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 tech talk moving files

Tech Talk One Oh One - Moving Files Around

This is part three of my series on hard drives and file storage. If you missed it, go back and read my first post which explains the different kinds of hard drives, and how you can use them, then read my second post that explains file sizes and transfer speeds. In this continuation I’ll talk about how to move files back and forth between your computer and external hard drives, something we all do often, and should be doing regularly with backups.

Transferring files externally

When you connect an external hard drive there are several cables you can choose from, and depend on the enclosure you happen to have and your computer’s capability.

Mac-specific Cables


All macs since the turn of the millennium until just a few years ago came with FireWire, which comes in two flavors; FireWire 400 and FireWire 800, named because their speeds are 400 Mb/s and 800 Mb/s respectively. FireWire became popular because, at the time, its closest competitor (USB 1) was stuck at 12 Mb/s. Many digital video cameras (and the original iPod) shipped with FireWire ports because of the crazy file transfer speeds required for moving large amounts of digital video. Some PCs (notably the Sony VAIO) shipped with FireWire ports also.


Thunderbolt also comes in two flavors; Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2, which have transfer speeds of 10 Gb/s and 20 Gb/s respectively. These are insane speeds, and are necessary when working with huge 4K video files and displays. In fact, it requires an array of SSDs working in unison to even be able to push data fast enough to take advantage of Thunderbolt 1 and 2. This is why the latest Mac Pro ships with six Thunderbolt 2 ports installed, and every Mac has at least one.

Universal Cables:

USB: Everyone’s familiar with USB. It’s the cable that takes three tries to get it to go in! USB has undergone an impressive evolution over the years, and has a multitude of different connectors, but fortunately they’re all backwards compatible, meaning any USB device should work with any USB port, even if it can’t use the full speed available. USB 1 is limited to 12 Mb/s, and nowadays it’s relegated to USB devices that don’t transfer very much data, like keyboards and mice. USB 2 is the most universal, and has a transfer speed of 480 Mb/s, a HUGE improvement. This paved the way for USB external hard drives as a viable option. Modern computers now ship with USB 3 as the standard, which has a transfer speed of 5 Mb/s. That’s nearly as fast as an internal drive! This allows a single USB port to transfer files very quickly while simultaneously sending an HD video signal to multiple monitors.

Network transfers:

Transferring files directly from one computer to another requires a network, and you can either go wireless (Wi-Fi) or wired (Ethernet).


Every computer comes with Wi-Fi built in. Wi-Fi is plenty fast for browsing the internet, but not very good for transferring large files. The official spec for Wi-Fi is 802.11 followed by a letter. 802.11b is horribly slow at 11 Mb/s. 802.11g is a little better at 54 Mb/s. Most current devices are 802.11n which can go as high as 600 Mb/s, and some newer computers ship with 802.11ac which can go as high as 1 Gb/s.


If you intend to transfer files regularly (e.g. with a server on a network) it’s smart to connect to a wired network. Networks use CAT5 or CAT6 cable, and allow you to transfer files very quickly at up to 1 Gb/s without worrying about wireless interference.


Keep in mind that these speeds are all “theoretical” and in the real world, you’ll never get a full gigabit of data through a 1Gb/s connection. And remember that 1 Gb/s is not the same as 1 GB/s… it’s actually 1/8th the speed. But if your computer has USB 3 built in, you should use it! It’s awesome, especially paired with an SSD in an external enclosure. This makes for very fast backups, and anything that makes backing up your computer more convenient is a GOOD thing. Our Managed IT Services at Bit-Wizards monitor your company network to make sure files transfer quickly, and arrive at their destination in one piece. We’ll also secure your wireless network, and help you build your back up solution that’s right for your company. Let us know how we can help!


Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT