If you’re looking for physical rather than cloud storage, external storage devices are the perfect solution for your backup needs, whether you’re a homeowner or a small business. And with the digital explosion of movies, movies, photos, games and apps, external storage is more vital than ever.
The price of external hard drives has fallen sharply thanks to a highly competitive storage market that has forced manufacturers to find new ways to “package” a dumb hard drive into smarter, albeit more expensive, storage devices.
In its simplest form, an external hard drive is nothing more than a case with a bit of electronics glued to it and an internal hard drive glued to it. At the other end of the spectrum, more elaborate models offer automated backup and networking features as well as redundancy features.
There are countless storage devices available in the market, which means everyone’s needs can be met. So here is our list of 10 things to consider when buying an external hard drive-based storage device.
1. Storage size
Unsurprisingly, the amount of storage needed will determine which solution you choose; Generally, hard drive devices offer the best combination of price and storage capacity.
1TB external drives can cost as little as $50/£40; you would need over 200 blank DVDs or over 1200 blank CDs just to match the capacity of these drives.
The rule of thumb is to choose a hard drive that has twice the capacity you currently need; this should meet future needs, especially when you keep in mind that upgrading an external storage device isn’t as easy as upgrading a desktop computer.
2. Drive Size
If you’re going to rarely move the external storage device, it makes sense to invest in an external desktop drive which is bulkier than a portable version but will provide more storage capacity at any cost.
If portability is your main concern, see if a high-capacity USB drive could possibly meet your needs; a 500GB flash drive will cost around $70, while a portable hard drive with the same storage capacity will cost around half that.
3. Disk Connectivity
There are currently three main connections on the market: eSATA, USB and Firewire. USB 2.0, along with its faster cousin USB 3.0, are by far the most popular versions and offer great transfer speeds and near-universal compatibility.
eSATA is the newest kid in town and offers improved performance and consumes less resources than USB. Firewire is often relegated to niche and high-end platforms like content creation, but offers the best performance of the three as well as superb compatibility with the Mac environment.
4. Your budget
External hard drives are slightly more expensive than their internal counterparts, and your allocated budget will help you decide whether you should go for a desktop solution or a more portable one.
Overall, the cheapest external hard drive solution costs less than $30/£30, while the most expensive 16TB external drives currently on the market are available for around $350/£330.
5. Driving speed
Storage devices using desktop components are likely to be the fastest, but only when paired with an equally capable interface; for even faster performance, some manufacturers like LaCie even allow two hard drives to be configured in RAID-0 mode, which should dramatically improve performance.
Software is often the main differentiator between the various external hard drive storage device solutions on the market. A great software package can make up for average performance and improve the overall user experience, especially when it comes to something like backup.
Some apps offer the ability to automatically upload files to dedicated websites, system restores, and on-the-fly file encryption. Others have built-in synchronization functionality and allow you to use your favorite applications like Microsoft Excel or Word.
Some manufacturers like Seagate offer up to five years of warranty on their storage solutions, which is handy if one of them won’t start; keep in mind that no manufacturer will provide data recovery facilities in case of hard drive failure.
Where you use your storage device can also determine which solution is best for you. are you a laptop, remote worker?
In this case, it may be best to get a USB flash drive or a portable hard drive solution, many of which don’t need an external power source. Also, if you are a Mac enthusiast, buying a Firewire model makes more sense as it will give you more expandability.
Storage devices based on traditional hard drives are fragile by default, but some are more fragile than others, especially larger ones, which are more susceptible to damage if dropped.
If you’re likely to take kicks and bangs as well as the occasional fall, you’re better off grabbing a flash drive than a spinning hard drive.
External storage device vendors such as Western Digital group two hard drives together to improve redundancy if one of the hard drives fails; Likewise, Seagate has a welcome “on-the-fly encryption” feature that should keep your files safe from prying eyes.
Related: Data Lost on Flash or Hard Drive, External or Internal? Then read our guide to best data recovery software.