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  1. #1
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    External hard drives: what to choose.

    I am planning to buy an external hard drive, predominantly for storing images, but there doesnít seem to be much comment on the web, so any advice would be much appreciated.

    For starters, which brand to get? I recall reading in the lounge a year or so ago that one should buy Seagate, as the other major brand (Western Digital?) was not very reliable. Or it may have been the other way around, only the name Seagate stuck in my mind. And whichever it was, there may be something better now.

    Then size. After 8 years I have only used 45GB of the 120GB HDD in the PC, so I assume a 500 GB drive would be ample: sufficient for about 8 images, enough even for Tedís habit of making an image after every change to the system, plus the odd image of my wifeís PC, used almost exclusively for browsing and email.

    Desktop or portable? My PC desk is fairly crowded with the monitor, scanner and speakers, so a portable drive would be ideal, only needing to plug it in when making, or restoring, an image. Is a portable worth the extra cost, and does the smaller disk size affect performance? I see that portable drives derive their power through the USB lead. Does this make them slower or less reliable?

    I assume that all external drives are suitable for storing and RESTORING an image? You will note that Iím not really technically skilled.

    One last question, perhaps the most important. When Nero started recognising my DVD writer as a CD writer I bought a new one, only to discover that nowadays they are all SATA rather than IDE, and the few that are available require a later model than my venerable Dell PC. Am I likely to encounter anything similar in using a new external drive with Windows XP?

    Many questions, but I really need some guidance.

    TIA

    George

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    Super Moderator RetiredGeek's Avatar
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    George,

    I personally am a Western Digital fan as I have several and have not had a problem. I know others who have similar experiences with Segate. Basically, they are both good brand names that have had problems from time to time with a specific model but generally produce reliable products. That said, I'd put off the purchase off if possible as prices are currently, considering prices over the last year, high due to floods in Thailand that wiped out some factories that produce parts for all manufactures and hit Western Digital especially hard. Although from a longer term point of view they are still quite a bargain.
    May the Forces of good computing be with you!

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    Quote Originally Posted by georgelee View Post
    I am planning to buy an external hard drive, predominantly for storing images

    I assume that all external drives are suitable for storing and RESTORING an image? You will note that I’m not really technically skilled.
    Many questions, but I really need some guidance.
    George,
    Hello... You might try checking inside your PC to see if you have a spare "Bay" to place another Hard Drive ... sometimes there is room for another ...Also check and see if you have open "Mother Board Ports " (to add more devices) could be.... you do. Many PC's have from 2 to 4 ...also does your mother board have any spare open PCI slot's ... or PCI "E" ? If so you could add more ports to your "Mother Board" ...Also do you have serial or parallel HD's? SATA will have two connectors one for power and the other for Data connection.. The Parallel will have one long connector ... If your using USB to connect you will need a "Dock" to place the new SATA HD ... I have 6 Hitachi DeskStar 500GB and 1TB HD's As "Geekster" has pointed out, the prices are about double from what they were just a few months ago ...Check out this site for some place to start OWL also check out "Directron" and "New Egg" for your PC needs Regards Fred
    PlainFred

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    Super Moderator CLiNT's Avatar
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    I agree with Fred. You may have a number of SATA ports and a few extra hard drive bays/cages inside your computer.
    Installing an internal hard drive is relatively simple, even for a novice. Look into it by going to the manufacture of your computers internet
    site to see if you can pull a schematic of some sort based on your make/model number, or simply open the case.

    A Western Digital or Seagate drive will do just fine, and I'd make it the 1 TB variety, 2 TB if you have compressed movies to store.

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    Thanks for the replies gentlemen. So it seems that Seagate and Western Digital are both satisfactory, which widens my choice.

    However, I would still be much obliged for any guidance on the relative merits of portable v desktop external drives, i.e. convenience v performance.

    There is a spare slot in the PC but I would prefer an external drive for the extra security of keeping it separate from the PC itself. A portable version could even be kept in the bedroom, and in an emergency such as fire, grabbed on the way out.

    Fred seems to be blinding me with science – I have no idea what the Mother Board is yet alone Mother Board Ports. I am somewhat concerned by his comment ‘If you’re using USB to connect you will need a "Dock" to place the new SATA HD’. Does this mean even an external drive will have problems with my old PC? Another reason for choosing an external drive was the belief that USB would avoid any complications with connecting, as mentioned in the penultimate paragraph of the OP.

    The price rise is unfortunate, but the January sales have already started in the UK and drives are not much more expensive at the moment than in the autumn when I looked. In any case, I can’t wait another 6 – 12 months for the following reasons;

    a) my PC is 8 years old and could die any time,
    b) I have had to reformat twice, and don’t want to go through that again without an image to restore,
    c) The DVD writer still plays DVDs but will only recognize them as CDs for recording, when I bought a replacement it could not be installed as they are all SATA now, and the few remaining PATA drives require Pentium 4, whereas I believe I have P3. Hence backups involve laboriously copying to the laptop via a memory stick.

    All the best for Christmas to everyone.

    George

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    Super Moderator RetiredGeek's Avatar
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    George,

    What Fred was referring to was being able to use a standard drive outside the PC via USB thus the DOCK to place the drive in and provide the USB connection, power, etc. I'm personally a fan of the WD Passport Essential line. They are compact, self powering {no brick needed}, and in my experience reliable. Since you have an older PC you don't need USB 3 but I think I'd get it since the replacement for your aging PC will have USB 3 and it is much faster and also backward compatible with USB 2.
    May the Forces of good computing be with you!

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    Quote Originally Posted by georgelee View Post

    Fred seems to be blinding me with science – I have no idea what the Mother Board is yet alone Mother Board Ports.
    George ,
    Hello... Sorry for the confusion.. As i have no idea as to what "level" any lounger is at ... I meant no disrespect...and apologize. The Mother Board is your main component in your PC containing the CPU (main processing chip... heart of your PC) Hard Drives are plugged into this board , and sometimes there are "Extras" to plug another component into...ex: DVD \CD RW or Hard Drive..See screen shot of a typical "motherboard" Regards Fred
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    PlainFred

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    As always, much of what we're talking about is merely opinion. In other words, none of the advice is really wrong, we just all have our personal preferences on how to do things.

    That said, I'll share what I do. As already stated, drive brand is largely irrelevant. I chose Western Digital "Green" series because a friend has several of them that are quite old and very reliable. The WD "Green" drives are not suitable for running an OS from due the fact that they run slower and are built to save energy and not heat up. But they are perfect for backup drives. I have a 1.5 TB drive that I put into a Vantec housing (http://www.vantecusa.com/en/product/view_detail/172. I connect it to my laptop via an eSATA connection, which is much faster than USB 2.0. I prefer external drives even with a desktop computer because ideally you have 2 external backup drives, and rotate them to an offsite location, like a safety deposit box, or trusted friend/relative's house. Keep in mind that if you choose to use an internal drive as a backup, your safety margin is a little smaller than using an external drive. For example, say your surge protector fails, and your PC dies due to a power spike, your backup drive could be affected too. That won't happen with an external drive that's only plugged in when you need it.

    I also have a 250GB 2.5 in latop drive in a small housing that I use just for backing up data. Its powered by the USB connection. I don't have a problem with either drive, but small drives are a little more expensive.
    Chuck

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    Thanks for the explanation Fred. So the Mother Board is more or less everything in the bottom of the casing, except for things like the fan and DVD player, etc. When reading about people replacing the MB I had assumed it was a single component, rather than the whole works.

    George

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    What Doc says fits the best, the rest got a little too complex with talk about internal drives/bays/connections and the idea of getting that backup data out of the same area as the computer in case of natural disaster or theft or accident that befalls all sets of data at the same time.

    You can make it even simpler if you want by taking a look at the ClickFree drives (or transformer that works with any external drive) which will back all your data up to the external drive automatically (which you should always spot check of course, just to be sure).

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    Further guidance sought.

    I’ve been looking at Seagate and WD drives, trying to decide which to buy, and notice they are often described as ideal for storing files, music, photos and even films, but a repository for images is never mentioned. I have assumed that any external drive is suitable, but perhaps one shouldn’t make assumptions about things one doesn’t fully understand. So, is my assumption correct, even in the case of portable drives with their 2Ĺ’’ disks?

    Portable drives weigh about 200 grm on average, whereas desktop versions are about 1 kg, so should be far more robust and longer lasting. Is this so in the real world?

    Retired Geek suggested that I should choose a drive with USB3, as my next PC will have it, and it’s much faster. However, most of the drives with USB3 seem to be portables, and I tend towards a desktop after reading that the popular WD My Passport Essentials is terribly slow, especially with older PCs.

    The choice seems to be between

    1. My Book Essentials 1.5 TB which is on offer for £75, compared to £100 for the 1TB, but apparently has no fan
    2. Seagate Free Agent Go Flex 1TB, reviewed as fast and robust but costs £85 for USB2 plus £35 for a USB3 adaptor – not necessary with my present PC, but is quite expensive when eventually added. These prices may seem high to US citizens, but most technology in the UK follows the Microsoft example, if it sells for $100 there it is £100 here, a 50-60 % premium.


    This assumes both meet the requirements of paragraph 1.

    Advise welcomed. Especially with regard to my opening question.

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    Access time for a little portable are probably a bit slower; they usually spin at 5400 or lower RPM, but bit for bit they will probably have better areal density (pack in more bits in the same area) so if kept defragged now and then, performance is pretty decent, but you're right, not as consistently speedy as a 7200 RPM drive. The main advantage comes in not needing a separate power supply and ability to literally slip it in a shirt pocket and take it with.
    Which leads to the reason portables fail a bit more than desktops; moving around all the time subjects them to more potential for accidental dropping or crushing and just more wear and tear in general. If treated equally I think potential for failure is roughly the same.

    I think images are meant to be the equivalent of photos; drives don't know the difference, it all just bits to them and the references are usually based on potential size of the files. For instance it would be silly to say a 250 gig drive is ideal for video these days; has to have much larger capacity for that.

    As far as what you have in mind, both models/form factors have been around for quite a while so heat dissipation and USB bridge circuitry should be as reliable as can be expected. The only big difference is if you want the possibility of going to USB3 in the future just by getting a different adapter for the enclosure. With a mechanical drive you will see maybe a doubling of read/write speed with USB3, which is significant if you use the drive as a work drive or move a lot of data to it often. If its just used for continually backing up files that have changed then its not as significant because you wouldn't be using the drive that much anyway.

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    I will add that when you see an external drive advertized as being able to store "files, music, photos, and films", its just marketing speak. As Infinicore said, the drive doesn't care, it's all just a bunch of files. From the view of the operating system, a drive is a drive so long as its formatted in a recognizable file system.
    Chuck

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