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Hard drive options: a buyers' guide

Externa hard driveNow that computers, laptops and netbooks come with sizeable hard drives it's easy to think that you don't need to get yourself an external hard drive. However, now that most of us have millions of files and folders on our machines, it's proving very easy to fill up a computer very quickly indeed. So, in that respect, looking for the best deals and offers on an external hard drive makes very good sense.

The great thing about the portable hard drive is that you can get one in just about any kind of combination, from the cheapest deals that offer more limited storage options through to premium external hard drives which come with high end prices. If you spend just a little bit of time online then it's quick and easy to compare the different external hard drives that are available in 2012. What's more, it's also wise to spend time reading the external hard drive reviews from fellow consumers too.

By carrying out a little bit of comparison, you'll be much better placed to get yourself kitted out with the best external hard drive in the UK for the sort of money that you want to spend. Before you buy though, you'll want to check out the different deals and offers, look at the different products and specifications along with getting an idea of reliability and security, much of which can be found within those consumer reviews posted online.

Best external hard drive options

So, maybe you feel that you're in the market for a decent external back-up disc, but do you want the cheap external hard drives at the bottom end of the market or do you want a hard drive that comes with a huge amount of storage space? Portable hard drives come in all different shapes, sizes and more importantly, configurations. Therefore, a comparison of the different options is crucial to ensure that you buy the right one for your needs.

After all, the best portable hard drive for your own requirements might not even be that big in terms of storage, but it may well fit the bill if you need a quick and easy way of storing files and folders while you're out and about on the move. On the other hand, you may need the best external hard drive that money can buy, which can handle just about anything that you have to store, such as large movie files and so on.

Thankfully, carrying out a comparison of the hard drive options open to you in the UK is refreshingly straightforward because there's not too much to factor in when looking at the different products and specifications. Essentially, a portable hard drive allows you to keep any kind of digital data that you'd normally keep on a PC or laptop in an alternative and often very secure locker or digital filing cabinet that you can use as an archive or store elsewhere for safety and security.

External hard drives: what to look for

If you're on the lookout for an extra hard drive, probably so you can store or back-up all of that data you've accumulated, then the first thing to consider is what sort of storage capacity you'll want to go for. Generally speaking, this is the main factor that dictates how cheap or expensive the storage option you're buying will be. The good news is that storage has become much cheaper than it used to be, so even the biggest portable hard drives should come with competitive prices attached.

Better still, even cheap hard drives work on pretty much the same principle as their expensive counterparts, so you'll be able to compare the storage amount in any model and this should be given in bytes, megabytes or with today's large external hard drive options, Gigabytes. You'll probably be familiar with how many Gigabytes your own computer, laptop or netbook can hold, so aim for the same amount or more if you're looking at a complete, all in one, back-up solution.

In terms of storage for a hard drive then you can expect to fill it up much more quickly if you deal exclusively with digital files such as photos, films, movies and, to a lesser extent, music collections. Files such as word processing documents and spreadsheets are only likely to take up fractional space compared to those large files, but remember that every portable hard drive has a total capacity. It's also worth remembering that this is also slightly less than what the advertised specification might state, due to the system running the hard drive needing to occupy some disk space too.

Hard drive connectivity options

Hooking up your shiny new external hard drive is a consideration that you need to pay close attention too, because you need to check that the model you buy or the reviews that you examine feature a compatible connection method for your current computer. The good news is that most hard drives sold as standalone units will generally come with the cables needed to connect and transfer data to and from your own machine.

And, as for connecting, well that's often a very straightforward process that involves little more than plugging in a cable via a suitable port, such as a USB (most commonly USB 2.0) or FireWire connection and then moving your selected files to and from the hard drive you have purchased. You might find that each manufacturer of external hard drive models may also bundle some software to help assist you through the process, and subsequently manage data both on your new hard drive and the machine it has come from too.

Bear in mind that, from cheap hard drives at the bottom of the range through to premium hard drives with top end prices, you'll have to consider how quickly your data transfers from one location to another. Although USB is better than it was, large amounts of files could take a considerable time to copy across, so look out for other connectivity options that might offer a speedier transfer rate, such as an Ethernet connection and eSata. At the end of the day though, if you have a large volume of data to move to a new hard drive, be prepared to give it time to get the job done.

Portable hard drives: the formats

Although there isn't too much in the way of technical stuff to consider when you're carrying out a comparison for new external hard drives, you will definitely want to examine the specification of the drive formats on your chosen device. As you compare the different hard drives, you'll probably come across these different drive formats, listed as FAT32 and NTFS, which is a techie way of describing how the digital data if formatted on your hard drive, portable or otherwise.

NTFS hard drives are invariably able to offer much larger storage capacity, although if you use an Apple Macintosh computer then note that you should opt for a FAT32 hard drive, or HFS - another format, as some drives may not work with your operating system. One of the best ways of checking on compatibility and also if the usability of your chosen portable hard drive model is to spend that time on comparison beforehand and also checking out the consumer reviews when you have finalised a shortlist of your favourite portable hard drives.

Adding it all together then and you have a basic shopping list of requirements when it comes to comparing external hard drive devices. Prices are probably going to be a main consideration, but think closely about storage space of the hard drive you buy, the connectivity options and also the speed of the data transfer, as some of the cheap external hard drives might not be able to move your data quite as quickly as the best external hard drive on the market in 2012.

Hard drive design

External hard driveIf you're in the market for a new external hard drive then another factor that's worth thinking about too is what the unit will actually look like. Far from being the dull and boring chunks of hardware that external hard drives used to be, these days it's possible to buy portable hard drives that come in a whole array of different designs, from sober back or white models through to funky coloured units that stand out from the crowd.

You'll also want to think about the overall dimensions of your chosen external hard drive as they can come in a variety of different sizes too. This could mean you buy one of the cheapest external hard drives on the market in 2012 and get a chunky looking box affair, or you could compare the rather more svelte hard drive offerings and plump for a unit that not only makes it compact to take with you on your travels, but that it also looks pretty cool too.

Either way, there's no end to the variety of external hard drive options out there, so all you need to do now is compare them and read those favourable reviews.