Buying Guide: External Hard Drives

External Hard Drives Buying Guide

Purchasing an External Hard Drive

Buying Guide Hard Drives

Getting the right hard drive is about establishing how you intend to use it. There are a number of key considerations that can help you find the HDD that meets your need.

  • How many people and devices will be accessing data stored on the hard drive? If you need to accommodate numerous users, it could be worth considering NAS (Network Attached Storage) with Personal Cloud capabilities.
  • Do you need to be able to access files when you are on the move but only use one or two devices? You may wish to consider a portable hard drive or USB flash drive.
  • Do you regularly work in one location using heavy files such as photographs and video? If so, you may need the kind of storage capacity that only a desktop hard drive can offer.
  • Do you like to make videos or take pictures?

Types of External Storage

USB Flash Drives

USB Flash Drives

USB flash drives (sometimes referred to as thumb drives) offer storage of up to around 64GB in an ultra-portable form. Small enough to fit on a key ring, these hard drives allow you to keep your most important files with you at all times.

  • Highly portable, flash drives are ideal for taking to meetings or for keeping copies of important documents on your person while you travel.
  • Whilst storage space is limited when compared to larger hard drives, these small HDDs still often offer enough storage space for some high resolution media content as well as a large number of documents.
  • Most USB memory sticks are compatible with both Mac and PCs making them as versatile as they are portable. OTG flash drives can even communicate with compatible smartphones.

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Portable Hard Drives

Portable Hard Drives

Portable hard drives are ideal for those who need the option of storing significant amounts of data such as a media library in a portable form. Due to their large storage capacity and password encryption they can also be used to back up data from your computer.

  • Much larger than a USB flash drive, yet still small enough to fit inside your coat pocket, portable hard drives offer an excellent middle ground for those who want to combine large amounts of storage with the flexibility of a flash drive. In most cases they do not require an external power source.
  • Most portable hard drives are compatible with either Mac or PC, so it is important to check requirements before choosing. Certain devices can be re-formatted but this process can be complicated, so it’s best to get it right from the offset.
  • Portable hard drives offer storage space of up to around 2TB.

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Desktop Hard Drives

Desktop Hard Drives

Desktop hard drives offer more storage space than their portable alternative. A desktop hard drive, however, will be equipped with a 3.5" drive which requires a fan and an external power source meaning it needs to be situated on a desk.

  • Desktop hard drives are ideal for professionals that deal with heavy files such as photographers and designers. They are also well suited to homes where there is one main computer.
  • As with portable hard drives, desktop hard drives are compatible with either Mac or PC, so check system requirements before making a purchase.
  • Desktop hard drives offer up to around 4TB of storage space.

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Network Storage

Network Storage Hard Drive

A NAS or network hard drive allows multiple users to wirelessly access and save data securely and simultaneously. They are available in desktop and portable forms, albeit with radically contrasting capacities. Certain network hard drives are also Cloud-enabled, meaning you can access your files via the Internet from anywhere in the world.

  • A NAS server is ideal for small businesses that need a central storage location; wireless streaming means they are also well suited to use as a home media hub. Where available, Personal Cloud storage enables users to access and save files remotely.
  • A portable wireless hard drive contains built-in WiFi, meaning it is able to stream movies to, and save files from, multiple devices simultaneously – all without wires or an Internet connection. They are ideal for media-loving families on holiday.
  • NAS offers storage space of up to 16TB. Portable wireless hard drives offer up to around 2TB.

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Storage Space

Storage Space

The amount of storage space you need is closely linked with the type of files you work with or use. If for example, you work primarily in text documents and you are looking only to back up Word files, a USB thumb drive may in fact be adequate. However, if you have a substantial media library then you will need a lot more. The below is a rough guide to how much you can store.

How Much can I Store?


MP3 Files

Digital Photos

HD Videos

500 GB

up to 125,000

up to 100,000

up to 125

1 TB

up to 250,000

up to 200,000

up to 250

2 TB

up to 500,000

up to 400,000

up to 500

4 TB

up to 1,000,000

up to 800,000

up to 1000

Transferring Data


WiFi enabled hard drives allow you to save and access data without wires – and in some cases without the Internet. Whilst built-in WiFi connectivity does result in a slightly larger end product, the portable models are still compact enough to fit into your coat pocket.

  • Data transfer is limited to wireless network speeds making wireless hard drives slower than other market alternatives. The signal strength of portable WiFi enabled hard drives can also be weak so consider the distances between your devices when choosing.
  • Wireless hard drives can connect with multiple devices simultaneously making it an ideal option for those looking to create a home media hub or a central location for important files.
  • Wireless hard drives allow you to save and access important files directly from compatible mobile devices at the push of a button.


eSATA is a more efficient method of transfer than USB and FireWire. It creates a more robust connection by communicating exclusively with the motherboard’s chipset.

  • eSATA hard drives offer a more efficient performance because they connect on a one-to-one basis with your PC. A USB drive, on the other hand, will be competing against other USB devices like mice and keyboards, meaning a potential loss in performance.
  • eSATA drives offer transfer rates of up to 3 Gbps.
  • eSATA drives are well suited to situations when the user is concerned with storage alone ie, they do not intend to connect their drive to media players and other similar devices.



Thunderbolt is perhaps the new benchmark in transfer rates. This groundbreaking technology, developed by Intel and Apple, allows both data and display transmission in both directions at the same time using the same cable.

  • Thunderbolt offers data transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps, meaning you could back up a year’s worth of MP3 playback in about 10 minutes. Thunderbolt 2 offers up to 20 Gbps throughput in both directions.
  • Up to 6 Thunderbolt devices can also be used to form a daisy-chain for increased capacity and versatility.
  • Thunderbolt connections are available on both PCs and Macs. Thunderbolt 2 is also backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 1.

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Sharing Data

Personal Cloud

Personal Cloud

Certain NAS storage solutions are Cloud enabled, meaning multiple users can access and save data from anywhere in the world so long as they have an Internet connection.

  • NAS hard drives with Personal Cloud capabilities can function in the same way as services like Dropbox and OneDrive, with the one exception being that files are stored on your physical drive and not on a server.
  • Personal Cloud storage is ideal for on-the-go professionals and small businesses as it allows users access to important files and documents at any time. Certain models even offer data replication and system backup direct to the Cloud.
  • Cloud enabled hard drives connect to your home or office network via an Ethernet port and come with all the relevant guides for hassle-free set up.

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NAS and wireless hard drives allow multiple users to access files and stream media onto different devices simultaneously.

  • Wireless connectivity over either your home network or the HDD’s built in WiFi mean multiple users can share content with the minimum of fuss.
  • WiFi enabled hard drives also allow users to stream and share files directly to Smart TVs, compatible AV receivers, tablets and many other devices.
  • Wireless hard drives can also act as a WiFi hub to share an Internet connection with other devices.

Shop External Hard Drives

USB Drives


Portable Drive


Desktop Drives


Network Drives

Network Storage Shop Network Storage

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