Back It Up: External Storage
- — 18 January, 2011 22:00
The world is definitely digital and filled with content for you to enjoy on your TV, your laptop, your tablet, and even your computer. Forget DVDs and CDs, they’re best as retro decoration. What you need is an external hard drive or two so you can access, back up and work across all the devices in your increasingly mobile life. The new ranges are faster and can even be accessed remotely, say from a tropical island in the sun. Make the most of it.
Step away from your machine and take a peek at the sky. The number of bits stored world-wide already exceeds the estimated number of stars in the universe according to research firm IDC. Regular PC World readers will already be aware of that from an earlier review of data storage options.
Have a think about how many of those bits you’re personally responsible for: your work docs, family and holiday pics, movies and fantastic tunes that are simply irreplaceable. Now imagine losing them. Not good. That’s simply one reason every household has to have an external storage device.
Another is portability. You want to be able to transfer these files easily between your phone, work and home computers, netbooks and other devices. The problem is, from the outside, they all look like shiny boxes. Here’s a guide to what’s inside.
USB sticks or flash drives are like lollies, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours and before you know it, they’re gone. Their keyring size makes them great for branding, portability and getting lost. You can pick up a 4GB model for about $30 if you haven’t already been given a promo free and some, like Sandisk’s 32GB high capacity USB drive includes auto back-up and password protection features. It will, however, set you back about $150 and for that price you may as well start looking at portable external hard drives like our featured novice example.
This is the home user’s cheap, chunky and grunty option. It uses a 3.5-inch HDD just like your desktop PC and offers up to 2TB (2 terabytes/2,000 gigabytes) worth of storage space. It obviously needs to be plugged into the wall for power which isn’t always convenient. The benefits of using these drives include user-friendly software that lets you back-up either automatically or by pushing an external button. Some also have displays that let you know at a glance how much storage you have left (eg: 1000 images).
Wallet-sized, these babies draw all their power through the USB connection, so you just need a USB cable to provide power and transfer data. You can also find many brands like Toshiba and Verbatim in multiple colours. It’s a relief from the shiny black ranks to date even if hot pink doesn’t race your motor. Increasingly these drives also come preloaded with automatic back-up and security software. The downsides of these drives are still cost and capacity. It’ll cost you twice as much per-gigabyte as a mains-powered external drive, and 1TB drives are only just starting to hit the market now.
For power users who need a lot of storage (and we’re talking a lot) Network Attached Storage (NAS) is the answer. NAS drives can also be used by business users as a cheaper solution to offsite storage and backup. These are typically boxes which have between one and eight physical hard drives installed in them, and are connected to your router for access from any PC on your local network or even over the internet.
A major advantage of NAS boxes is the ability to have multiple disks in RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). RAID allows you to combine multiple drives to increase performance, reliability or both.
You may have noticed your 1TB drive is missing up to 100GB. This is because most drive manufacturers advertise their capacity under the definition of 1GB equalling 1,000,000,000 bytes, while most operating systems define 1GB as 1,073,741,824 bytes.
Verbatim Mobile Hard Drive (500GB)
Verbatim’s Mobile Hard Drive is a tiny, shiny little black box with a single USB connector and a single status LED. Aside from being a magnet for scratches, PC World’s reviewer noted it to be an amazing performer for a regular USB 2.0 device with max read and write speeds of 32 MB/s, “quite respectable,” in his view. Install Verbatim’s bundled “Turbo USB 2.0” software included on the drive, and performance soars. After installation, write speeds jumped up to a more impressive 35MB/s, while read speeds hit 41MB/s. As compact drives go, this is a clear winner in speed.
More info: verbatim.co.nz
Western Digital MyBook 3.0 (2TB)
The My Book 3.0 was the first readily available external hard drive in New Zealand to feature USB 3.0. It doesn’t matter if your computer doesn’t have USB 3.0 support, Western Digital gives you the option to buy the My Book 3.0 with a USB 3.0 PCIe card (which plugs into your motherboard) included in the box. If you need to transfer data to or from other computers without a USB 3.0 connection, the drive is fully backwards compatible with the ubiquitous USB 2.0 (although you don’t get the benefit of the faster transfer speeds).
The unit runs off mains power and according to our PC World reviewer, over four times as fast as the other USB 2.0 drives, and even outperforms the eSATA drive.
More info: wdc.com
Seagate BlackArmor NAS 420
The NAS 420 is a 4-bay NAS enclosure which ships with two 1TB drives in RAID 1 has fast transfer speeds and features a front-mounted USB port for quick and easy transfers or backups from other external drives, and three more on the back.
An LCD display on the front panel allows users to quickly access information about the device such as its IP address, available capacity, drive temperatures, fan speeds and many other parameters.
Access to the user-replaceable hard drives is also dead simple – just swing open the front door, release the locking mechanism and pull the drive bays out. The drives are hot-swappable so all this can be done while the unit is running.
Dual Gigabit Ethernet connections, media streaming, remote access, user account creation, password protection and file encryption are worthy of mention along with Seagate’s BlackArmor software suite. It performs but for a price.
More info: seagate.com
1. Bargains galore: Keep an eye out for retail specials as these are frequent but bear in mind these tend to be on smaller-capacity or slower drives.
2. Tech specs: Most experts rate the new eSATA models as the fastest external hard drives, along with newer USB 3.0 models. Almost all external hard drives connect to a PC via a USB 2.0 port, which any PC bought within the past six years will have.
3. Rotational speed: Portable external hard drives come in different rotational speeds, measured in revs per minute (rpm). The faster a drive spins its disks, the faster it will copy your data. Models are currently available in 4,200rpm, 5,400rpm, and 7,200rpm flavours. The most common of these is 5,400rpm. You’ll see a difference in transfer speeds if you copy a lot of data – say, photos from a full 2GB memory card – to your hard drive, so keep a close eye on these specs, and beware of vendors that don’t identify the drive’s rotational speed.
4. Seek speed: Average seek speed, measured in milliseconds, refers to how fast, on average, drives can find a particular piece of data. This is a minor consideration: for most people, the effect of differences in this measure in everyday use is negligible. The exception is when a drive is called upon to assemble many small pieces of data scattered in different areas of the hard drive, such as when copying large folders full of many small files. Jumbo drives tend to have somewhat longer seek times.