thousands of dollars. It has been one of my most frustrating endeavers ever. Personally I’m thinking (hoping) that when I buy my next PC it will be able to support at least 2 gigs internally — but even then, how do I grow from there?

What I really need is a server that can sit on my network with all my media files on it but I haven’t found anything yet that I’m willing to invest in on a lark that it may or may not work.

Terribly frustrating.

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  1. Ed Bott says:

    Thomas, if you use SATA drives, you can easily grow your capacity by using external SATA drives. There are lots of sources for external cases, which you can use to build your own drives. Right now 400GB drives are reasonable in cost per GB.

    Then get a SATA controller with multiple external connectors, plug them in with SATA cables, and away you go.

    In my experience, the cost is essentially identical to external USB/IDE drives (perhaps a slightly higher cost for SATA, but that’s changing). There is no comparison in terms of performance and reliability, however.

    Go SATA. You’ll thank me later.

  2. Pete says:

    I’ve been looking at something like this –

  3. Adam says:

    I recently put together a new development server for my home lan and figured that while I was doing that, I’d get a big chassis and double it up as a file server for my music and pictures.

    I bought parts from newegg, and was able to assemble the whole thing for around $1000. Half of that was for the 4 300GB SATA drives, which are now configured in a RAID5 array, and I splurged on a really nice case with lots of space. Granted, this takes some computer knowledge to set up, but it’s not the hardest thing in the world.

    For this kind of configuration, you’ll want gigabit ethernet at least. Fortunately, that’s really cheap right now. PCI cards for your old machines can be had for $15-$20, and a switch for around $60. If you’re building a machine from scratch, get a motherboard with gigE onboard.

    If you’re even a moderately knowledgable linux user, I highly recommend gentoo. The installation is complicated, but the Gentoo Handbook is very well written and almost entirely completely thorough. Doing a Gentoo install will probably teach you a lot about linux in the process.

  4. Adam says:

    I forgot to add, if it’s not apparent, that you can still run Windows (or whatever) on your desktops and have your fileserver run linux. You can run Samba to add your linux disks as network shares that can be mounted under Windows just like any other disk share.