Definite Guide – How To Buy A Hard Drive

External hard drives have become increasingly popular with computer enthusiasts over the past few years. Gone are the days where a 500MB (yes, megabytes) hard drive would be enough to hold your operating system, multiple software and even a bunch of games. Thanks to the internet and the ability to easily store photographs, high definition movies and home videos, the demand for having more storage has sky-rocketed.

Most people do not feel comfortable with purchasing an internal hard drive and then installing it into their computer systems. Despite doing this being cheaper than buying an external hard drive, the problem many people run into is that they either do not a free slot to put the new hard drive in, or they simply are too afraid to open their computer case and  fiddle around with cables and fragile motherboards. Fortunately, manufacturers realised these issues and created what we now refer to as an ‘External Hard drive’.

For people looking to buy an external hard drive, however, there are still many new issues that need to be addressed to know what the best one is for your specific needs. So let’s get cracking:

More than a pretty box

You just looked on Amazon and you found 20+ hard drives in the 2tb external hard drive category. They all look extremely different, some are prettier than others, others chunkier than others – Does it matter?

In short answer: No. The way a hard drive looks has no real relevance to its performance and longevity. Inside every exotic/huge/small case is a standard ‘internal’ hard drive with a case and interface that makes it portable and plug-and-play.

Hard Drive Connectivity

A critical part of your research should consist of noting down what ports your computer system physically already has. A USB 3.0 external hard drive has blazing speeds, but only if used on a USB 3.0 port. Almost every computer has a USB port, but they are the standard 2.0 port – The 3.0 ports have only started appearing over recent years, which means that if your system is older than a couple of years – you should double check what type of port you own.

What is SSD and is it better than ‘normal’ external hard drives?

SSD stands for ‘Solid-State Drive’ and they a relatively new type of storage drives as opposed to the over 6-decade old hard drive we all currently use. Over the past few decades, we have been using hard drives that contain multiple disks called platters, which are constantly rotating at a very high speed and covered in a type of magnetic coating. SSD’s on the other hand do not use physical movement for storing the data, they use memory chips, which makes them a lot faster than typical hard drives. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, external SSD drives are highly expensive and limited in size – Which means that at the moment the extra speed is not worth the extra costs. It will take many years for SSD to become as cheap and big as normal hard drives, so we recommend you don’t worry about them for at least a few years.

What is Raid?

Raid is a type of technology that enables users to purchase multiple small hard drives and combine them into one larger one in the computer system’s eyes. The Raid uses bios to dictate to the motherboard the exact size of this new combined hard drive.

Is Cache important and why do they vary in size?

Cache is a broadly-discussed topic as many people do not understand what it is and simply assume the bigger the better. Let’s start by explaining what Cache really is – Cache is essentially a buffer between the hard drive used for storage and the computer system, and this is achieved by having memory embedded on the hard drive, which ranges from 8-64 MB.
Gamers often ask if a bigger cache will have a positive effect on their gaming, but we can confidently confirm that a bigger cache has no bearing on gaming quality whatsoever. Don’t use cache as criteria for your selection, in fact, don’t even look at cache numbers. Ignore it and get the drive that is big enough for your needs and fits your budget.

1 Year warranty or 5 year warranty?

Most hard drives come with the standard 1-year warranty (or some times less), and what this means is that you can get a no-quibbles refund or exchange if anything were to go wrong with your hard drive. This can be quite helpful as if the hard drive is still working after a year, your chances of it breaking during its normal life-cycle are reduced. So why would you want to extend this warranty? The reality is that in five years time you will probably need a new hard drive as the internet will only get faster which signifies more downloads and higher quality/bigger files. However, there are still some people who have hard drives from five years ago, and the ability to get a brand new hard drive in case your one buckles after four years, is a nice thought. We only recommend getting an extended warranty if you can genuinely afford it and you want the extra peace of mind.

Is it better to buy a hard drive in the store or online?

Many people seem to ask this question and the truth is that the only real difference is price. Online retailers sell hard drives for much cheaper than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. If you are determined to see the drive before purchasing it, you should visit your local computer shop and browse through the hard drive section. Once you locate the one you love and want – Write down the model number and go buy it online. You will save a bunch of money and apart from having to wait 2-3 days longer, there is no difference.

If there are any specific questions about how to buy an external hard drive, please leave them in the comments section below.

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