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Tips for Buying a Great External Hard Drive

A picture of a portable hard drive
A picture of a portable hard drive
Hans -Public Domain-

One common problem facing many computer users today is the need for greater storage. Today people are filling up hard drives, maxing out flash drives, and even online storage accounts with digital content in ever greater numbers. Even with today’s breakthrough digital storage mediums and memory size, users still find a need to look for further storage possibilities. While online, cloud based storage services can help, uploading gigabytes of content can be very time consuming and some services require monthly fees. For many, an external hard drive can be a more economical and speedier storage alternative. When shopping for an external hard drive, there are many choices to be found. Not every type of drive may be the best solution for every buyer. Buyers will need to have a clear idea on the type, form factor, and connection type to buy the best external hard drive for their needs.

Choosing the type of external hard drive

What type of external hard drive works best? Today there are currently two main types of hard drives available. One is the solid state drive which uses flash memory to store content. Such drives have faster read and write speeds may be potentially more reliable. The downsides to such drives are the cost, size limitations, and lifespans. Some users have reported reliability issues with some flash memory drives due to problems with the flash memory chips. However, some buyers find the limited size ranges and expense to be a bigger buying consideration when reviewing solid state drives.

A second type of hard drive is the standard magnetic disc based storage device used for decades in PCs. Traditional magnetic disc based hard drives offer a greater amount of storage space for a great deal less. Their external versions offer the same benefits but also have the same problems that have plagued hard drives. Unfortunately traditional hard drives can suffer from greater degrees of physical damage, have issues from long term use, and are often slower than their newer solid state drive cousins.

While solid state hard drives can offer greater speed, magnetic disc based hard drives still offer a greater amount of storage. A buyer will have to weight their need for larger amounts of storage versus the need for performance when choosing an external hard drive type.

Choosing the form factor

Beyond the type of external hard drive, a buyer will also need to consider the placement of the drive. External hard drives can come in different forms. Many consumers will find two forms utilized in external hard drives: portable and desktop forms. A portable external hard drive generally consists of a laptop type drive and often uses the power provided through its data connection cable. A desktop external hard drive often uses a desktop pc type hard drive and requires an external power supply. Both flash memory and magnetic disc based external hard drives can be found in both form factors. External Solid State drives are limited in sizes often ranging up to 512 gigabytes in size regardless of the form factor. However, magnetic disc based drives can have different size ranges depending on their form factor. Portable magnetic based hard drives may sizes ranging from 1 terabyte to over 3 terabytes. Desktop magnetic based hard drives can have over 6 or more terabytes in storage.

Finding the right connection type

Many external hard drives use USB or e-STATA ports. Some Mac based drives may use Thunderbolt connections which are even speedier. Older hard drives may even use USB 2.0 (or even 1.0). Unless one only has USB 2.0 ports, avoid hard drives that use slower USB 2.0 connections. The best connection is the e-SATA (or Thunderbolt ports on Mac computers). Unfortunately not all computers have e-SATA ports. An alternative is the USB 3.0 port which is fast enough for most common hard drives and is now very common on most computers being sold today. USB 3.0 ports can provide a greater through output than older USB 2.0 ports, offers compatibility for older USB type drives and is compatible with many of the today’s external hard drives on the market.

Extras to look for

Many external hard drives come with extra features. Some come with pre-installed back up software for making easier backups. Some external drives may come with stronger enclosures for added product safety. Other extras can include security software for encrypting the contents of a hard drive, cloud backup software, antivirus software, converters for different ports, and even carrying bags. Buyers may also wish to look for external hard drives with wireless or Ethernet connections if they wish to connect a hard drive to a network.

Be aware of care issues

External hard drives are just as sensitive as installed hard drives in a laptop or desktop computer. They can be damaged from accident drops, water damage, and general abuse. When handling an external hard drive, care should be used to avoid any sudden jolts and avoid place the unit near any type of moisture. If possible, buy a protective case or covering to help keep the unit safe from damage. Before making a purchase, check on the type of warranty offered. Some warranties may repair accidental damage while others may be voided when such damages occur.

Making the purchase

When purchasing an external hard drive, first be sure to check on the return policy of a retailer. Generally there should be a good grace period for returns. Some retailers may have a limited time span for returns while others may allow up to a month. Occasionally some retailers may not accept returns but require the buyer send their unit back to the manufacturer. Furthermore, check on the conditions of the returns. A few retailers will only allow unopened items to be returned while others will take back opened items that have been used. Ensure that the retailer will take back a hard drive that has been utilized with saved data or even formatted.

After the purchase, setup the external hard drive using the instructions provided. Depending on one’s operating system, most hard drives will work right out of the box. Many of today’s external hard drives are pre-formatted. After connecting and setting up the external hard drive, perform a standard disk check using a disk testing program. Both Windows and Mac systems have built in testing programs. One could even use a hard drive testing program such as HDDScan to perform more in-depth tests to ensure that there are no defects of the drive.

In conclusion

Buying an external hard drive can help alleviate many storage problems. Today’s models are very cost effective, study, and fast enough for many applications. While other solutions such as cloud based storage can be helpful in providing extra storage, external hard drives offer the best performance with a good cost benefits ratio. Today’s models offer a large amount of storage without the hassles plagued by earlier models. Many can be used right out of the box with limited tinkering required by the buyer.

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