Ah, the external hard drive. This unsung hero of the gadget world can be found on almost any geek’s desk, usually tucked away behind a monitor or stuffed in a drawer. Yet it’s of great importance, as it’s often used to back up critical data or store a library of music, videos and photos.
There are plenty of drives available, but most of us only need one or two, so let’s narrow down the choices and see which are really worth your money.
Best Budget Drive: Seagate 500GB Portable External Drive
This simple, portable hard drive offers 500GB of storage for a price of about $60 at most online retailers.
Features are few. The drive is a slower 5,400 RPM model, and USB 2.0 is the only connection option. With that said, this drive is quite portable, as it weighs about 160 grams and is under .7 inches (or 18mm) thick.
You’ll receive better value for your money if you pay a bit more, but if enhanced connectivity or better drive speeds are not a concern to you, this simple option will do the job.
Best Massive Drive: Seagate GoFlex 4TB External Drive
There are many options for people who want over a terabyte of space, but most are specialty solutions that become extremely expensive. At $249.99, this 4TB option manages to offer jaw-dropping capacity without a wallet-shattering price tag.
It’s more than just a big lug of a drive, however. It offers USB 3.0 as standard, and optional FireWire or USB 2.0 adapters can be purchased if desired (though I don’t know why you’d want to downgrade to USB 2.0). It’s compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X. And as if that weren’t enough, it’s a pretty fast drive, as well.
Yes, the price tag of $249.99 may sound like a lot, but you actually receive far more capacity per dollar than you would with the budget-minded 500GB Seagate drive previously recommended.
Best Backup Drive: Clickfree C6 Portable External Drive
All external drives are excellent ways to back up data, but not all drives make it equally easy to do so. One company that’s long had a leg up on the competition in this area is Clickfree, which ships its hard drives with custom firmware and software designed to make backing data easy.
The C6 even has the ability to image an entire PC hard drive, including the operating system, which means a computer can be completely restored from this drive if anything tragic happens to it. Otherwise, the Clickfree C6 is a fairly typical portable drive. It’s thin, it’s light, and it offers USB 3.0 as its sole connectivity option.
You do pay for the convenience of this drive. The 1TB portable version is $139.99, which is a fair bit more expensive than similarly equipped drive with less impressive (or any) backup features. Also, Mac users should be warned that this drive is allergic to computers designed in California.
Best Durable Drive: ioSafe Rugged Portable (Any Size) External Drive
Most of us will never place our external hard drives under much stress. Maybe the cat will tip it over – and that’s about it. Yet external drives are appealing to some people because of their portability, and if you are indeed going to be moving your data all over the globe, in a range of conditions, you’ll want a drive that won’t go belly-up.
That drive is the ioSafe Rugged Portable. Machined out of aluminum or titanium (depending on the version), this drive is watertight, chemical resistant and encases the mechanical drive itself in a shock housing that reduces the severity of impacts. The company that built it has even shown a demonstration video in which the drive was shot with a 12-gauge shotgun and survived.
It’s available in two capacities – 500GB or 1TB. Varying “Data Recovery Services” are offered by ioSafe to retrieve your data at no charge if the drive should somehow break. Mac users will have to purchase a version specific to that operating system. They’ll probably want to but don’t have to. There are USB 3.0 and FireWire 800 versions available, both of which will also work with a USB 2.0 connection and so can be used on both Macs and PCs.
All of the ioSafe drives are expensive, but did you think for a moment that a shotgun-proof external drive would be cheap?
External hard drives may not receive the attention of tablets or smartphones, but there have been huge improvements in their quality over the years. Drives like the ioSafe Rugged Portable are stunningly durable, while the capacity of the Seagate GoFlex 4TB should satisfy even readers addicted to torrenting HD videos.
Do you think there’s a drive that should have been listed here? Let us know in the comments!