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Give Me Space! How to Choose an External Hard Drive

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How to Choose an External Hard Drive

Are you in the market for a new hard drive?

If your data is overflowing, it’s time to get a storage solution that will free up some space on your computer. That said, there’s a lot to factor in when buying the right hard drive for your needs. From deciding on your power source to choosing your preferred storage capacity, it pays to do some research before making your purchase.

Read on to learn how to choose an external hard drive.

1. Choosing the Power Source

A hard drive needs a power source as well as a connection to transfer data both to and from the host computer. External hard drives are powered in one of two ways: BUS-powered or with an external power source.

The drive can be powered via the computer’s data connection port. For example, this might be a USB 3.0 port or a Thunderbolt 2 or 3 port.

Alternatively, an external hard drive that isn’t BUS-powered needs an external power source to operate. This is a basic AC charger that plugs into an electrical outlet.

BUS-Powered Drives

Do you want a portable drive? If so, choose a BUS-powered external storage solution.

A BUS-powered hard drive is easy to store, easy to transport, and usually has a smaller form factor than it’s the larger externally-powered counterpart.

The main benefit of a BUS-powered hard drive is that you don’t need an external power source. This can be useful when traveling.

Externally-Powered Drives

Perhaps you want a stationary drive for your desk. In that case, you can opt for an externally-powered drive.

Externally-powered hard drives have a desktop form factor. Although they are larger and heavier than bus-powered drives, externally-powered drives may be your preferred choice if you need storage capacity above 4 terabytes, data backup, or faster speed. Externally-powered hard drives are more robust in terms of functionality. However, they are not always as rugged as BUS-powered drives. Here are some options you might find interesting.

2. How to Choose An External Hard Drive That Acts As Multiple Drives

Depending on your needs, you may want more than one external hard drive. The good news is, you can buy one drive and partition it into multiple storage systems.

You can have your drives mirror each other in order to preserve valuable data in case of a hard drive failure. Alternately, you can split your drive into multiple drives that function differently from one another.

RAID Drives

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. A RAID hard drive has more than one physical drive in the hard drive enclosure, and it can be configured to meet varying needs.

RAID Configurations

A RAID drive array can be setup so that the host computer will treat it as a single volume even though there is more than one physical drive. This way, you could have a 20 terabyte volume even though there are smaller capacity drives in the enclosure. This is a preferred option if you’re dealing with large files such as high definition video.

If you need increased speed, you can setup the drives in the RAID enclosure to work together to maximize your bi-directional data flow. While these first two options can be appealing, a backup method is recommended.

Alternatively, You can set the RAID up so it will create a mirror image of one volume on another volume in the drive enclosure. That way, if one of the drives dies, you will have a backup on hand.

NAS Drives

Do you need a network drive? A wireless solution may be perfect for you.

NAS stands for network-attached storage. This differs from the other drives in this guide because the data connection is via a wireless network rather than a wired computer connection.

A NAS drive allows multiple computers to access the drive at the same time. This is a great solution if you want to pair more than one computer with your external drive.

3. Mechanical VS Solid State Drives

Although solid-state drives are more expensive than mechanical drives, the advantages they offer can make the upfront cost worthwhile in the long run.

A solid-state drive does not have any moving parts. This makes it much more stable than a mechanical drive. Also, the life span of a solid-state drive is longer than that of a traditional mechanical hard drive.

4. Cache and Speed

Another consideration is the drive speed. Lower end mechanical drives are 5400rpm, which is acceptable for lite/casual users. Many mechanical hard drives are 7200rpm. This is the better choice if you need a drive that can deal with a heavier workload.

Drive speed and storage aren’t the only things to consider though. Make sure the drive you’re looking at has a decent-sized cache. The hard drive’s cache enhances its performance by reading the surrounding data and temporarily storing it.

Your drive’s cache doesn’t make your drive work faster. However, cache increases its efficiency.

5. Connection Types

The most common external hard drive connection types are USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB-C, and Thunderbolt 2 and 3. The data transfer speeds of these six connection types are as follows:

  • USB 2.0: 480 Mbps
  • USB 3.0: 5 Gbps
  • USB-C: 40Gbps
  • Thunderbolt 2: 20Gbps
  • Thunderbolt 3: 20Gbps with a passive cable/40Gbps with an active cable

If your machine has USB-C or Thunderbolt 1, 2, or 3 ports, you can still use a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 hard drive via a low-cost adapter. While the data transfer speeds will be slowed down to that of your external drive’s connection with the use of the adapter, bus power should still work well.

Superior data transfer speeds aside, there is another advantage when using a USB-C or Thunderbolt hard drive. You can daisy chain your devices instead of having to use multiple ports on your computer.

This is especially useful with a laptop, which generally has fewer ports onboard than a desktop computer. Although you could daisy chain devices with older hard drives, the massive data transfer speeds of USB-C and Thunderbolt 2/3 make this a more realistic option today.

Ready to Buy a Hard Drive?

Now that you know how to choose an external hard drive, you can purchase what meets your needs as well as your budget. Which hard drive will you choose?

For more tech tips, browse our blog frequently. Here you’ll find fresh, informative content that will keep you in the loop about the latest innovations.

Shivam Singh
Founder of the TechGrits, has always looked at technology as a piece of knots. From an early age connected to the technological world, this is literally your dream job.

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