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TUAW's Holiday Gift Guide: External drives for every Mac

Welcome to the TUAW Holiday Gift Guide! We've sorted the treasure from the junk and are serving up suggestions to make your holiday gift-giving a little easier.

Giving someone a new hard drive can be one of the best gift choices ever. Whether the recipient uses it to store backups of their photos or movies, or wants to be able to boot an aging Mac a bit faster, the gift of storage is always appreciated.

In this edition of the TUAW Holiday Gift Guide, I'll give you some ideas for inexpensive drives that are a good gift for someone who might need some extra gigabytes in which to store some personal information, up to some expensive arrays that can store terabytes of data.

As usual, this is just a sampling of the many models and sizes of drives that are available from a variety of manufacturers. If you have a favorite drive that you think might be the perfect gift for that special someone, leave a comment below -- we'd love to hear about it.

Gigs in your pocket

Hey, just about everyone has one of those cheap flash drives for moving files between Macs, but what if you want something that's a bit more sturdy and accessible? For the last two years, I've had a LaCie iamaKey flash drive on my keychain. It's been dropped on the floor numerous times, dropped in the snow at least twice, and it's spent over 700 days in my front pocket. It is still alive.

The drives come in sizes ranging from 2GB to 32GB, starting at just $14.99. What's my favorite thing about the iamaKey? I've lost many flash drives, but not this one -- since it's on my keychain.

Inexpensive and small

You can start off with a small drive for a friend who might not have a lot of need for extra storage, but who could use a Time Machine drive for an older Mac that didn't come with a lot of hard disk space to start with. The Seagate FreeAgent Go 250GB drive (starting at about US$62) has enough capacity to be useful, and it's inexpensive enough to be affordable. It's not formatted for Mac, so you'll need to provide your free services to format the drive for your friend or relative.

Big and Small

That sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? But a drive can be physically small and still have a tremendous amount of capacity. Although a lot of drive manufacturers have pocket-sized 1TB drives, the one I'd recommend is the Western Digital My Passport SE (US$169.99). I've personally used a lot of different Western Digital portable drives, and they tend to be rugged and inexpensive.

What can you do with one of these diminutive powerhouses? A lot. They're USB 2.0, so they're not the fastest drives in the universe, but they can be used to provide Time Machine backups of any MacBook model anywhere, and they're perfect for backing up video shot on location.

Fast, silent, and internal

The most recent MacBooks, the new MacBook Air models, all have internal Solid State Drives. Why? With no moving parts, they're fast and rugged. If you have an older Mac that you'd like to modernize with an SSD, probably the best place to look is Other World Computing. OWC sells a broad line of SSDs for just about any Mac model, ranging in capacity from a bootable 40GB for $107.50 to a mammoth 480GB for $1580. These are all 2.5" Serial ATA models meant as internal replacement drives, and OWC guarantees that they'll remain fast over their lifetimes instead of degrading in speed like most flash drives.

Fireproof and waterproof

A lot of people are good about doing regular backups to an external drive, but what if your house catches on fire or is inundated by a flood or broken pipe? That's where ioSafe disk drives come into play.

The ioSafe drives are fire and waterproof. Each drive can withstand 1,500°F temperatures for up to 1/2 hour, and they can survive in 10 feet of water for three days. The ioSafe Solo + DRS line comes with a data recovery service to retrieve data from the damaged media, so even if the USB 2.0 "plug and play" drive is literally toasted and then soaked by the fire department, chances are good that your data is safe.

The ioSafe Solo drives come in capacities of 500GB, 1TB, 1.5TB and 2TB, with prices ranging from $150 to $500, depending on the capacity of the drive and the years of data recovery service purchased. They're a great idea for anyone who is paranoid about data loss.

Big and Inexpensive

Are you looking for a gift that will give someone a load of storage, but isn't that expensive? There are many large internal and external 3.5" drives that are available for a song.

2TB internal drives are available from both Western Digital and Seagate for $99. That's incredibly affordable for a lot of space. The same drives, repackaged with a power supply and case, are about the same price and work just fine with any Mac without needing to perform surgery. The Western Digital My Book Essential External 2.0TB drive is only $99.99 and uses a USB 2.0 interface.

Want it with FireWire? Consider the Western Digital My Book Studio FireWire External 2.0TB drive for $189.99. It comes in both FireWire 400 and 800 flavors for compatibility with just about any Mac.

Big and Redundant

Although some of our commenters always kvetch when I write about the Data Robotics Drobo BeyondRAID arrays, I'm a huge fan of their products. If you're looking for a way to have huge amounts of storage available for large photo or video libraries, and you'd like to make that storage available from anywhere, look no further than the DroboPro FS.

My personal favorite configuration of the DroboPro FS is the one loaded with eight 2TB SATA drives ($3,299), and I'd be thankful to Santa if I found one under the tree. You won't have a full 16TB of storage, since the RAID array requires some space for building in single or dual drive redundancy. With single drive redundancy, a single drive out of the eight in the array can fail and be replaced with no loss of data. With dual drive redundancy, two drives or a full 25% of the drives can fail at the same time, and your data is still safe. The overhead to do this, however, chews into that 16TB of luscious space.

The DroboPro FS uses a gigabit Ethernet connection to interface with the world. You can use the new Drobo Sync software to mirror the DroboPro FS to another DroboPro FS anywhere in the world, for the ultimate in redundancy.

There you have it -- a variety of hard disk drives, both internal and external, SSD and traditional spinning platter, big or small. The range of prices will fit any budget, and in all cases you'll be providing someone with a useful and appreciated gift.

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