Should you choose an external hard disk, a solid-state drive, a USB memory key or something else? We guide you through the many options
The first hard disk was big enough to fill a room when it was developed in 1956 by IBM, but it cost tens of thousands of pounds to store just 5MB of data. Today you can buy a USB memory key smaller than a door key that offers thousands of times the capacity for around £5. But that's just one of the options you could choose if you want to back up files and folders on your computer. We explain what's on offer in the world of portable storage.
Hard disk technology might be old but it’s probably still the most popular storage option. Your desktop or laptop computer almost certainly has a hard disk inside that can store hundreds of gigabytes (GB) of data. Additional higher-capacity hard disks can be fitted to a desktop computer, but a far simpler option for anyone wanting more storage is to buy an external hard disk.
These are disks fitted in a sturdy case, which they attach to a computer using a USB cable. Prices vary depending on the capacity, with the storage ranging from a few hundred gigabytes to several terabytes (TB). The Western Digital My Passport Essential drive, for example, offers 1TB of storage for around £90, weighs just 200g and can easily fit in a jacket pocket.
External hard disks have numerous uses. They provide a quick and easy way to move large quantities of data between PCs because they can be plugged into any USB port on a PC and be up and running in seconds. They’re also great for long-term storage of personal files, though not necessarily the most economical (as we’ll explain later).
Alternatively, you can keep an external hard disk on your desk as backup drive for the computer’s internal disk (though, ideally, backup media should be stored in a different location from the computer, in case of theft or fire).
One downside of external disks has been the fairly plodding data-transfer rate of USB2. Disks with the much faster USB3 socket are finally becoming more commonplace so if your computer has USB3 sockets, denoted by blue plastic inside the USB port, a USB3 external hard disk is a wise investment. If not, adding a USB3 socket isn’t that hard as we demonstrated in the last issue of the magazine.
USB3 hard disks will still work when connected to a USB2 port, but you won’t benefit from the faster transfer rates.
There are some weird and wonderful options, too. The Kingston Wi-Drive, for example, is designed to provide extra storage for iPhones, iPods and iPads. It works by connecting wirelessly to Apple devices via a complementary app. While it feels inelegant, it is useful for getting extra storage. Available in 16 and 32GB variants, it is currently being discounted - the 16GB model costs around £34.
The Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro, meanwhile, is a USB3 external hard disk that offers online storage as part of the deal. Available in 500 and 750GB versions, it includes software to synchronise the files it stores to 3GB of online space – cloud storage (see the box on the next page for more on this). Expect to pay around £70 for the 500GB model.
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