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Tue 16 Mar 2010 04:00 AM

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Smart storage

Follow WINDOWS definitive guide to buying an external or portable hard drive. We unpack what we think you should consider before buying your next portable or external hard drive.

Smart storage
Smart storage
To go portable or external: That is the question…
Smart storage
“No two consumers are identical; people can have different needs, different likings,” says Kwaja.
Smart storage
Know your technical drive terms.
Smart storage
LaCie portable drives: plastic rubber and aluminum keep it sturdy.
Smart storage
Services such as DropBox offer an alternative to portable drives.

Follow WINDOWS definitive guide to buying an external or portable hard drive. We unpack what we think you should consider before buying your next portable or external hard drive.

We are carrying around bigger bits of data these days on increasingly more mobile form factors thanks to portable drives. But with so much choice in the portable and even the external drive market, what should one look out for when purchasing a drive? WINDOWS Middle East has done extensive research and has also spoken to Khwaja Saifuddin, Director of Sales at Western Digital, about what things consumers should consider when purchasing portable or external drives.

Portable or external drive

“The first criterion is whether you want a portable drive, like something which you can carry with you in your bag, or if you want something which can reside on your desk, like an extra external drive. The basic difference of this is that on the portable drive you want the data to travel with you whereas on a desktop drive, the major reason behind having it is just to add in space and to have a backup,” says Saifuddin.

CapacityObviously, external drives also have the capacity to carry a lot more data with some of them reaching the four terabyte range. The size of your drive you need to get depends upon your needs and on the amount of data you own. The more portable drives out there come with 500 Gbyte to 640 Gbyte’s of hard disk space. Saifuddin suggests that if you’re data is increasing year-on-year incremently, then getting a one or two terabyte drive would be a good option.


USB is the standard when it comes to connecting your drive. But there are other options as well such as Firewire. Both USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 look the same in terms of the ports, but the transfer rates are totally different. The original USB 1.0 transfer rates were 12 Mbit/s whilist USB 2.0 is 480 Mbit/s. Just as they look the same, USB 2.0 is also backward compatible; so, if you’re system is USB 1.0 and the product is USB 2.0, the product will be backward compatible with the system. Then there’s the take up of the new USB 3.0, which has transfer speeds of 4.8 Gbit per second. Generally USB connectors are also backward compatible, but with these sorts of speeds it would be a breeze downloading those big files of yours such as movies in no time. For a lot of Mac owners, firewire will be the port of call. It comprises a smaller pin than that of USB, but it is much faster. FireWire is the brand of IEEE 1394 made by Apple Inc. and i.Link is the Sony Corporations' brand of IEEE 1394 implementation. To put it into perspective, Firewire 800, which was launched in 2003, has a transfer speed of 786Mbit/s.


Connection is important, but so is the actual speed of your drive. The faster your hard drive operates the faster data will get transferred to your computer. There are a number of technical terms you need to know before you go:

Seek time- this needs to be 10ms (milliseconds) or less Buffer size- more is better. Get a drive with at least a 4MB buffer RPM- higher is better. 5400rpm as a minimum. 7200rpm being preferred.


Drives get dropped, battered and beaten. There are drives out there that have some sort of shock resistant covering around them.

LaCie, for example, have the LaCie Rugged Hard Disk which comes in FireWire 400 and 800, USB 2.0 and sizes up to 500 Gbytes with 7200 rpm. They have a shock resistant rubber sleeve cover around them with a protective layer of aluminum on the inside - they can clearly withstand a bit of a beating. Software

Saifuddin says that there are numerous things to consider about the software installed on a portable or external drive.

“Is it very cumbersome to install, is it just plug and play, does it have a backup software, does it come with a password protection and encryption especially on the portable drives, because the chances of misplacing it or losing it is very high, so are you going to lose your entire data with it,” he says.

“Does the drive tell you how much space is left, does it have an automatic backup, does it have a password protection,” are other questions he thinks consumers should consider.

Going for the bigger brands

There are many brands out there these days when it comes to portable drives. Many companies produce a portable and external drives. But in general, it’s widely suggested that you buy a drive that is made by one of the big companies as issues such as warranty are more easily accessible. It also boils down to quality. Those which are associated with bigger brand names naturally have better parts and will usually last longer. The last thing you want is to put all your music, photos and files on something which will go bust. Read reviews

The next tip is to read reviews in publications such as this one, and online. There’s a wealth of information out there when it comes to product ratings, and comments from those who have used and tried out various drives.

Backing up

Portable or External Drives are ideal for backing up data on your PC. Their advantage over CDs and DVDs is that they offer more permanent storage (and of course backing up data on CDs and DVDs is cumbersome and time-consuming). So, you might want to consider getting a two-drive external storage system where you can dedicate half the capacity for mirroring to automatically and instantaneously backing up your backup every time. The other advantage obviously is that two drives allow you to make backups of your information in one place. When it comes to backing up your information, try to organise what you have into folders, as it makes it that much easier to backup your files. Also, you’ll then know where all your files are. Also be sure to backup regularly whilst utilising the backup software that comes on your drive. It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of storing your data in multiple locations; so make some copies on your hard drive and others perhaps on a cloud storage solution such as DropBox mentioned below.

What about cloud storage

Portable storage is great, but what about doing away with a portable or external storage device altogether and jumping into the cloud? There are a number of online storage services out there such as DropBox. Many people are advocating this route, whilst others, such as Saifuddin are not.

“What we take a backup of or what we save is something which is very sensitive and close to us and very important to us. And still we’re not that much open that we can just keep it on somebody else’s server and somebody else’s drive and hope it’s going to remain the way it is. So, still the longevity and the lifescale of a drive is going to always remain,” he says.

If you’re willing to go the cloud computing route though, DropBox can offer you 2Gbytes of online storage for free and up to 100 Gbytes available to paying customers. You can then also share those files with others and it has an online backup facility as well.

Here’s how the pricing works out for it. With the 50 Gbyte option, you pay $9.99 dollars for a monthly subscription. With the 100 Gbyte option, you pay $19.99 per month.

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