USB Hard Drive Buyers Guide: Portable Network Storage, Data Transport and Backup Options

There was a time when a full computer hard drive meant only one thing, cracking open the case and replacing or adding a new drive. This was often time consuming and frustrating for those without much technical knowledge. Today a new option exists that is quick, easy, and almost foolproof for any user, the USB Hard Drive.

USB Hard Drives: What Are They?

A USB hard drive is essentially a standard EIDE based hard disc drive that has been encased in a solid, exterior enclosure that can be plugged in to your computer via the USB or Firewire port. Many companies manufacture such drives in sizes capable of reaching as high as one terabyte of storage space. For most home users however, a standard 250gb USB hard drive by a company such as Western Digital or Lacie is an excellent option and can be purchased for as little as $120 online.

You may be able to save even more money by building your own external USB hard drive. Simply purchase a hard drive enclosure and install a new hard drive inside it yourself. By waiting for a good sale or rebate offer at your local retailer you can drive the cost of such a drive down to as little as $40.

In the previous paragraph I mentioned something called Firewire. It should be noted that some USB hard drives also come with the ability to connect to a Firewire port on your computer. Before the roll out of the USB 2.0 standard, Firewire was a much faster method of moving data between peripherals. Today however, USB 2.0 connections are more than adequate for the task. If there is a price difference between 2 models of USB hard drives, save the money and forget about Firewire connections.

Connecting and Installing a USB Hard Drive

Most commercially produced USB hard drives by Lacie and Western Digital come with the drive ready to plug in and go. Some drives will prompt you on first use to partition the drive. This is always a good idea, especially with very large drives.

Partitioning essentially carves the hard drive into smaller pieces, each with its own drive letter (E:, F:, G:, etc.) It is often easier to organize and find your files when they are sorted onto a 50gb partition than trying to find that same file on a huge 250gb hard drive.

Once partitioned and set up properly, the USB drive will appear as any other drive does on your computer. No special steps are required to access the data. Once installed, USB hard drives offer several additional advantages to the user.

Using the USB Hard Drive as a Backup Device

Most USB hard drives come with utilities to allow you to backup your computer’s internal hard disc drive to the new external USB drive. Doing so is a lifesaver in the event that your internal hard drive crashes. Use a partition on your new USB hard drive to backup your My Documents folder and any other data that cannot be easily replaced.

Using the USB Hard Drive as a Data Transport Device

By their nature, USB hard drives are portable. Once partitioned and set up, they can be removed from one computer and moved to another with ease. This is especially helpful when transporting large amounts of data such as video files.

Indeed, some manufacturers have developed portable hard drives specifically for digital video cameras, removing the need for slow and arduous downloading from camera to computer during the video editing process.

Using the USB Hard Drive as a Network Storage Device

Once a USB drive is connected to a computer, you can share that storage space just as you would any other hard drive on your system. By sharing the drive, other computers in your home or office can save or backup data to the external USB hard drive exactly as if you had a dedicated file server.

Regardless of your reason for purchasing a USB hard drive you will no doubt be pleased with the flexibility, power, and peace of mind that it can bring to your daily routine.