All about external hard drives

By | October 29, 2011
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Kaye wants to know more about external hard drives
Hi. Thanks for a great newsletter! I’ve been seeing more and more ads for external hard drives lately. What’s your opinion of external hard drives and why would I need one. What are the advantages over a USB flash drive? What are the disadvantages of external hard drives? Would I be able to use an external hard drive like I would an internal hard drive? As always, thank you for a really great newsletter.

Thank you, Kaye. To sum it up right here at the start – we think external hard drives are one of the best computer-related investments you can make.

The advantages of external hard drives are that you can install them in about the time it takes to get it out of the box, plug it in and hook it up to your computer via USB port. You don’t have to open your computer case, you don’t need any tools, and you don’t have to get near the arcane innards of your computer; you just plug it in and go.

External hard drives are getting more popular for a very good reason: They store lots of data (from 80GB all the way up to and beyond 3 TB). External hard drives are so easy to set up even a young child could do it (really!).

In our opinion, external hard drives are the single best way to store backups, to store your image-based backups (hard drive clones) or to add extra hard drive space for storing your important documents, folders, photos, music and other files. Anything you can save on an internal hard drive you can save on an external hard drive, just as safely, quickly, and easily.

The disadvantages? Well, there is a slight transfer delay so you should not install programs to an external drive. The transfer rate of data between an external hard drive and your computer is not as fast as the transfer rate between your internal hard drive and your computer. So, most of the time you’ll want to use external hard drives to for backups and storing files. External drives aren’t really made installing programs on them. However you can use what are known as “portable applications” on your external hard drive – those work very well.

The speed of the data transfer between your computer and the external hard drive is limited to the speed of your USB port. A USB 2.0 provides much faster access times than the old USB 1.0 did. Now some newer computers feature USB 3.0 which is much faster than USB 2.0. Since most of you don’t have USB 3.0 yet, we think you’d very happy with the performance of USB 2.0 external hard drives.

The advantages of an external hard drive over a USB flash drive is that USB flash drives do not provide nearly the storage that external drives do. While you might be able to find a 128GB USB flash drive, it would be very expensive — you would find it would cost a great deal more than a 1 TB (one terabyte equals 1024 gigabytes) external hard drive. USB flash drives are great for many things but they don’t have the storage capacity of external hard drives.

Another thing to look for is an external drive that shuts itself off when you shut your computer down. Most of the newer external hard drives do. Most have a feature that senses your computer’s shutdown and turns itself off with your computer — and turns itself back on when you restart your computer. This is a great feature and one you should look for in any external drive you’re considering. Why? Because external hard drives are not quite as durable as internal hard drives. Leaving them turned on while your computer is off causes unnecessary wear and can shorten the life of an external hard drive. When cared for properly though, external hard drives have a lifespan nearly equal to that of internal hard drives.

If you are buying an external hard drive to use with a laptop, or plan on moving your computer from room to room/place to place, you should spend a little extra on an external “portable” hard drive as they are made to be portable Many portable external hard drives are solid state drives (SSDs) so they will be a little more expensive. But they are more compact and made to be portable. This is an important thing for you to consider when buying an external hard drive that you plan to use with your laptop or any other computer you plan to move from place to place often.

We recommend an external hard drive no matter how many internal hard drives or how much disk space you currently have. You can’t have too many backups – if you think you can, wait until something happens to your computer and your one and only backup stored on a failing internal hard drive becomes inaccessible.

External hard drives are available in all price ranges and sizes. We suggest at least 500GB external drive. It’s an ideal size for most backup and storage requirements. You can find them for less than $75.00 (We’ve seen 1TB- drives, on sale, for less than $90.) and have it installed and up and running in less than 10 minutes – and that includes the 8 minutes it takes to get the thing free from the shrink wrap and other packaging.

You can buy external hard drives anywhere computers or computer-related products are sold. They have them at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Staples, and many other electronic and discount stores. Once you have an external hard drive, we’ll bet that you’ll never be without one again.

2 thoughts on “All about external hard drives

  1. kalmly

    Because I don’t need terabytes of space I prefer smaller external hard drives. I have two 20GB sweethearts that store all my files (documents, databases, spreadsheets, plus all my information managers’ notes). I use about twenty programs daily, which all produce files. I don’t have to worry about turning these drives off and on. The computer takes care of that. Same for my two 160 GB external drives. Any of the four fit easily in my purse and have only the USB port plug. NO adapters, no other plug. As easy to use as flash drives.

    IF you store lots of photos, you probably DO need one of those huge drives. If not, you don’t. I don’t do much with photos, so these smaller drives are perfect for me. I used to have a 500 GB drive. It died after a few years and I still hadn’t filled a third of it.

    1. infoave Post author

      But if you making full hard drive clones for back ups most people would find 40GB not very useful. The average computer comes with a hard drive of 320GB and if that hard drive were only 1/4 full it would have 80 GB of Data – and if you kept two good backup images those would run about 50-60GB compressed. And hard drives are getting bigger and bigger.

      My hard drive is 500GB and there are 280GB of data on it. My image-based backups are about 200GB compressed. I keep an original backup image and a recent backup image – that’s 400GB.

      We don’t recommend piecemeal backups – folder-by-folder, file-by-file backups – and never have. When it comes to backups hard drive clones (drive images) are the only ones that will restore all your data – even the operating system. A 40GB external wouldn’t be adequate for most people – nor would two. That’s why terabyte drives are popular. You can keep drive images on them as well as store files and folders which you use every day on them.


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