Smart storage

Follow WINDOWS definitive guide to buying an external or portable hard drive. We unpack what we think you should consider before buying your next portable or external hard drive

Tags: External hard drivesIomega CorporationLaCieTranscend Information IncorporatedUnited Arab EmiratesWestern Digital Corporation
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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  March 16, 2010

We are carrying around bigger bits of data these days on increasingly more mobile form factors thanks to portable drives. But with so much choice in the portable and even the external drive market, what should one look out for when purchasing a drive? WINDOWS Middle East has done extensive research and has also spoken to Khwaja Saifuddin, Director of Sales at Western Digital, about what things consumers should consider when purchasing portable or external drives.

Portable or external drive

"The first criterion is whether you want a portable drive, like something which you can carry with you in your bag, or if you want something which can reside on your desk, like an extra external drive. The basic difference of this is that on the portable drive you want the data to travel with you whereas on a desktop drive, the major reason behind having it is just to add in space and to have a backup," says Saifuddin.


Obviously, external drives also have the capacity to carry a lot more data with some of them reaching the four terabyte range. The size of your drive you need to get depends upon your needs and on the amount of data you own. The more portable drives out there come with 500 Gbyte to 640 Gbyte's of hard disk space. Saifuddin suggests that if you're data is increasing year-on-year incremently, then getting a one or two terabyte drive would be a good option.


USB is the standard when it comes to connecting your drive. But there are other options as well such as Firewire. Both USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 look the same in terms of the ports, but the transfer rates are totally different. The original USB 1.0 transfer rates were 12 Mbit/s whilist USB 2.0 is 480 Mbit/s. Just as they look the same, USB 2.0 is also backward compatible; so, if you're system is USB 1.0 and the product is USB 2.0, the product will be backward compatible with the system. Then there's the take up of the new USB 3.0, which has transfer speeds of 4.8 Gbit per second. Generally USB connectors are also backward compatible, but with these sorts of speeds it would be a breeze downloading those big files of yours such as movies in no time. For a lot of Mac owners, firewire will be the port of call. It comprises a smaller pin than that of USB, but it is much faster. FireWire is the brand of IEEE 1394 made by Apple Inc. and i.Link is the Sony Corporations' brand of IEEE 1394 implementation. To put it into perspective, Firewire 800, which was launched in 2003, has a transfer speed of 786Mbit/s.


Connection is important, but so is the actual speed of your drive. The faster your hard drive operates the faster data will get transferred to your computer. There are a number of technical terms you need to know before you go:

Seek time - this needs to be 10ms (milliseconds) or less

Buffer size - more is better. Get a drive with at least a 4MB buffer

RPM - higher is better. 5400rpm as a minimum. 7200rpm being preferred.


Drives get dropped, battered and beaten. There are drives out there that have some sort of shock resistant covering around them.

LaCie, for example, have the LaCie Rugged Hard Disk which comes in FireWire 400 and 800, USB 2.0 and sizes up to 500 Gbytes with 7200 rpm. They have a shock resistant rubber sleeve cover around them with a protective layer of aluminum on the inside - they can clearly withstand a bit of a beating.

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