Buy an External Hard Drive – Top 5 Factors
If you’re on the market to buy an external hard drive, there are several factors to consider in making an informed purchasing decision.
This post talks about the top things that most people think about when they are on the market for an external hard drive. These are all decisions you will need to make prior to beginning your search. Some are based on personal preference, others on how you will use the drive, and still others on the type of computer to which you are planning to connect the drive.
As with any major purchase, it’s important to do a little research before making a final decision. You want to be sure your important data is well-secured.
Top 5 Factors
The top 5 factors that most people consider are:
We’ll look at each of these basic factors in turn then look at some other important considerations.
Type of External Drive
There are two basic types of external hard drives:
Desktop models are built to sit on top of a stable work surface (like your desk) and are generally meant to “stay put”. That doesn’t mean you can never move them, but they aren’t really designed to be physically transported on a frequent basis. They typically require a separate power cord in addition to the data transfer cable.
Portable models are designed to be small and light so you can take them with you when you’re on the go. They are generally small enough to fit in your pocket and to withstand minor jostling. Some manufacturers specifically design drives that are made to withstand rigorous conditions like military combat, but most cater to more mainstream use.
Capacity refers to the amount of data the external hard drive can store. Desktop models, which top out at 4 TB as of this writing, can generally store more data than portable ones. Portable drives generally don’t have the capacity of a desktop drive, but can still reach upwards of 1.5 TB of storage.
To find out how much capacity you need, you’ll need to do a little math. You will need to know the average file size and number of files for each type of file you want to store (photos, songs, movies, etc.).
But keep in mind that the actual capacity of a drive and the advertized capacity are not the same. If you buy a 500 GB external hard drive, you will actually get around 465 GB of space.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first has to do with the numbering system that manufacturers use to report capacity (base 10 instead of base 2). They don’t do this to knowingly cheat customers, but rather because we all think in base 10. You can find a handy calculator that tells you the “true” capacity of a drive, as well as a more detailed explanation on how capacity is calculated here:
Another reason is that many hard drives come with resident software, like backup utilities. These, of course, take up available space. Some of these utilities can be easily removed, but not always.
So when you’re trying to determine how much space you’re going to need, keep the above in mind. It’s usually best to err on the side of more capacity rather than less capacity.
Most people don’t care much about the remaining features. Beyond the type and capacity of a drive, price is the biggest factor in determining which external hard drive to purchase.
Not to downplay the importance of price, but when you buy a hard drive, you may want to consider a few other things about the vendor and the shopping experience they provide. For example:
- Do they have a good overall product selection?
- Does the site provide good product information, is it easily navigable, is check-out quick and painless?
- Are items generally in stock?
- Is shipping fast?
- Does the shipping packaging provide adequate protection against damage (this is especially important for something as fragile as a hard drive)?
- What is the return policy?
Buying an external hard drive from a well-known reputable vendor is usually a safe bet. Beware of vendor who may offer cut-rate prices, but at the expense of safely and speedily delivering the product as promised. If you’re not familiar with the vendor, do a bit of homework before handing over your hard-earned money.
There are several vendors that typically get great reviews for pricing, product selection, and customer service. Some are online only and others also have brick-and-mortar establishments. They are (in alphabetical order):
- Best Buy
Others who also get decent ratings:
You want to be sure that whatever external hard drive you buy will work with your computer.
Most external hard drives support USB 2.0, which is the most common type of port on different computer types and models (tower, laptop, netbook, Macs, etc.).
Other connectivity types include FireWire, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt.
When it comes to your important data, you want to be sure it’s well-protected. There’s nothing worse than losing your treasured digital photos and videos or your favorite songs to a hard drive crash.
Before you buy an external hard drive, be sure you’re buying from a reputable manufacturer who has a history of producing quality drives. You want a company who stands behind their product and has a good customer service department.
Several manufacturers stand out in these areas:
- Western Digital
This list isn’t an exhaustive one, but these seem to be the leaders of the pack as of this writing.
Other Factors to Consider When You Buy an External Hard Drive
You may want to consider some other factors whey you’re shopping for an external hard drive.
- Speed of internal mechanisms
- Resident software
- Encryption/Password protection
So basically, there’s not a lot to it. Just remember that when you want to buy an external hard drive, doing a bit of homework up front can save you headaches down the road.