Choosing the Best External HDD / SSD
30 July 2018
With such a large range of external HDDs and SSDs available, the decision can be daunting when buying. This guide will help you decide on the right drive for you.
Purchasing an external hard drive can be very useful for many things such as being able to transport large amounts of data, backing up data and more. With such a large number of external hard drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs) available, choosing a new external drive can be a daunting process.
It is important to identify what you intend to use your external HDD or SSD for as this will help you choose the best device. Will you primarily use it for backing up data at work or home? Or will you need to use the external drive to backup data on a holiday? Or maybe you would like to affordably transport large amounts of data to friends and family. While cloud services are available, you may not trust your personal data on cloud storage and/or it may not be viable due to a slow or limited internet connection (this is Australia after all). This is where the benefits of external storage comes into play.
External Drive Type
|External Desktop HDD||High storage capacity, value and upgradability|
|External Portable HDD||Balance of capacity, value and portability|
|External SSD||Durable, ultra-high speed and portability|
Choosing the capacity of the drive is often one of the first considerations that consumers are faced with. Many people find that 3-4TB is enough for their needs while others can never have enough storage. If you plan to store lots of films, movies, photos and videos (several years’ worth) it’s recommended to buy the largest capacity you can afford or consider a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. However, if you plan to store university and/or work projects and don’t have too much media then a couple of terabytes (e.g. 2-4TB) will be sufficient.
Portable vs Desktop HDDs
If you plan to primarily use your external HDD at home or work, then an external desktop HDD would be the better choice for you. External desktop HDDs are larger and heavier than their portable counterparts and require AC power to function. However external desktop HDDs are available in much higher storage capacities and are typically cheaper than portable HDDs. Depending on the brand and model, some external desktop HDDs are also upgradeable meaning you can easily increase your external storage. Higher end external HDDs are also available as DAS (Direct Attached Storage) devices which offer multi-HDD storage and depending on the model, also support JBOD and RAID. Be aware that external desktop drives containing multiple HDDs may be using RAID 0 to fully utilise space and improve performance. RAID 0 offers no data protection where if just 1 HDD in the desktop drive fails, all data will be lost. Some drives offer the ability to choose which RAID type you would like during set-up. Learn more about different RAID types HERE. External desktop HDDs offer the highest available storage capacities, value and upgradability.
Portable HDDs offer a compact and lightweight design compared to their external desktop HDD counterparts and can be powered over their USB / Thunderbolt connection to your PC or Mac. Portable HDDs give you a combination of value, storage capacity and portability. Some portable HDDs are available with bumpers and strong enclosures for extra durability, though portable SSDs offer extra durability due to having no moving parts.
Portable SSDs offer unrivalled speed, portability and durability but come at a high cost versus traditional mechanical HDDs. Capping out at 2TB, portable SSDs also have a smaller maximum storage capacity versus traditional portable HDDs which can be found with capacities up to 5TB (e.g. LaCie Porsche Design 5TB). Due to the fast speeds of SSDs, portable SSDs can almost fully utilise the 5Gbit/s (Gigabit) throughput of USB 3.0/USB 3.1 Gen1. Many new release portable SSDs such as the Samsung T5 series are equipped with USB 3.1 Gen2 which raises total available throughput to 10Gbit/s. If your computer does not have USB 3.1 Gen2, the drives are backwards compatible with USB 3.1 Gen1. Due to their ultra-high speed, most portable SSDs are suitable for demanding tasks such as video editing or even installing games on. Portable SSDs give you the combination of ultra-portability and very high data transfer speeds but at a cost. Read TechRadar's review of the Samsung T5 Portable SSD HERE
Watch HardwareCanuck's video below on how to game on an external drive (*spoiler* a portable SSD is used);
Some portable HDDs such as the LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS offer additional connectivity such as being able to directly copy media from an SD card or USB equipped device onto the HDD without the need for a computer. Others such as the WD My Passport Wireless Pro offer wireless connectivity where you can wirelessly connect your PC or smartphone to the drive to access data.
Interface and compatibility
Most external HDDs and SSDs come with a USB connection – be sure to check if it only comes with the new USB-C cable as an adapter will be required to connect to computers that do not have USB-C. Also, be aware that USB transfer speeds are usually theoretical and the speed is typically limited by the speed of the drive – hence why fast external SSDs are usually equipped with the faster USB 3.1 Type-C. Some portable HDDs such as the WD My Passport for MAC are designed to be used with Mac computers and thus won’t work with Windows PCs out-of-the-box. However, they can be formatted from HFS+ (for use with Mac) to NTFS (for use with Windows) with utility software bundled with the drive.
External Hard Drives and Solid-State Drives from most major brands will be bundled with utility software for extra functionality. External desktop HDDs such as the Seagate Backup Plus External HDD has software that can schedule automatic backups of your documents, photos or videos. Also bundled is an NTFS driver for Mac which allows the interchangeable use of the hard drive between Mac and Windows computers.
Browse our range of External Hard Drives and SSDs below;