External hard drives help in backing up important data. Many use this external drive to store data that they usually don’t access frequently. There are many different companies and many different models available for external (also known as portable) drives. This vast choice is enough to confuse anyone. Read on this External Hard Drive buying guide to know which points to keep in mind before buying.
All the computer components can be replaced but stored data cannot be replaced. Imagine a document which you’re working on from quite a long time and now because the hard disk went kaput, that document cannot be recovered. Thus, its very much essential to choose a correct external hard drive which is reliable and as per our requirement.
Some may still think about the need for external drives for backup, when we can use cloud storage for the same purpose. But storing online, just about everything is not a good idea. It’s really not convenient to upload and then download a complete movie, when you can do the same thing with a USB drive sitting next to the computer.
Different Connection Types/Interface
The most common connection interface for external hard drive is USB. Almost every drive out there comes integrated with USB 2.0 port that can transfer data at the speed of 480Mbps. In most cases, this speed can suffice many users. But those who crave for more speed, here’s a good news for them. Some newer portable drives come with USB 3.0 interface, which are upto 8 to 10 times faster than USB 2.0. These new drives are not hard to find as of now, in fact if one is buying external drive, then he/she should opt for USB 3.0 drive only.
Some may have a question in mind, what if their computer is not equipped with USB 3.0 port? Don’t worry, as USB is backward compatible standard. Thus, USB 3.0 drives can work on computers that have USB 2.0 port. Also buying a USB 3.0 drive means you are buying a product that is future proof. This means if your computer doesn’t have USB 2.0, it still makes sense to buy USB 3.0 drives, so that if in future you upgrade the computer you will get benefit of faster speed without shelling out for another drive.
Stay away from FireWire drives (technically known as IEEE 1394), as this interface was never popular. PCs rarely include this interface. eSATA (external SATA) interface is also fading out. Some motherboards and laptops are equipped with eSATA interface that helps in connecting these external drives. And the last interface is the Thunderbolt. This new standard is developed by Intel and first used on Apple computers. This interface is also not not popular and very few peripherals are utilizing Thunderbolt as of now. Thunderbolt can be used for both – monitors and external hard drives. This new Thunderbolt interface is the fastest in speed: up to 10GBps. But its very hard to find external drives with Thunderbolt interface. USB still remains the most common and popular interface to connect external drives.
Different Form Factors: 3.5inch, 2.5inch or 1.8inch
External hard drive comes in 3 different form factors, or call it sizes. 3.5-inch drives are also known as desktop drives. To operate they need a separate power adapter. These desktop drives are designed to stay in one place, on your office or home computer. To carry 3.5-inch drive, you’ll also need to carry around its power adapter. They are bulky and heavy.
2.5-inch drives are equipped with notebook hard drives. They are small, light weight and can be carried around easily, no power adapter needed. This is the most popular form factor found in mostly every portable drive.
Lastly, the 1.8-inch drives. These hard drives are the smallest form factor (iPod sized) available in external drives. They can easily fit in your jeans but hard to find and expensive compared to other form factors.
It doesn’t matter which form factor you choose, all drives come with a USB cable, which connects external hard drive to the USB port of computer.
Different Storage Capacity
Now this is the easiest part to decide. You just need to decide how much storage capacity do you want. In most cases, a 500GB or 1TB is enough to satisfy the needs. Another plus point of 500GB and 1TB drives is that their price per GB calculation will be lower, compared to 320GB or 250GB drives, that means they are VFM (value for money). 2TB drives are newer and some consider these to be just as reliable as 1TB drives. A sweet spot at this time is 500GB, they cost $120 approx. For a normal home user, 500GB should suffice, else opt for a 1TB one.
When going in technical details, you may have noted 5400 rpm or 7200 rpm. Some manufacturers also use this rpm (revolutions per minute) as a marketing factor. No doubt that 7200 rpm drives are faster as compared to 5400 rpm drive, but this improvement can only be seen if the drive is connected internally on the computer, or with an eSATA cable. That’s because other interfaces like FireWire and USB are not that fast enough to handle the throughput of a 5400 rpm drive.
Nowadays SSD external hard drives are also available. No doubt their pricing is on the higher side. They are available in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB storage capacities. They can connect with USB 3.0 interface. A mere 64GB external SSD can cost $160. Their cost is high and come with very little storage capacity.
Some other factors are warranty, software bundled with the drive and compatibility with Mac OS. In most cases, you can easily hard drives with 3 year warranty, but some manufacturers/models offer 1 and 2 year warranty also. Some hard drives also come bundled with backup software, which can make the backup task easy, but this should not be the deciding factor as we can always copy and paste files manually or use some other backup software. Finally, if you’re thinking to use this drive in Mac, then check the box and it should have written something like this: “Compatible with Mac”. Most drives can be reformatted to work in Mac.
This portable hard drive buying guide should clear out the dilemma of which drive to choose. Go ahead and choose one, smartly.