Some Notable External Hard Drives for Everyday Use
Storage space in the digital realm is similar to a reality TV show about people who hoard too many belongings—a computer’s internal storage is crammed with so much data that an external storage drive is necessary for providing additional space. The myriad choices can be a bit overwhelming for the average digital pack rat, and squirreling away images of every angle of your kid’s fourth birthday cake can quickly escalate to an unmanageable situation in your computer’s internal drive.
These days, more consumers are favoring tablets as their main computer, but the lightweight slates sometimes come with less capacity than their older laptop and desktop siblings. Only a handful of popular tablets have up to 64GB of internal storage, while many laptop computers range between 128 and 512GB. This dilemma can be addressed easily with the addition of a stand-alone external hard drive that connects to your computer and/or tablet through a cable or a wireless signal. An external drive can be used to store the thousands of pictures you take with your smartphone, the music and video files you download from the Web, or for backing up important documents—without the worry of filling up your internal drive.
Portable Wireless Drives
Gaining popularity among tablet users is the ability to connect to an external device wirelessly. Users can now stream several HD movies at one time through the wireless 802.11N protocol with their iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows, or Mac devices. Each wireless drive has a rechargeable battery installed that provides up to 10 hours of use. Since the iPad, for example, does not come with either USB of Thunderbolt, a wireless drive is the best alternative for additional storage.
There are several factors that differentiate external drives, including capacity, physical size, connector type, and even color. Before deciding on what to get, it’s best to understand what your personal situation is and how the external drive will be used.
The first step is to determine if you plan on carrying the drive outside of your home or office, or keeping it permanently installed at your workstation. A portable drive is a small, lightweight unit that can draw power from a computer without the need for an external power supply. In contrast, desktop drives are often larger, heavier, and require AC power.
The next factor to consider is how much capacity you need. Remember that multi-angle birthday-cake scenario? Ten digital pictures of that cake could occupy 40MB of storage space. Now, include the other 200 images from that same party and you get to fill up to 800MB just from one day! And nothing gets deleted, because we are all digital hoarders.
Portable USB 3.0 Drives
Ten times faster than its USB 2.0 predecessor, USB 3.0 is capable of transferring data of up to 5Gbit/s, or 625MBps. On superficial examination, the USB 3.0 connector looks identical to USB 2.0 but, on closer inspection, a second row of five pins can be seen. The similar connector enables USB 3.0 devices to be plugged into older USB 2.0 ports, but without the faster throughput. USB can be found on most tablets and all laptop and desktop computers.
The fastest connector available in portable drives is called Thunderbolt. Co-developed by Intel® and Apple, Thunderbolt is currently available in two different speeds: 10Gbit/s (gigabits per second) and 20Gbit/s for the newer Thunderbolt 2 interface. Most Thunderbolt drives have an additional USB 3.0 port that is backwards compatible with USB 2.0, for those situations when older computers are the only accessible units nearby. Thunderbolt ports can be found on current Apple Macintosh computers and some Windows-based laptops and motherboards. This interface is currently not available on tablets.
Cloud Storage Drives
A more secure method of sharing and streaming data wirelessly is to set up your own personal cloud storage device. A personal cloud acts very much like a server, whereby multiple users can access a central storage device through an internal network. Several users under one roof can access a wide variety of digital content including photos, music, video, games, and files on their own secure network. Several different devices can access a personal cloud including PC, Mac, iOS or Android mobile device, and even Xbox and Playstation gaming consoles. A personal cloud is relatively easy to set up, and you can set specific times for automatic backup. Because cloud storage is connected to the Internet via a Gigabit Ethernet port, a remote access service is included for users to connect when offsite.
Desktop and RAID Drives
For those not looking to share data or toss more weight into their backpack, a desktop drive is an excellent alternative. Residing on a personal workspace, a desktop drive is perfect for file backup for creative professionals for both Mac and Windows users.
A RAID drive is a “Redundant Array of Independent Disks.” In laymen’s terms, a RAID is one or more drives that appear as one large drive in an operating system, storing identical data on more than one drive. Therefore, if one drive fails, your data is secure on the second drive. Going over the many RAID levels is beyond the scope of this article, but we will cover the two more common variations.
RAID 0 is the method of striping the volume across two or more drives with no added redundancy for disk failures. If one of the drives goes down in a RAID 0, all the data is lost. The advantage of RAID 0 is an increase of throughput. A RAID 1 configuration is when data is written onto two or more drives, creating a mirror image of each volume. If one drive becomes defective, your data will be secure on the other drive.
Whether you’re a parent obsessed with archiving, a creative professional, or a person with an absurdly large library of digital music, photos, and videos—an external drive becomes a necessary piece of hardware. Find a model that suits your needs, and routinely back it up with an additional drive. You need to make sure that you can revisit every conceivable angle of that birthday cake, for decades to come.