The Northern Spy — Rolling Your Own Firewire Drive

I needed (wanted) external FireWire drives on both my TIBook docks. This way I can have multiple locality backups of my important files and storage for local files as well. The household being Mac-centric, yet another such unit was required at the same time. We decided to get three IBM 61.6G 60-series ATA 100 IDE drives at local (Vancouver) parts supplier Atic ($260 CDN plus taxes, but prices change daily) and to obtain firewire cases to mount the drives.

For comparison’s sake (and due to differing perceptions of “cool”) we bought one case from MacSales (a.k.a. Other World Computing) and two from Jeff Chasik’s FireWire Depot. Both are designed to mount 3 1/2 inch IDE drives internally and interface externally to FireWire (two connectors) using the both Oxford 911 chipset. Both take 120V power and have an internal power supply, allowing them to pass power down the bus to other devices, an important consideration with the TiBook, which has only a single FireWire port.

Assembly was straightforward, taking under ten minutes for each unit. Both suppliers provided sufficient screws to mount the drives and hold the finished case together. All the relevant connecting and power cables were present. Of course, this being MacOS, everything worked out of the box. Format, partition, done. The cases had some differences, however.

The MacSales’ unit has a translucent (snow) top and bottom with a graphite front, one blue activity/power light, is FireWire only, slim, light, and very basic–not even branded. List cost: $129.99 US plus shipping and taxes, and delivery took only a few days. The only minus: If you grasp the case and twist, it flexes slightly, giving it a somewhat flimsy feel, but not causing any problems.

The Fire wire Depot units were their SK 35 FLEX brand (they have several in both 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 inch sizes.) It’s slightly wider, sturdier, and heavier than the MacSales unit, so despite its name, it does not flex once assembled. This one has a dark blue top and snow bottom with the two halves meeting across the front. It has separate power and activity lights, and sports a USB connector. List cost: $139.99 US plus shipping and taxes, and delivery took two weeks.

If you can use a screwdriver and know how to format a drive, building your own external FireWire unit makes a lot of sense. IDE drives are cheap, and both our case suppliers provided a good product with adequate instructions for even novices. We’ve used the finished products for a few weeks to make sure there are no glitches, and at this point give the edge to MacSales on price, but to FireWire Depot’ FLEX on quality.

–Rick Sutcliffe

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About the Author

Rick Sutcliffe

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.