Mac Daniel's Advice

Bigger Hard Drives for Older Power Macs

Korin Hasegawa-John - 2001.07.23

Perhaps the biggest problem with old Power Macs is their small hard drives. They range from under 500 MB (NuBus Power Macs, 7200s, 7500s, and some 7600s) to 4 GB (8600s and 9600s). Even 4 GB can be filled very quickly by large applications and multimedia.

Here are your upgrade options:

Fast External Hard Drives

These are the easiest to install and deal with, because they don't involve opening your Mac's case. Fast external drives come in two basic flavors, FireWire and SCSI. In general, FireWire is fast enough, is cheaper and you can unplug your drives while the computer is running. You have to add a FireWire card to your older Power Mac, though - and there is no FireWire card for NuBus Macs.

However, if you want the best possible performance, get an UltraWide SCSI card and an external UltraWide drive. The U/W SCSI has about twice the performance of a FireWire drive. The catch? It costs a lot.

The problem with any external drive is that you have to remember to turn it on, and it requires a power supply. (Some small FireWire hard drives draw power from your computer, making them pretty easy to deal with.) SCSI must be terminated properly, which is a hassle, and ID numbers have to be assigned. Also, SCSI drives have to be turned on before you start your computer, and they are not hot-swappable (although you can get devices which make them hot swappable).

Slow External Hard Drives

These are the cheapest sort of external hard drives, having a very slow USB interface. They are hot-swappable and don't require termination or IDs. However, they are so slow that the only thing they are good for is backup. USB drives require their own power supplies. You need a USB PCI card, which is not compatible with the x100 series.

Fast Internal Hard Drives

Internal drives are cheaper than external drives of the same variety. When you buy an external drive, you pay for the case, the power supply and some cool colored lights. Internal dirves don't need their own power supplies. There are two interfaces:


SCSI is built into all Power Macs before the G3. It is not too fast using the built in controller, but can go up to 160 MBps (and maybe to 320 MBps by the end of the year). An 18 GB SCSI hard drive costs about $120-160. If you want to get the best possible speed, get a PCI controller for a faster flavor of SCSI (U/W or Ultra2 LVD). However, check your drive, because if it doesn't support faster SCSI you are wasting your money. SCSI is recommended for those needing less than 20 GB of space, multimedia editing (especially audio, see next section), and heavily used servers.


IDE also goes by the name ATA or EIDE. It ranges in speed from 4 MBps to 100 MBps. Currently, you can add ATA/66 66MBps IDE in any Power Mac with a PCI slot. Power Mac x100 series cannot use IDE because they don't have PCI slots, although there are a few SCSI-to-IDE adapters available.

The main advantage of IDE is price. You can get a 40 GB ATA hard drive for $100 or less. However, if you have an older PCI Power Mac, you probably need the PCI card which also costs $100, negating the price advantage for hard drives under 20 GB. However, IDE is bad for audio on old Power Macs. Apparently, during playback it will stutter. Check out the Accelerate Your Mac forum for IDE controllers.

With any internal drive, you have to put it into a free bay, attach all the cables, and set it to Master or Slave (for IDE) or give it an ID (SCSI). If you don't have a free drive bay, pull out your old hard drive. Also, if it's the last device in a SCSI chain you need to turn on termination - check your drive's directions for how to do this.

Your drive may also not be Mac formatted. You may need a copy of FWB's Hard Disk Toolkit if Apple's Drive Setup doesn't do the job.

These options are pretty painless and inexpensive ways to add large amounts of storage to your Power Mac. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, so I suggest you read up on the different methods more carefully before making a choice.

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