External Storage Drive Buying Guide

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated November 23rd, 2023
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Do you have a lot of photos, videos, and other media to store? Are you looking to create backups of your files? If you're looking for a solution that is easy-to-use and reasonably cost-effective, consider purchasing an External Hard Drive. There are numerous reliable and high-performing options on the market these days, as well as affordable options that won't strain the wallet. Even Portable SSD options - known for being faster and more reliable - are more affordable than ever. In this guide, we talk about everything you need to know when shopping for an External Hard Drive as well as some top recommendations.

Choose Your Drive Type

There are two type of external hard drives you will find on the market: Hard Disk Drives and Solid State Drives. Each has their own advantages and deciding which is best for you comes down to a few things, such as your individual user requirements and budget. To help you make an informed decision, see below for some information regarding the performance characteristics of each.

Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) are a popular choice for many users. This is due to their main advantage of lower cost and higher storage capacity. Many users who have a large amount of media to store and/or want a most cost-effective option choose this format. On the downside, hard disk drives are slightly more prone to impact-related damage and are slower than SSDs.

Solid State Drives

Solid State Drives (SSDs) on the other hand, do not include any moving components, therefore, are the most damage resistant external drives you can buy. They are typically compact in size, enabling them to have a higher tolerance for impact damage and additionally, making them more portable. The speed in which they load applications and perform is up to 10x faster than HDDs. Their main disadvantage is that they typically cost more compared to HDDs. 

Portable vs. Desktop Drive

Portable hard drives are compact and lightweight, making them appropriate for those with high mobility needs. It you're a business professional hopping from one meeting to another or a creative content creator who jetsets around the globe - you'll appreciate a portable drive that slips conveniently into a bag of pocket. Additionally, they draw power from the device they're connected to, usually via USB, so they don't require an external power source. If you're travelling frequently, there is a higher risk of damage so it may be worth investing in a portable SSD as a precaution.

Desktop external hard drives, on the other hand, are designed to stay in one place, such as on your work desk at home or at the office. Their size means they can hold more data (some offering several terabytes of storage) and often deliver better performance regarding speed. Unlike portable drives, they have a separate power adapter that needs to be plugged into a power outlet, which means they're not as mobile friendly. However, for tasks like backups of large amounts of data, running apps, or storing extensive media libraries, desktop drives are the way to go.

Storage Capacity

The next most important thing to consider is how much storage you need. Storage capacity in external hard drives often range from 1TB - 5TB, while storage capacities on solid state drives often range from 250GB - 5TB. Determining how much storage you need is entirely dependent on your needs. If you are looking to store a few important documents, a simple USB flash drive may be suitable. However, if you are looking to store photos, videos and other media files, an external drive is what you need. Generally, a good size to go for is a 1TB or 2TB drive. Perhaps you're a creative who has large design files and/or photos to store? Opt for something larger.

Read & Write Speed

Read and write speeds are another fundamental aspect to consider when purchasing and external hard drive. The read speed refers to how quickly data can be accessed from the drive, while the write speed indicates how quickly data can be saved to it. These speeds are usually measured in megabytes per second (MB/s) or, in the case of faster drives, in gigabytes per second (GB/s). The faster these speeds, the less time you'll spend waiting for files to copy or open, which is particularly key for tasks such as editing video or audio directly on the drive, performing regular backups, or running games or applications. As such, if quick data transfer is crucial for your needs, it's worth investing in a drive with higher read and write speeds. SSDs typically have significantly higher read/write speeds then HDDs.

Hard Drives in different sizes at PB Tech

Data Security

Data security features on external storage drives can provide an additional layer of protection for your sensitive personal or business information. These features may include things such as:

Password Protection - This enables you to set a unique password to access the drive, acting as the first line of defense against unauthorized access. It means that even if your drive was lost or stolen, anyone attempting to access the data on it would need the password.

Hardware Encryption - This is a more advanced form of protection where the drive encrypts all data stored on it in real-time, turning it into unreadable code that can only be translated back into its original format with the correct encryption key (i.e., entering the right password). Hardware encryption is typically more secure and efficient than software encryption, as it doesn't depend on your computer's performance and can't be bypassed using malware or other hacking methods.

Ruggedized Drives - These drives are built to withstand harsh environmental conditions and physical shock or impact better than standard drives. They can have features like a durable casing, water and dust resistance, and even fireproofing. These features protect the drive's physical integrity and, by extension, the data. 


You'll need to connect your storage drive to a device, so of course, connectivity is an important factor to consider. Ensure that the drive you choose supports the interfaces offered on the laptop/computer you will be connecting it to. Most storage drives and PCs/laptops have a standard USB connection. However, that's not the only option. There are six common types of interfaces to choose from these being, USB 3.0, USB-C, Thunderbolt, Lightning, Firewire and eSATA, with another popular new option being wireless.

USB - Several standards have been released over the years, such as USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1, and USB 4.0. The difference between these are predominantly speed and data transfer rates. If you want high-speed data transfer, favour drives using a newer standard, as these will have faster maximum speeds. USB 3.0 is current the most commonly one used. USB 2.0 has a maximum transfer speed of 480 Mbps whereas the common USB 3.0 offers maximum transfer speeds up to 10Gbps, while USB 4.0 (aka USB Type-C) has a maximum transfer rate of up to 40Gbps.

Thunderbolt - This is another very fast data transfer connection also available. It is predominantly used by professional users and frequently appears on Apple devices. This interface offers blisteringly fast transfer speeds (up to 40Gbps with Thunderbolt 3). This makes it ideal for data-intensive tasks, such as transferring large media files. 

Wireless - This is a fairly new option to appear in the external storage space and allows your storage drive to generate it's own WiFi hotspot so you can connect to it without cables. Most importantly, these devices usually include a battery inside, allowing true freedom from cables with multiple users able to connect simultaneously. 

eSATA - An eSata connection is preferred by some professional users due to it being a purpose-dedicated interface. It is a well-known connection which has a theoretically high transfer rate. A hard drive with an eSATA connection also requires a corresponding eSATA computer connection in order to receive these transfer speeds. For this connection option, check out the HDD Enclosure range for options with which you can add your own internal storage to create your own portable drive. eSATA can delivers up to 6Gbps (older versions deliver 1.5Gbps or 3Gbps).

Firewire - is another way to connect different pieces of equipment in order to easily share information and is similar to USB. Firewire includes a fast transfer of data, ability to hold multiple devices and supports plug and play performance, all for low cabling and implementation costs. This is less common on modern computers.


Of course, you need to ensure your drive is compatible with your devices. Nearly all external storage drives are able to be used on both a Mac and Windows PC, provided both the drive and computer you are using have compatible connectors. In order to make an external storage drive compatible with your current device, you will need to format it using the appropriate file system. Keep in mind that once formatted, it'll only work for that specific system (it'll either use NTFS for Windows or HFS+ for Mac). You will not be able to use it interchangably between systems unless you re-format it again which means erasing all of the data on it. 

We hope this quick guide helps you to decide what portable HDD or portable SSD is right for you. We'll keep adding to these with more popular options as they become available!

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Staff Writer

For the words, not the glory!

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