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How do I Choose the Best External Hard Drive?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Feb 19, 2024
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An external hard drive is an excellent way to back up files on a computer, or to add more space to a computer. It is easy to use even for people who are not familiar with computer hardware, because it generally just connects to the computer through a USB port and is ready to use without any hardware or software installation necessary. To choose the best external drive, consider how much extra space you want, if it needs to be portable or not, and what brands have the best reputations.

External hard drives are available in at least the same capacities as the regular hard drives inside a computer, and some can hold a huge amount of information. As technology improves, the size of available drives increases as well. Though price does go up depending on the capacity of the drive, in general, it is best to buy one that is larger than you will expect to need, in order to get more life out of the hard drive.

In addition to the size capacity of the hard drive, consider whether you want a stationary hard drive or a portable hard drive. Though all are relatively portable, some are designed to be moved more easily. A true portable external hard drive will typically not have a separate power supply, but will instead be powered through the USB port on the computer. You would generally not leave a portable hard drive connected all the time.

On the other hand, a stationary external hard drive will generally include a power supply and will plug into a power outlet as well as the computer. As a general rule, a portable drive will be slightly more expensive for a smaller capacity, simply for its smaller size and greater portability. This type of hard drive will also generally spin at a slower speeds, making it somewhat more durable and less susceptible to damage from bumps. A stationary external drive will be slightly larger, both in physical size and capacity, and somewhat less expensive; however, it may be somewhat more susceptible to damage and corruption if it is knocked over.

Brand is another consideration when choosing an external hard drive. Some people have certain brands they prefer, but in many cases it is just a matter of personal preference. It may be helpful to read reviews online of particular hard drives to see if other customers are happy with them, as well as if they hold up over time without failing. Extended warranties are sometimes available as well.

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Discussion Comments
By anon259879 — On Apr 09, 2012

Can anybody help me? I have purchased a dell xps8300 desktop, and it has an esata port in back, and I want to add on an external hard drive through this port. But I also want my external hard drive to have usb2 and usb3 also and to use the esata port of the desktop for a better transfer rate.

Dell support told me that I can insert a usb jack in the esata port, and I have tried but failed. Does anybody have a suggestion for this?

By anon238059 — On Jan 01, 2012

does a portable external hard drive also store the programs the support the data?

By stl156 — On Sep 10, 2011

I have been looking into buying an external portable hard drive, and I can't believe how cheap it is to add extra storage to your computer now. I remember when everyone started to switch from floppy disks to flash drives, and you could be paying $40 for a GB of storage space.

From what I have been reading about external hard drives, most of the brands provide similar performance in terms of storing data, but some companies offer different backup features on their drives.

I just got done looking at a Seagate external hard drive that comes with a backup program that will help you connect files from your computer to the hard drive as well as partition the hard drive to help protect against corrupted files.

By titans62 — On Sep 09, 2011

@letshearit - I'm kind of wondering the same thing. Does the brand really matter for an external hard drive? I know a lot of people that have had several different brands, and they all seem to work all right. I only know one person whose hard drive ever got corrupted, but chances are he downloaded something with a virus.

At least the last time I looked at external hard drives, anything over 500 GB was not portable. I think this is because they have a physical hard drive that turns inside the unit. I think the smaller ones use flash memory, which is why they can run off of the USB power supply. I could be wrong about this.

By letshearit — On Sep 09, 2011

Does anyone know if it is worth paying extra for an extended warranty on an external hard drive?

I am currently torn between a 500gb external hard drive and going for a full 1tb one. From what I can tell, the bigger external hard drive also comes with an extended warranty for an extra fee provided by the store.

I mostly download movies and music, so I really need the space for all of my files. I am just not sure if I need 1tb worth of space.

Also, when you are shopping for an external hard drive, do you have any suggestions for brands that you feel are more stable? I’ve heard some horror stories about external hard drives getting corrupted.

By manykitties2 — On Sep 08, 2011

Choosing the best external hard drive is really important if you enjoy taking digital photos and want to make sure you don't lose anything invaluable.

For myself I invested in a 320gb external hard drive and I found it amazingly simple to use. I really like that it is so portable, so if I want to inundate my friends with photos from a recent trip I can just take my external hard drive to their place. It seems to be the new way to do slide shows. Who needs a projector when you have access to big screen monitors? I love the convenience of having an external hard drive.

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