Offering valuable digital storage and ultimate portability, external hard drives have become a must-have for virtually every computer user. The consumer digital storage market is saturated with countless portable hard drives and, subsequently, pinpointing the differences between first-rate drives and mediocre ones can be a bit tricky. Here are key factors to consider to when searching for an external hard disk drive (HDD) that's suited to your digital needs.

Transfer Speeds   Transfer speed refers to the rate at which an external hard drive can transfer data to and from a host controller (i.e., a computer). If you plan on using the drive to simply back up and store data, you probably don't need the fastest external hard drive on the market. On the other hand, users planning to store large multimedia files should seek drives with quicker transfer speeds, like those with a USB 3.0 interface. USB 3.0 offers transfer rates up to 10 times faster than the preceding (though still widely used) USB 2.0 interface.

Storage Capacity   Portable hard drives are available in myriad storage capacities, ranging from 160 gigabytes (GB) to 750GB, with some drives even boasting one terabyte (TB) models. Higher-capacity drives typically afford the lowest cost-per-gigabyte, giving users the most bang for their buck. Casual users looking to simply transfer files and folders will likely find a smaller-capacity drive sufficient; however, heavy users who plan to use the drive to add extra storage to their computer or as an additional backup layer should seek drives with a higher storage capacity.

Portability   The overall portability of an external hard drive is determined by three key factors: size, weight and durability. Many portable hard drives measure mere inches in size and ounces in weight, making them lightweight, pocket-sized devices that deliver the utmost portability without sacrificing storage capacity. In terms of durability, any portable external HDD should be durable enough to withstand the minor abuse sustained through daily transport and use, especially if you're a gadget addict who doesn't like to coddle your devices. Look for mobile drives with drop protection features and that are made from solid, long-lasting materials such as aluminum or sturdy plastic.

Encryption   Given their portability, small mobile drives are inherently more susceptible to loss and theft than larger desktop drives. Consequently, encryption should be a priority for any users planning to frequently take their drive on the go or who store sensitive information on it. Look for drives that offer password protection and, ideally, hardware-based encryption. While software-based encryption does offer some protection, it is usually not as secure as hardware-based encryption   and it's definitely more system-intensive.

Preloaded Software   Many external hard drives conveniently come with backup software preloaded on the drive that allows users to automate and customize backups to the drive. If your storage needs are modest, stick with drives that provide basic plug-and-play operation. But for those who plan to routinely back up data to the drive, included software can be highly useful and can help simplify the overall backup process. Furthermore, since the software is factory loaded onto the drive, users don't have to worry about external software installation.

Whether you're looking for large storage capacity or robust encryption, be sure to take each of these factors into consideration to help you find the best external hard drive for your needs.


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