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External Hard Drives

External Hard Drive Buying Guide
External hard drives can be very useful as a backup d...
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External Hard Drive Buying Guide

External hard drives can be very useful as a backup device or an easy way to transport large amounts of data to and from places you go. They can come in many capacities, shapes, sizes, designs and styles and overall they're a great product that anyone can find a use for.

I personally have several of them and I prefer them really over having the drives in my computer running all of the time, I've had several hard drives die on me and I believe it's because of the heat and running them over sixteen hours a day, seven day per week. I like the idea of only having the drive on when I need to use it, I need to make a backup I turn it on, do my backup then turn it off, it's my opinion that I'm saving my drive, and adding more life to it, whether that's true or not I'm not sure but I feel better.

External hard drives can be bought pre-built or you can buy one of many enclosures on the market today and use your own drive with it, usually this is the cheaper way to do it, but for someone who is not very tech savvy they'll prefer the pre-installed type.

When it comes to purchasing an external enclosure that is pre-made you've got several choices, the most popular is the single drive configuration, but you can get them with multiple drives in them for added storage capacities if need be.

Many of the multiple drive types can have other features added as well like NAS, or Network Attached Storage, and can have software built into them with other added features like webservers, surveillance, bitorrent clients and many other optional things. They can have several types of connections as well, ethernet, USB, firewire, and eSATA, they can also have extra USB ports as well with the ability to automatically copy the files on a USB drive to the external hard disc. These features are most popular on multiple configuration external enclosures, but some single style external enclosures can have these types of features as well.

There are three main types of hard drives in, or that can go into an external enclosure:

3.5” - Standard desktop hard drive that can be IDE or SATA interface
2.5” - Standard notebook hard drive that can be IDE of SATA
1.8” - just a very small version of above two styles of drives with either interface again

Of course these days you can also get Solid State Drives as well, but we'll just be focusing on the actual spinning drives for this little write up.

There are two main types of external enclosures for the 3.5” size of drive, and this goes for both pre-built and self-built styles of external hard drives.

Passive cooled external enclosures have no fan to cool the enclosed hard drive, the benefit of course is near silence, but they use thermally conductive materials and designs to help transfer the heat from the hard drives inside to keep them cool. These can be heavy though as the outer case acts as a large heatsink to cool the drive, and they're usually thick to accomplish this effectively.

Active cooled external hard drives usually have one fan built into them somewhere on the enclosure, and may even have two small fans. These types are usually lighter weight as the outer casing does not have to be as thick, but you have the added noise of the fans to contend with here.

Normally 2.5” external hard drives are always passively cooled.

If you intend on running your external hard drive for long periods of time it's advised that you get an actively cooled style to make sure there's no chance of the drive overheating, the passively cooled styles really aren't for continuous use, more for the turn it on, transfer files and turn it off type of use. You can of course get passively cooled external hard drives that are designed to be on all of the time, these are usually higher end styles that feature the ability to spin down the hard drive during periods of inactivity to prolong life, save energy and keep the drive cool.

When it comes to external hard drive enclosures you can get them with several types of connections, the most popular of course being USB, with FireWire and eSATA coming in a close third. The type of connection you get on your choice of external hard drive will depend on your computer of course, but you can get external hard drives with more than one connection type on them, popular today is the combination USB and eSATA styles connections since eSATA is being seen more and more as a standard connection on PCs.

There are five main factors to look at also when considering purchasing an external hard drive, speed, capacity, portability, warranty and price.

With speed you'll have to go with what the manufacturers specifications tell you as to what transfer speeds you can expect, but you could look for reviews of any external hard drive you might be considering. Most reviewers will test the speeds of the drives to determine if they get what the manufacturer says it will, and they'll usually compare them to other drives on the market as well.

Capacity is self explanatory, get the amount of space you think you'll need, then add some more for good measure just in case. I'm always amazed at how fast I can fill up a hard drive.

Portability is something to consider as well, do you plan on taking the external hard drive with you often? Make sure you get one that is lightweight and rugged to handle being carried around, most 2.5” external hard drives are powered from the USB bus, but the majority of 3.5” ones will require you to carry a separate power supply as well, adding not only weight but bulk to your load. There are also specialized rugged style external hard drives on the market that are made for rough use with special vibration dampeners in them and even some that are watertight, but of course you'll be paying much more for these than a standard enclosure.

Check the warranty on the external hard drive you intend on purchasing, since it's made to be portable it becomes more prone to damage and possibly failure, a long warranty is a good warranty.

Price of course is self-explanatory, try and find the best deal for the money, many times you can get re-certified or re-conditioned external hard drives from the manufacturer that will carry the same warranty as a new one.

Another thing to consider is what comes with the external hard drive in terms of software, some people might not care, but others will. Many companies package backup software with their products, and of course there are some that don't, so if it's something you're interested in make sure to check for it.

Also some external hard drives have a backup button on them as well to make your backups easier to do, just hit the button and it does the backup for you, backing up the files that you specified through the included software. Of course the button will only work on the PC that you have the software and drivers installed on.

If you're planning on buying a pre-made external hard drive then you'll most likely buy from the same companies that make the drives, Western Digital, Seagate etc as they're the most common out there today, but you can get them from other companies as well like Imation, Buffalo, Verbatim and many others that create the enclosures and put the hard drives in them for sale.

Finally, and as always check for reviews of either the pre-made versions or do it yourself external enclosures, you'll find many reviews of both types online.

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