Sometimes it’s very handy to keep older computers around.

Last week I was elated to obtain for work a one terabyte Maxtor One Touch 4 Plus external hard drive. The drive is Mac and Windows compatible and supports both Firewire 400 as well as USB 2.0. Even more amazing than the fact that this much storage (equivalent to 1000 gigabytes or 100,000 megabytes) is available for sale to consumers was the price: just $250 at our local Staples. That equates to 25 cents per gigabyte!

1964 US quarter

Only a few years ago when I shopped for external hard drives, I was delighted to find prices had dropped to one dollar per gig. Now we’re down to a quarter a gig. Amazing.

I requested funding for this extraordinarily large sized but compact external hard drive for work because I’m starting a curriculum DVD project and am going to be working a LOT with digital video in the weeks and months ahead. I’m stepping up to Final Cut Studio Pro 2 for my video editing, and as non-destructive video editing software (it keeps pristine copies of original video source files) it can get very hungry for additional scratch disk / hard drive space in a hurry.

As soon as I opened the Maxtor drive I opened Apple’s built-in disk utility program to reformat the drive. All the external hard drives I’ve bought in the past have come formatted as either FAT32 or NTFS drives, which are cross-platform formats but don’t perform as fast on Macintosh computers for disk access / disk writing as the HFS or HFS+ format does. When I tried to format my brand new Maxtor hard drive into HFS+ format, however, I was in for a surprise. I consistently got the following error from drive utility:

Maxtor hard drive format problems on a Mac

Was my brand new one terabyte hard drive faulty? I strongly doubted it. After spending fifteen minutes or so trying to format the drive different ways on my Mac and then a WindowsXP computer, I finally gave up for the time being.

This evening, I took some time to do some research via Google (the ultimate IT troubleshooter’s friend) and learned some surprising facts. It turns out there is a problem with the disk utility program in the most recent version of the Mac operating system, and for quite awhile (according to Jeremy Horwitz) some types of external hard drives have been unformatible into anything but FAT32 format by disk utility. Jeremy’s suggested solution worked for me: I borrowed my son’s seven year old Powerbook G4 running OS 10.4 and was able to use its version of disk utility to format the one terabyte drive as HFS+ Journaled with zero problems. Amazing. I’m delighted this worked, but rather mystified why I had to use an older operating system version of the disk utility program to get the job done. As with many computer issues, I am more than satisfied to find a workaround for this problem, and do not plan to delve further into this mystery than I am in sharing this post and asking for additional insights, if readers have any. I do wonder if this is something Apple is going to fix anytime soon? Jeremy Horwitz states this has been a problem since April of 2006, but judging from the comments on his post it sounds like not all drive types have this problem.

Alexander will be interested and happy to learn in the morning that his TiBook came to my rescue this evening. 🙂

Titanium Powerbook G4 or TiBook

As a related aside, I find it amazing that Alexander’s first laptop which he received in 4th grade as a family hand-me-down from his aunt was the same type of laptop computer I used for three years at Texas Tech University after it was purchased brand new in 2001. What WILL my children be using for computers when they all start college in the years ahead? They’ll probably laugh that I was so amazed by the size of a “mere” one terabyte hard drive.

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4 Responses to Maxtor OneTouch 4 Plus formatting problem solved

  1. Evan says:

    So how is the Maxtor holding up?

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    It is doing fine, but I am not sure why the transfer speed to my Mac seems to be slower than it should be. In Final Cut Pro sometimes playback will stall, and I’m thinking I may have not formatted it correctly after all– or something else could be going on. Any ideas?

  3. kris says:

    From experience I found that the drive goes to sleep after a very short idle time – something like 3 minutes. THen there is always a small delay when it needs to wake up. I found this especially irritating. I was able to fix the problem by getting a copy of the Win XP version of the software, and used it to fix the sleep interval to ‘never.’ For some reason this is an option on the win xp version but not the mac version of the maxtor manager software. Luckily I had boot camp installed, otherwise you’ll need to borrow a friend’s PC to get the job done. Hope this helps!

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    Kris that is VERY helpful. I’ll get the maxtor manager software and give that a try.

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