PowerBook Hard Drives:
The Essential Upgrade
by Remy Davison

Running out of room? That original drive not big enough? Worry no longer, because notebook hard drives have never been cheaper. Now you can have gigs and gigs of storage right at your fingertips. And it needn't cost your left kidney to get it either.

Whether you're moving to OS X, installing VirtualPC or simply editing oodles of DV, a big hard drive is in your future. Fortunately, with every PowerPC PowerBook (and the 190 and 150), Apple has made your life easier by making IDE the standard. Check out your 'Book model below to get the gen on what fits.

Model

Interface type

Maximum drive height (mm)

Maximum capacity (a)

PowerBook G4

UATA-66

9.5

No absolute limit

iBook Dual USB (2001)

UATA-66

9.5

"

PowerBook G3 FireWire (Pismo)

UATA-66

12.7

"

iBook FireWire (2000)

UATA-66

9.5

"

PowerBook G3 Bronze (Lombard)

UATA-33

12.7

"

iBook (original, 1999)

UATA-33

9.5

"

PowerBook G3 1998 (Wallstreet)

EIDE

17

"

PowerBook G3 (Kanga/3500)

EIDE

17

" (b)

PowerBook 3400

EIDE

17

" (b)

PowerBook 2400

EIDE

17

" (b)

PowerBook 1400

EIDE

17

8.2GB (c)

PowerBook 5300

EIDE

17

8.2GB (c)

PowerBook 190

EIDE

17

8.2GB (c)

PowerBook Duo 2300

Both EIDE and SCSI (d)

19

8.2GB IDE. (c) No absolute limit on SCSI controller.

PowerBook 500 Series

SCSI

19

No absolute limit on SCSI controller.

PowerBook 100 Series (except PowerBook 100, 150 and 190)

SCSI

19

No absolute limit on SCSI controller.

PowerBook Duo 200 Series

SCSI

19

No absolute limit on SCSI controller.

PowerBook 150

IDE

19

Unknown. Probably 8.2GB (c)


* Note that all PowerBooks, from the 3400 and 2400 onward, support DMA (Direct Memory Access) mode, which means data moves directly into RAM, by-passing the CPU, resulting in significant speed gains. DMA benefits devices such as hard drives and removable drives like CDs and Zips. While PowerBooks such as the PowerBook 190 and 5300 do not support DMA, expansion bay drives will work, although without the added speed benefits of DMA.
(a) The Mac OS currently has a volume size limit of 137GB, although no production notebook hard drive has reached this capacity as yet. Systems running OS 7.5.5 and later can recognize up to 2 terabytes of storage capacity. Note that OS 9.x removes the 2.0GB file size limit imposed by previous versions of the Mac OS.
(b) PowerBook 3400s shipped with 3.0GB HDs as their largest drives. Installing a larger-capacity drive precludes the use of SCSI Disk Mode. This may wipe out data. It is unclear whether this problem afflicts the PowerBook G3 (3500/Kanga) or PowerBook 2400, which employ similar hardware ROMs and EIDE controllers.
(c) 8.2GB is the notional limit on these EIDE controllers. Some manufacturers will not guarantee or support the use of their larger-capacity drives with these machines due to the limitations of the controller. However, many users have installed 10 or 20GB drives in these PowerBook by partitioning the drive into volumes of less than 8.2GB. More recent versions of the Mac OS, however, such as 8.6 and 9.0x, appear to have overcome volume size limitations with these controllers, with reports of successful 10 or 20GB drive transplants with no need to resort to partitioning. It is unclear whether SCSI Disk Mode functions correctly in these PowerBooks with large hard drives. Feedback welcome.
(d) The PowerBook Duo 2300, as well as PowerBook 200 Series computers with the Duo 2300 upgrade kit installed, are equipped with both EIDE and SCSI-2 interface controllers in order to accommodate the older disc drives in 200 Series models. The ready availability of high-capacity, high-performance, low-cost IDE drives means a transplant should be an IDE drive. All Duo 2300s shipped with IDE drives.



What Brands Are There?

IBM, Toshiba, Fujitsu and Hitachi are the main 2.5" notebook hard drive manufacturers. Toshiba also makes the ultra-slim (and very expensive) hard drive for the iPod.

Most Apple OEM hard drives supplied in PowerBooks and iBooks have been IBMs and Fujitsus, with IBM's being the preferred drive. Fluctuations in prices and availability of given capacities have meant that Apple has not necessarily standardised on a particular brand.

1.0GB is about the maximum size you'll find for native SCSI 2.5" drives. For older PowerBooks, you can find converted 2.5" IDE drives which have a SCSI interface and reportedly perform extremely well. For instance, MCE sells a 10GB SCSI hard drive (converted IDE) for $399. However, these drives cost much more than any SCSI PowerBook is worth, so I'd seriously question the wisdom of this investment.

What's good?

I can only speak from personal experience; personally, I prefer IBM's Travelstar range for quietness and performance. Some users have argued that Travelstars don't last long, or that they get noisy after a year. I haven't found this, and my PowerBook 5300's IBM drive put in over 30,000 hours and was still going strongly (if slowly) when I sold it. If you buy an IBM drive, it's covered by a 3-year warranty; all Apple OEM drives carry a 12-month warranty from Apple, although users have reported faulty Apple OEM drives to IBM, which IBM has then replaced.

Some users prefer Fujitsu or Toshiba drives, although my experience of the latter is that they can be noisy. Fujitsus were standard issue in many Pismos (6GB and 12GB). The 40GB Toshiba, sitting between IBM's mid-range 30 and 48GB models, is competitively priced and many users support satisfaction with this drive. I'm not at all impressed by Hitachis - the drive specifications look okay, but their performance (IMHO) is mediocre and they are very loud.

Spindle Speed

Most notebook hard drives run at 4,200rpm, although this is beginning to change. IBM's class-leading Travelstar GN Series, as well as the older GT Series offer hard drives of 48 and 32GB, respectively, which run at 5,400rpm.

At the other end of the spectrum, the PowerBook 150, 190, 2300 and 5300 series shipped with dog-slow 4,050rpm drives. A more recent 4,200rpm drive will boost general response and snappiness generally, particularly if the drive has a 2MB buffer.

When is a 30GB Drive a 28GB Drive?

When it's a formatted hard drive. For instance, a drive advertised as a 32GB unit will invariably become a 30GB HD when it's formatted and ready to use in your Mac. Or a 30 gigger will appear to have about 28GB of usable space.

Why? Because formatting takes up some room (but not that much). Vendors also use the slippery trick of calling a megabyte 1,000k instead of 1024k. The rest of the unallocated blocks in a drive are usually reserved for replacing bad blocks when the drive starts getting old and bad blocks begin to emerge. Apps like Norton's Utilities and many others can reallocate or map out bad blocks, for instance. But you're unlikely to encounter this unless you hold on to the drive for a long time.

How Big a Hard Drive Do I Need?

Digital Video (DV) needs about 14GB per hour of footage. If you're planning on doing one or several hours of this, you need as large a hard drive as you can afford. A 20GB drive would probably be the minimum requirement here (remembering it'll be about 18GB formatted).

Recently, 30, 32, 40, 48 and 60GB notebook drives have become much more affordable as notebook demand spirals and economies of scale push prices down. 20GB drives (new) can be as little as $99. 30GB drives are around $130-140.

Toshiba's 40GB drive (when you see 40GB, it's a Toshiba) is good value for the size and price and fits neatly between IBM's 30 and 48GB drives in the market place. IBM has begun to seriously push 5,400rpm drives [see "Spindle Speed" above], as well as the ATA-100 specification for notebook drives. Although no PowerBook or iBook supports UATA-100 currently (UATA-66 at present), it's a fair bet that Apple will incorporate these controllers in the future.



EIDE, UATA and All That

First off, many people ask the question, "will I get a speed boost if I put a faster rpm/UATA-66 drive in my old PowerBook?"

The answer is Yes. A spindle speed of 5,400 will boost performance somewhat in a 5300 or 1400, although not as much as what IBM will lead you to believe. The main bottlenecks are the drive controller (old), the system bus speed (lazy) and the absence of Direct Memory Access (DMA) on these older PowerBooks. What DMA means is that the drive can pump data directly into RAM, by-passing the CPU. DMA support first appeared in the PowerBook 3400, and also on the 2400.

Installing a higher-specification UATA drive boosts speed and throughput as well. I'll give you a real-world example: I upgraded my original Lombard IBM Travelstar to a Travelstar 30GT. The original drive had a UATA-33 specification (theoretical maximum of 33MB/ps), the same as the Lombard's controller. The Travelstar 30GT sports a UATA-66 (66MB/ps) specification. While a TiBook, Pismo or a iBook 2000/2001 could utilize more of the throughput that this HD is able to provide (because they have UATA-66 controllers), the Lombard still experiences significant performance improvements. performance.

Sustained writes rose from 9.6 to 15.6MB/ps. Sustained reads went from 8.0 to 13.7MB/ps. Random reads improved from 10.8 to 14.5MB/ps. Average access times dropped from 20.7 to 15.4ms. Impressive, huh?

Another factor you must consider when hunting for a hard drive, new or used, is its data buffer size. Happily, most new drives feature a 2MB buffer (a buffer is like a cache or very fast RAM which stores recently-called data. Your CD burner has one too). A buffer can also hold data while it's waiting for the hardware (the drive) to catch up. Bigger is better. One of the reasons the 30GT outstrips the original Travelstar in the Lombard is because it can hold more recent data - 2MB as opposed to 512K.

The other reason why the newer HD performs so impressively is because the UATA-66 drive, although not even approaching full utilization of its potential throughput, can nevertheless dump data into the UATA-33 controller as fast as it and the RAM can accept it (at a burst speed of around 16.6MB/ps, which is the max). Not so with the older, original HD.

In other words, if you use a more efficient drive in your 'Book - despite the limitations imposed by the ancient controllers - you'll get enhanced performance, as well as the feeling that you're living in a much bigger house.

Better still, when you upgrade, you get to take the drive with you. So long as it'll fit physically in the 'Book's drive cage, you can swap it into your new 'Book.

The Trade-Off is...

Reduced battery life. The greater mechanical demands a drive places on a system, the more juice it slurps down. This means your 'Book's battery gets drained faster.

A workaround, when battery life, not performance, is the main issue, is to work from a RAM disk and to set the HD to spin down, so that you'll access it as little as possible.

Open Book Surgery

If you haven't been inside a PowerBook before, now's not a good time to start, unless you're generally good with the insides of desktop Macs already. Hours of entertainment can be had chasing Apple's Service Source Take-Apart manuals around Apple dot com, as Apple usually moves them every 24 hours. And we at IGM cannot condone you pirating these manuals, as Apple is clearly making an awful lot of money on those Mac Pluses everyone keeps taking in for repair. Right?
Alternatively, you can even buy the complete Service Source CD and training manuals from Apple for about $400, or around $200 on ebay.

Better still, hoof on over TransIntl and check out their very good hard drive installation guides for your model. Even if you don't buy one of their drives, their instructions are free.

Briefly though, G3/G4 and iBook drives fit snugly in their cages, more or less regardless of the type of drives that's installed. However, earlier 'Books, like the 190/5300/1400/3400/Kanga, which take a 17mm drive, are unlikely to have their hard drive cages line up with the screw holes in a 12.5mm or smaller hard drive. MCE sells a kit with the correct bracket for this. Alternatively, you can simply tape the drive into place securely. A 3mm gap between the drive and conductive components gives a good margin for error.

I Have an iBook with the original !?#*%$! 3.2GB Hard Drive. What can I do about it?

Nothing much, unless you're very good at ripping iBooks apart and putting them back together. This is not a job for the Complete Amateur. Pay a professional (i.e. someone who does iBooks for a living, not some PC drone who 'installs notebook drives'). Titanium PowerBook G4s are easier to get in and out of than iBooks, but HD replacement is still a non-trivial task (which it is on any of the PowerBook G3 Series).

Use an Apple-certified tech if it's under warranty. Backyard Bob probably can't afford to replace the iBook when he puts it back together and it looks like a Newton. $50 max to put in an HD surely can't be too much money, compared with the prospect of having 30 screws and nowhere to put them?

If you're lucky enough to own a PowerBook 2400, bear in mind it's also a...uh...bear to get into and out of. Again, this is probably a pro job.

When One Hard Drive Isn't Enough

What? Two drives in one PowerBook? Surely you jest? No. So long as you have a PowerBook 190, 5300, 3400, Kanga G3, Wallstreet, Lombard or Pismo, the sky's the limit. Well maybe not the sky, but pretty close to it. For the low-down on this, you need The Complete and Utter Guide to PC Cards and Expansion Bays on the PowerBook.

Expansion bay hard drives are exactly the same as internal hard drives: fast and bootable. The main difference is they're removable. Two vendors, MCE and SmartDisk/VST have manufactured expansion bay hard drives for all of these models. If you have a 1400, you're out of luck, I'm afraid. If you have a TiBook - tough. You have enough to gloat about without annoying us expansion-bay toting G3 'Bookers.

Expansion bay drives range from 800MB, 1.4GB and 1.6GB for the PowerBook 190/5300/3400/Kanga series, to 48GB for the 1998-2000 G3 Wallstreet/Lombard/Pismo series. As mentioned above, the 3400/Kanga and G3s take advantage of DMA mode for ultra-fast throughput. The 190 and 5300 can't use DMA, but the drives still work just fine. These HDs are all bootable.

MCE also offers an empty expansion bay hard drive carrier ($129) for the G3 Series which accepts discs up to the height supported by the 'Book. For slotting in your original, unused drive, this is a worthwhile option. You could have up to 120GB storage in your G3, if you use two of IBM's latest 60GN (60GB) drives.

Keep in mind that if you buy a smaller-capacity VST or MCE drive, you can always crack open the case and stuff a bigger drive in there, although you'll probably (definitely) invalidate your warranty if it's inside the 12 months.

Can my Hard Drive perform better? Be quieter?

The freeware APM Tuner can increase the performance of certain IDE hard drives by cutting down on idle time (the 603e and G3/G4 CPUs can take little 'naps', even between keystrokes, and the system software also tells the hard drive not to stay on red alert all the time if it's not actually doing something. APM Tuner lets users manually set the responsiveness of the HD. Conversely, it also lets you reduce HD get-up-and-go, when you're working off batteries, for instance, and the drive spins down more quickly and more often. You can set the prefs for both AC and battery, I like to leave it in the Startup Items folder, so it'll launch on boot.

APM Tuner can also get rid of the annoying clicking some drives exhibit when either idling or simply spinning normally. A list of supported drives (including expansion bay drives) is listed at APM's site.

Watch Out for Wallstreet

A sleep problem can emerge if you install a 20GB (maybe larger) IBM HD into a Wallstreet. The problem is that the high level of magnetic force exhibited by the drive can affect the sleep mechanism on the Wallstreet, to the extent that the system won't sleep when shutting the lid (the mechanism is magnetic).

Several workarounds have been proffered: users have installed razor blades, thin non-conductive sheeting and various other methods to insulate the drive from the sleep mechanism. Some people have reported success with a fridge magnet reversing the polarity of the HD magnet (huh?). However, it may not be something you encounter.

Some recent reports suggest that IBM's new 60GN drives also affect the Wallstreet's sleep patterns. Remember, this is a problem with the Wallstreet's sleep mechanism, rather than a problem with the magnetic properties of the drive itself. If you can't solve this problem yourself, choose another drive, or ensure you can return an IBM drive if you buy one.

Get Smart

Virtually all hard drives shipped in the last 3 years have a S.M.A.R.T. chip inside them, which monitors drive performance. Utilities such as FWB's Hard Disk Toolkit can access this chip and report hardware problems. If the drive is about to fail, HDT will automatically alert the user. If HDT fully supports the drive, it will communicate with the SMART chip.

Whadda I do with my old hard drive?

Burn it? Bury it? Roll it up and smoke it? A better use is to slam it into a FireWire case or (if you're cheap) a USB enclosure. Optimally, a combo FW/USB case is the go, especially if you're using the drive with several machines (such as non-FW iMacs). On 'Books with built-in FireWire, most 2.5" drives don't require a separate power supply. You'll need AC if you use it with a FireWire or USB CardBus card though (or a powered USB hub or FireWire repeater). You can boot from these drives, if your 'Book has FW/USB on the motherboard. But don't expect performance from USB 1.1; its speed sucks.

You could also try the MCE option mentioned earlier. But if you're adventurous, and don't happen to have USB or FireWire, try putting a hard drive into an expansion bay floppy enclosure. I've been meaning to try this, but haven't had the parts handy yet. However, this guy has an entertaining PowerBook 3400 site, which suggests it as a possible project.

MCE also made (no longer) the DataShuttle Xtreme, a PCMCIA-attachment hard drive case for those who are FireWire/USB challenged (also known as the PowerBook 500/190/5300/1400). You can drop your 2.5" drive in it and it's self-powered via the PCMCIA slot. Not as fast as an internal drive or FireWire, but vastly superior to a USB drive. You can find used examples on ebay and elsewhere.

How much is this gonna cost me?

Get as big a hard drive as you can afford. And then a bit more. Seriously. Make sure you're buying a house you can grow into, rather than out of. I've seen 20 giggers for as little as $99 lately, with 30GB at around $140. Drives get cheaper by the gigabyte, so don't put too much cash into a 10 or 12 gigger - it's a false economy. Read the tech specs and don't just buy on capacity - unless performance means nothing to you. I'd take a higher-performing, lower-capacity drive over a more capacious, but more pedestrian-performing drive any day.

Hard drives are your friend. But keep in mind that drives are about the slowest part of your system and the biggest bottleneck. So pack the best performance/capacity ratio you (and your finance manager) can front up for.