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Choosing an External Hard Drive

Understanding Hard Drive Options

Handy external hard drives are the traditional internal hard disk drive (HDD) in a convenient external format, so you can easily expand your storage capacity without touching the inner workings of your computer. These external storage drives also let you quickly create a file back-up solution or offload batches of files for simple transfer to another computer. Hard drives in general are relatively inexpensive and can give you a lot of storage space for your money.

External Hard Drive Speeds

All hard drives involve moving mechanical parts, and the faster a drive can spin — measured in revolutions per minute (rpm) — the faster it can save and retrieve bits of data. These drives do generate noise and heat as they work, and the faster drives use more energy.

Typically, external portable hard drives run at 5400 rpm (the reduced power draw helps to preserve the battery life of the host computer), while external desktop hard drives run at 7200 rpm to offer all the speed they can. If you frequently work with large files or multiple files at once — for instance, opening large albums of high-resolution photos, editing high-definition videos or playing the latest PC games — a 7200 rpm drive will improve your computer's response times to a noticeable degree.

Desktop vs. Portable Hard Drives

External desktop hard drives are built using a 3.5" drive and require both an interface cable and a separate AC adapter plugged into a power outlet. These drives are a good choice for supplementing a desktop computer or plugging into a laptop's home base, and typically give you more capacity per dollar than portable versions. We have the hard drive cables and adapter options you need to get up and running.

External portable drives consist of a 2.5" hard drive in a compact, protective enclosure that packs easily and travels light. Additionally, lower energy requirements allow many portable drives to be bus-powered, which means they draw power from the host computer using the same cable as data transfer. You won't need to depend on a power outlet, and you'll have one less cord to pack and untangle.

Both external desktop and external portable hard drives are available in a variety of capacities to meet your needs.