Tips On Buying External Storage

As part of our series on tech shopping for the holidays, here's a special on buying external storage. Read all about it!
Published: Nov 30, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows
Tucows Editorial Feature

Tips On Buying A External Storage

by Michael E. Callahan aka Dr. File Finder

As part of our series designed to help you with your shopping during theholidays, today we're looking at "external storage." Storage isamazingly inexpensive today and it comes in lots of shapes and sizes.I'm not going to deal with things like Compact Flash or SecureDigital cards, but I'll hit the high points. Here are some tips thatI hope you'll find helpful.

You Can Take It With You!

Over the years hard drives have gotten smaller and smaller. They've alsogotten cheaper. An innovation that's only been around a few years is theUSB Flash Drive. These are sometimes called keychain harddrives because you can carry them on a keychain.

When these first came out they were available in sizes like 128megabytes and 256 megabytes. Today you can get them all the way up to 4gigabytes! That's a lot of storage that you can carry in yourpocket. The screen shot is of my 2GB Sandisk Cruzer Titaniumwhich is extremely sturdy. Drives like this one often come with softwareinstalled like anti-virus, Skype, and more. There's also a lot ofOpenSource software that's designed for use on portable media.

You can find Portable Firefox and Portable Thunderbird, whichcould easily handle all of your Web browsing and email needs. You canalso find products like XnView that lets you work with graphics, XMPlay that's great for playing audio content, andSunbird which is a calendar program. There's getting to be noshortage of apps that you can take with you. Something to think about.

USB Flash Drives are made by a wide range of manufacturers.Nearly all of their cases are made out of plastic, with the exceptionsof things like the Cruzer Titanium which really is made out of titanium.If you're looking for portable storage for someone in your life for theholidays you'll want to consider a few things.

  • Capacity
  • Durability
  • USB standard

For capacity you might want to think about what the drive will beused for. If it's for a businessman that will carry programs and data onit, you may want to opt for a bigger size, like 1 gigabyte or more. Ifit's for a student who will use it mainly for carrying papers to class,you might want to look at 256 megabyte model instead. I've had a numberof these devices and for my money you can't beat titanium fordurability. That's not a plug for Sandisk, it's just beena fact for me. Nearly all USB Flash drives have cases made out ofinjection plastic, often called ABS. My biggest problem has beenhaving the plastic loop break off so the drive falls off my keychain.Again, consider the person you're buying it for. Lastly, be sure to lookat the USB standard the device supports. Most will support bothversion 2.0 and version 1.x, but you want to be sure. USB 2.0 is muchfaster than 1.1.

Kicking It Up A Notch

Most computers today come with quite a bit of storage. Lots of desktopcomputers come with close to 300 gigabytes and even laptops come withabout a 100 gigabytes. I bought my first one, a Maxtor One Touch

to do backups on. That was 300 gigabytes. Then, when I started gettingmore into virtual machines I got another. Right now I have 3. Ialso have a Western Digital "My Book". These can sit on yourdesktop and most connect to your computer via a USB or FireWireconnection. Simple.

I've noticed a trend in that these external drives seem to be increasingin capacity. Some of the earliest were around 150 gigabytes, butnow you can find them up to 500 gigabytes. They're quick and easy tohook up and all of the ones I've had have been very reliable. Some, likethe "My Book" come with drivers already installed on the device, whilethe Maxtor comes with a CD. Either way even a novice user can installand use these devices.

Think about it. If you have a computer crash these areoutside of your computer. I use them for system backups, virtualmachines, pictures, documents, and so on. Assuming you had no"official" backups whatsoever, if you'd copied all of your photos,music, and documents to an external hard drive a crash would be lessdisruptive. I'm not advocating not backing up, on the contrary, I'msaying that the external hard drives make it even easier. Unlike tapebackups, you don't have to worry about changing tapes. Slick. It's agreat way to take your computing and "kick it up a notch!"

You can also find portable hard drives, but these are intended tobe different from other external drives. The ones I've seen run around40 gigabytes or so and it's a great way for someone to take the keyfiles from their office with them. Designed more for going in yourbriefcase than on your desktop.

Summing It Up!

Todays rich media results in files that are much bigger. In addition,more and more people are carrying computer files with them. Forexample, I have pictures of my grandchildren on an SD card in mysmartphone, and not in my wallet.

Small USB Flash Drives are perfect for carrying some documents,or a suite full of applications to work with. You can plug them into anycomputer with a USB port and access your drive. Surf the Web, check youremail, and when you're done just unplug it. These come in a range ofcapacities from about 128 megabytes up to about 8 gigabytes.

External hard drives provide a wonderful way to add storage toyour system. They're easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive. You can usethem for backups, for storing family photos, for keeping copies of yourmusic, and lots more. Because they are not a part of your computer, thedata on them is available if you plug the drive into another computer.

For your convenience I've put links to the other articles in thisseries. Happy shopping!

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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