STORAGE BUYING GUIDE
Storage has never been enough and never has it been cheap. Now you can add a terabyte (TB) to your laptop or desktop by means of an external drive. This is adequate to house hundreds of movie files or hundreds of thousands of MP3s or photos. A professional photographer or videographer may need something with a large capacity, whereas a student may need something portable. And someone running a small business may depend on storage capacity, durability and transfer time. But which to choose? Here’s all you need to consider when shopping for an external hard drive.
There are two kinds of external hard drives. Desktop-class drives, fitted with a 3.5-inch inbuilt mechanisms that requires a power adapter. These are designed to stay in one place, naturally on your desk at home or at the office. If you’re buying a desktop-class drive for video or lots of file transfers, look for one with a built-in fan, as the extra cooling will prolong the drive’s life expectancy. Notebook-class (pocket or portable) hard drives are usually 2.5-inch mechanisms powered through a connector cable.
Desktop-class models now top out at 8TB per mechanism, but some drive firms put two or more mechanisms into a chassis for extra storage (for example, two 4TB drives for a total of 8TB of storage). Notebook-class drives come in capacities up to 4TB, but capacities from 500GB to 2TB are most common.
You can increase aptitude, speed, or data protection by buying an external RAID array, but multiple drives add expense and complexity. Once the external RAID array connects to your device, it will automatically act as an external drive. If you are planning to store important data, then you should consider a drive with support for RAID levels 1, 5, or 10.
The solid-state drive (or SSD) is the next type of external storage. It uses a flash memory to store data rather than spinning platters. These drives are faster, and in most cases cost quite a bit more than external hard drives.
External hard drives connect to PCs and Macs via external cables. USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports are almost always present, though there are also newer connectors like USB-C, USB 3.0 provides fast transfer speeds and a little or less fuss since it’s backward-compatible and almost all desktop and laptop PCs come with USB ports. The newer USB-C standard is faster still and supported using the smaller and more suitable USB-C connector, but right now it is still to some extent uncommon to find on drives.
All external drives have USB connectivity of one sort or another, but it’s important to check that the drive you’re considering is compatible with your computer. A handful of USB memory sticks and hard drives are currently available with both USB 3.0 and USB-C support via two separate connectors. Optional adapters will let you use older USB drives with PCs with newer USB-C ports.
Do you care what your external drive looks like? You can buy different colored drives for each family member, for example. Included software is a factor if you don’t already have a local or online backup plan. If you’re basically using the drive as an additional storage container, or if you’re using the backup software built into Windows, the software bundled with the drive isn’t as important. Warranty length is also a big factor. Drives can and will fail. That cheap drive you found on a deal site may only come with a one-year warranty. Look for a three- or five-year warranty if you’re hard on your drives.