Buyer's Guide 2008: Digital Storage

If you have an older computer, you may need to upgrade your USB or FireWire port for optimum performance. Most external hard drives are compatible with either USB 2.0 or FireWire 400 and/or FireWire 800; some come with both USB and FireWire connections.

Keep in mind that USB devices are less expensive than FireWire and more universal since all computers have USB ports. If you don’t transfer huge amounts of data at one time, you may want to give up a little speed to save some money.

There are a number of factors besides the type of connection used that influences how quickly data is transferred or searched. For example, rpm (revolutions per minute, aka spindle speed) indicates how fast the drive is spinning. Most external hard drives have an rpm of 7200, although some drives can reach as high as 10,000. Obviously, higher rpm numbers deliver faster performance.

Easy Backup

Since many people use external storage devices to back up data from their main hard drive, manufacturers have bundled easy-to-use backup software with their products. If you plan to use the external hard drive in this manner, it’s a good idea to concentrate on drives that offer a simple or one-touch backup solution.

Footprint And Aesthetics

If your desk is anything like mine, there’s barely room for a sheet of paper, let alone another electronic device. But hard drives come in various sizes and shapes, and some are designed to be stacked, so there’s a way to accommodate one or more drives even in the most cluttered work areas.

And if you’re concerned about looks, don’t worry. There are plenty of external drives that not only are streamlined to fit on already-crammed desks, but also sport interesting and modern designs.

To give you an idea of what’s available, we’ve compiled a selection of the different brands and types of external hard drives that are currently on the market.

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