Back It Up: External Storage
The world is definitely digital and filled with content for you to enjoy on your TV, your laptop, your tablet, and even your computer. Forget DVDs and CDs, they’re best as retro decoration.PC World Staff | Thursday, January 20 2011
The world is definitely digital and filled with content for you to enjoy on your TV, your laptop, your tablet, and even your computer. Forget DVDs and CDs, they’re best as retro decoration. What you need is an external hard drive or two so you can access, back up and work across all the devices in your increasingly mobile life. The new ranges are faster and can even be accessed remotely, say from a tropical island in the sun. Make the most of it.
Step away from your machine and take a peek at the sky. The number of bits stored world-wide already exceeds the estimated number of stars in the universe according to research firm IDC. Regular PC World readers will already be aware of that from an earlier review of data storage options.
Have a think about how many of those bits you’re personally responsible for: your work docs, family and holiday pics, movies and fantastic tunes that are simply irreplaceable. Now imagine losing them. Not good. That’s simply one reason every household has to have an external storage device.
Another is portability. You want to be able to transfer these files easily between your phone, work and home computers, netbooks and other devices. The problem is, from the outside, they all look like shiny boxes. Here’s a guide to what’s inside.
USB sticks or flash drives are like lollies, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours and before you know it, they’re gone. Their keyring size makes them great for branding, portability and getting lost. You can pick up a 4GB model for about $30 if you haven’t already been given a promo free and some, like Sandisk’s 32GB high capacity USB drive includes auto back-up and password protection features. It will, however, set you back about $150 and for that price you may as well start looking at portable external hard drives like our featured novice example.
This is the home user’s cheap, chunky and grunty option. It uses a 3.5-inch HDD just like your desktop PC and offers up to 2TB (2 terabytes/2,000 gigabytes) worth of storage space. It obviously needs to be plugged into the wall for power which isn’t always convenient. The benefits of using these drives include user-friendly software that lets you back-up either automatically or by pushing an external button. Some also have displays that let you know at a glance how much storage you have left (eg: 1000 images).
Wallet-sized, these babies draw all their power through the USB connection, so you just need a USB cable to provide power and transfer data. You can also find many brands like Toshiba and Verbatim in multiple colours. It’s a relief from the shiny black ranks to date even if hot pink doesn’t race your motor. Increasingly these drives also come preloaded with automatic back-up and security software. The downsides of these drives are still cost and capacity. It’ll cost you twice as much per-gigabyte as a mains-powered external drive, and 1TB drives are only just starting to hit the market now.
For power users who need a lot of storage (and we’re talking a lot) Network Attached Storage (NAS) is the answer. NAS drives can also be used by business users as a cheaper solution to offsite storage and backup. These are typically boxes which have between one and eight physical hard drives installed in them, and are connected to your router for access from any PC on your local network or even over the internet.
A major advantage of NAS boxes is the ability to have multiple disks in RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). RAID allows you to combine multiple drives to increase performance, reliability or both.
You may have noticed your 1TB drive is missing up to 100GB. This is because most drive manufacturers advertise their capacity under the definition of 1GB equalling 1,000,000,000 bytes, while most operating systems define 1GB as 1,073,741,824 bytes.
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