What to look for in an external hard drive

25 AUGUST 2023

Whether you’re storing old documents, transferring big files or simply backing up your valuable photographs, you need an external hard drive. Here’s how to choose the best one.External hard driveTake our word for it: you don’t want to leave files on your computer without backing them up. If you don’t have copies saved, you run the very real – and very expensive – risk of losing all that data if or when your hard drive crashes. Getting a specialist company to try to retrieve your lost photographs and files is massively expensive (you’re talking about a few thousand rand)… and you’ll spend the whole time kicking yourself for not buying an external hard drive.

What’s more, storing all those files on your main workstation will slow the system down – so really, an external hard drive is the way to go.


The big question is, what kind of external hard drive should you buy? Your choice really boils down to two, three-letter technical terms: SSD and HDD. These are the two main types of external hard drives: solid-state drives (SSD) and hard disk drives (HDD).

SSDs have a lot going for them. They’re faster at reading and writing data, they draw less power (extending the battery life of your laptop, if you’re using one), and they have no moving parts – which means they make no noise and tend to last longer. That’s the good news. The bad news is that SSDs have smaller data capacity (so they can store fewer files) and they’re much more expensive than HDDs.

If you plan on using your hard drive for back-up, then an HDD will do the business. Although it has moving parts, and isn’t quite as rugged as an SSD, it’ll be cheaper and bigger (capacity-wise)… and it’ll be fine as long as you don’t throw it around!


From there, you’re looking at capacity – or how much information your hard drive can store. If you’re using the hard drive to back up documents, then a relatively small (250GB) drive will do the trick. But if you’re storing photographs or movies and music (all legal downloads, of course), then you may want to invest in a 1TB drive. Here you’ll have the SSD/HDD decision made for you: it’s pretty much impossible to find an affordable 1TB SSD.


The final factor to consider is speed… or, in other words, how long it takes for the drive to read, write and transfer files to and from your main computer. Obviously, quicker is better – so look for a USB 3.0 connection or – if you really want to let your techie geek flag fly – go for what’s called an eSATA device (although those usually require their own power source).


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