Shop for a New Hard Drive for Your MacBook

By Mark L. Chambers

Ready to brave the local Wireless Shed superstore (or perhaps its website) for a new hard driveyou’re your MacBook? Here’s a list of guidelines to keep handy while you’re shopping for a new internal or external hard drive:

  • Faster is indeed better. You’ll pay more for a 10,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) drive than a slower 5,400 or 7,200 rpm drive, but the extra cash is worth it. Faster drives can transfer more data to your MacBook’s processor in less time, especially if you’re replacing your MacBook’s internal Serial ATA drive.

    Faster drives are especially important for storing digital video.

  • Serial ATA and EIDE drives are different. If you’re replacing your internal drive, you have to get the same type of drive that you already have: EIDE or Serial ATA. (EIDE is a common parallel ATA standard hard drive used in PCs and older Macs.)

    The About This Mac dialog can tell you which type of drive your MacBook is currently using. Click the Overview button in the toolbar and then click the System Report button to launch the System Information utility. Your drive will be listed under either the Serial ATA heading or the Parallel ATA heading.

  • Solid-State drives are hot. An SSD drive has no moving parts. Instead, it uses RAM modules to store your data, much like the USB flash drives so common today. Silicon storage allows for superfast performance (and avoids the possibility of a hard drive crash, where the internal moving parts in a traditional magnetic hard drive decide to take a permanent vacation).

    Unfortunately, you’ll pay more for a solid-state drive than a standard magnetic hard drive. Check the specifications on any SSD drive you’re considering to make sure it’s compatible with your MacBook.

  • Avoid used or refurbished drives. Hard drives are one of the few components in your computer that still have a large number of moving parts. (Again, the exception is a solid-state drive.) Therefore, buying a used drive isn’t a good idea unless it’s priced very low.

    Because the prices on new hard drives are constantly dropping, make sure that you check on the price for a new, faster drive of the same capacity before you buy that bargain used drive.

  • Pick FireWire over USB. Compared with a FireWire 400 connection, a USB 2.0 external hard drive is less efficient and slightly slower. If your MacBook has a FireWire port, make very sure that you buy a FireWire drive!

    Of course, you can buy a USB 2.0 drive without being embarrassed. Or invest in a drive that has both FireWire and USB 2.0 connectors! Heck, if you’re running one of the latest Mac models with a Thunderbolt port, you can invest in the fastest external performance on the planet — but you’ll pay a premium price.)

    Don’t forget, a FireWire 800 port is roughly twice as fast as either a USB 2.0 port or the older FireWire 400 port.

  • Watch the size of the drive when buying internal drives. Your MacBook’s internal drive must fit in a small form factor, so don’t invest in a standard half-height 3.5-inch unit!