Why buy an external hard drive when cloud storage services offer cheap storage and device-agnostic access? Well, physically backing up your computer’s data still makes sense - particularly where sensitive business or personal data is concerned.
Read-write times are faster than uploading to the cloud (especially with external SSD drives) and the ability to easily sync data between computer and hard drive is also a useful feature. External drives also expand the storage capacity of a PC, Mac or laptop - particularly handy on older or budget computers.
And, although the basic technology behind such hard drives has not changed in recent years, their capacity and dimensions have (not so long ago monolith sized versions stored less than 500 GB of data).
However, the process of purchasing an external HDD can be overwhelming, with both desktop and very light, portable options available. That's why we've compiled this short guide, to help make the choice in storing or transporting valuable digital files become that much easier.
Aside from budget, first consider what hard drive will work best for your computing needs. How often do you plan to back up your files? And is the need to regularly sync files between computer and external hard drive important?
Do you also want to transport files frequently? In which case a cheaper, heavier desktop version will prove a false-economy in the long-run, especially if the data involved needs to be encrypted and well-protected on the go.
Traditional mechanical drives need to spin faster to increase performance. Commonly, they are engineered to spin at rates of 5,400 and 7,200 RPM or higher (with higher speeds contributing towards a faster read/write speed, resulting in improved data rates). Depending upon the frequency of your back-up routine, weekly transfers will mean that cheaper drives with a USB 2.0 interface should suffice. However, if back-ups are more frequent (and significant in size) then the superior USB 3.0 standard is recommended - as transfer rates are up to 10x greater than USB 2.0.
eSATA interface drives are a good alternative (often also incorporating USB 2.0 or 3.0 as well) while Thunderbolt drives - developed by Intel in a collaboration with Apple, enjoy the fastest of all transfer rates, with a throughput of 10Mbps.
In addition, Misco stocks a wide-range of portable SSD hard drives which, by design, enjoy increased levels of reliability as well as lighting fast access speeds. We’d still advise upgrading your computer’s own hard drive to SSD before considering an external version (as prices remain significantly higher than mechanical external hard drives) while storage capacities typically range between 64GB and 512GB.
As desktop-style external hard drives are designed to be used in conjunction with a power adapter, they should not be considered as durable or portable as pocket-sized devices. More expensive portable drives offer an increased level of durability – helping to better protect your files from shock and damage.
For your next external hard drive purchase, a device with hardware-based encryption is more dependable than software-based variants. This applies especially to portable drives, where sensitive / important business data may be transported. Naturally, the more frequently you travel with such files, the greater the need to protect them from loss and theft, so a good level of data encryption is highly recommended.
Many manufacturers now offer external drives with the option of backing up locally and/or to the cloud (for example WD’s SmartWare Pro functionality). So if you’re new to computing or simply want any back-up process to work quietly & efficiently in the background then choose a drive with included software.
As mechanical drives have become ever more reliable, they are usually offered with 2 or 3 years warranty. This is another important consideration, especially if the up-front cost of the drive is higher.
Perhaps an obvious point - but one that’s still easy to forget - make sure when purchasing a drive that your chosen model is PC or Mac compatible. This is especially important if the hard drive includes bundled management software.
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