External Hard Drive Buying Guide

An external hard drive safeguards your important computer data and gives you access to your files anywhere, anytime. This external hard drive buying guide will help you make the right choice.

External Hard Drives 101

No one wants to lose treasured family photos or a carefully archived music collection because of a hard drive failure. Avoiding disaster can be as simple as backing up your data on an external hard drive. A desktop, portable, or mini external hard drive connects easily to your computer, provides plenty of extra storage, and offers priceless peace of mind. There’s comfort in knowing that all your files are protected, and that backup copies are simple to access. And by transferring large files to your external hard drive, you can free up space on your computer drive, helping it run faster, and more efficiently. The process of buying an external hard drive starts with considering how much storage space you need, and whether or not you require a portable drive. 

Types of External Hard Drives


Desktop External Hard Drives

A desktop external hard drive connects to your desktop computer, and serves as a permanent peripheral for auxiliary storage and file backup. This type of hard drive requires access to a wall socket for electrical power. Desktop external hard drives tend to be hard disk devices (HDD), with network-attached storage (server) capability and capacity of 1TB (one terabyte) and up. They’re a good choice for a home user or small business owner and are usually about the size of a hardcover book.

Portable External Hard Drives

Portable or “pocket” external hard drives offer most of the benefits of desktop models with the added bonus of a slim profile and plug-and-play capability. Most portable external hard drives work on any hardware device equipped with a USB port, with no additional software required and no need for an external power source. These devices are automatically recognized by PC and Mac operating systems. Unlike desktop external hard drives, the portable variety obtains its power from the computer device to which it's connected. External hard drives often feature solid state drives (SSD), which start quickly, use less power, and don't have moving parts. The broad selection of portable models means there's a size, shape, and price point to suit every user.

Mini External Hard Drives

If a small desk footprint and portability are your top priorities, then you should consider a mini external hard drive. About the size of a smartphone, these compact devices offer 500 GB to 1 TB of storage capacity. They store easily in a jacket pocket are ideal for computing on the go. You can use your mini external hard drive to back-up your data, carry large files to a job site, or take your HD movies on vacation – the possibilities are endless.

External Hard Drive Buying Tips:

• Invest in extra storage now to avoid expensive upgrades later
• Consider at least 1 TB of storage for growing movie and music libraries
• Desktop external hard drives require their own power source
• Portable external hard drives are powered by your computer
• Look for automatic backup software to protect your important data
• Choose a drive with a USB 3.0 port to accommodate new technology

External Hard Drive Features

Capacity +

Storage capacity is stated in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB). If yours is a typical household, a drive with 250 GB to 500 GB of capacity should easily meet your needs. That's plenty of space for storing text documents, spreadsheet files, the family photo album, and a sizeable music archive. Consider choosing a hard drive with 1 TB or more of capacity if you’re in the habit of downloading HD movies, storing hi-res video files, or plan to transfer your entire CD and vinyl music library to digital format. If you’re an avid collector, or have one in the family, a 2 TB external hard drive will give you plenty of room for growth.

Speed +

The speed at which data is transferred from your computer hard drive to your external hard drive depends, in large part, on the port type. The main types of external hard drive ports are USB 2.0, USB 3.0, eSata, Thunderbolt, and Firewire. A USB 2.0 connection is the old standard, now surpassed by the much faster USB 3.0. You can connect a USB 3.0 device to a 2.0 port, but it will run more slowly. Some experts recommend an eSata drive for heavy downloading of hi-definition movies and for professional use (for networking, etc.) Keep in mind that eSata drives require a separate power source. FireWire and Thunderbolt are your choices for the Mac platform.

Software +

It’s worth paying a little extra for your external hard drive if it comes with automatic backup software. It works by automatically copying your files to the external drive each time you start your computer without any prompting from you. Look for a feature that allows you to schedule the backup at a time when the process won’t interfere with your regular desk work. Backups can slow down your operating system temporarily until all the data is transferred.

Case +

External hard drives look like most other computer peripherals. They’re designed for function not form. Black metal cases are common with a few designer exceptions. Portable external hard drives often come with a table mount so they can stand vertically in a corner of your work space. Some mini external hard drives are equipped with high impact cases to protect the mechanism from drops and knocks while travelling. Choose a sturdy case if you plan to use it on the go.

Fan +

The HDD in a desktop external hard drive is sealed inside a ventilated case and can become warm during routine operation. Desktop models should come with a built-in fan to prevent overheating. A fan is not necessary on a SSD or flash external hard drive, which has no moving parts.

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5 Good Reasons to Own an External Hard Drive:

• Extra storage space for high-definition (HD) media files like movies and photos
• A safe backup solution for protecting important data and archives
• File sharing with other family members or computers in the household
• Frees internal hard drive space to help optimize computer performance
• Convenient USB models connect automatically to most computers
• Compact portable units provide high storage capacity and file mobility
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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