External Storage: Go Big or Don’t Bother!
Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but you tend to collect a lot of files. A few documents here, a couple of videos there, and some photos and music all over the place. Before you know it, you have gigabytes and gigabytes of content. And if you have a family that uses computers, the number of files just increases.
But, what happens if your hard drive decides to pack it in one day? Like most people, you probably don’t back up your files as often as you should. And if you don’t, you stand to lose a lot of data should your hard drive fail. Much of that information won’t be easily replaced either. There are a number of ways in which you can back up your information. You can burn it to a CD or a DVD. You can dump it on to a USB flash drive. Or, you can use an online storage service like Box.net or Amazon S3. All of these solutions are good, but they’re limited by the amount of data that they can store.
Backing up your files to an external storage device is definitely the way to go.
What’s external storage, and why should I use it?
External storage, as the name implies, is simply a large hard drive that connects to your computer or a computer on a network. When I say large, I don’t mean physical size — some external storage devices are smaller than a hardcover book. I mean large capacity. While your average desktop computer or notebook computer these days comes with a hard drive in the 120 GB to 240 GB range, you can get external storage devices with at least that much capacity, and usually a lot more.
The unit can sit on your desk or, if you have a home or office network, with your server(s). An external storage unit connects to a computer using a USB or FireWire connection, which ensures fast data transfer. The units also come with backup software — some of it is better than others, though. And, as you’ve probably guessed, these devices work with both Windows and Mac OS.
So, why use external storage? Computer components, especially hard drives, can die. When they kick the bucket, it’s often in an unexpected and quite spectacular fashion. You don’t want to be caught with all your data on a toasted drive, now do you? Sure, you can move your files to another computer if you have one — the chances of all of your hardware dying are slim to none. If it does happen, you’ve either got a lot of bad luck or a lot of bad hardware. But, using external storage is much less cumbersome.
Even if you think your hardware is bulletproof, having some external storage can come in handy. If you do have a lot of files, then you can free up a lot of space on your main drive by shunting your excess files to an external storage device.
Choosing your external storage device
The external storage device that you choose should reflect your current needs, as well as your future storage needs. You’ll also have to factor in how much you can or are willing to spend. You should buy one with at least double the capacity of your current hard drive. This makes the device future proof — at least the immediate future. You’ll be able to back up all of the important files that you have, and the ones that you’ll accumulate. Of course, if you have several people in your household who all have their own computers (or if you own multiple computers), then you’ll definitely need a larger device.
For someone with a single computer, an external storage device with a capacity of 350 GB to 500 GB will be plenty. You might even be able to get away with a little less, say 120 GB to 260 GB. For a family of habitual computer users, something in the region of 500 GB to 750 GB will definitely do the trick.
Small business owners, on the other hand, might want to look at terabyte external storage devices. A terabyte (TB) is a trillion bytes. Most manufacturers offer 1 TB and 2 TB external storage devices. I know … it’s difficult to imagine how much data that actually is. In practical terms, that’s anywhere from eight to 20 desktop or notebook hard drives. And that’s a lot of data!
As for how much you can expect to pay, that depends on the capacity of the external storage unit and the manufacturer. A decent-sized device — one that can hold 200 GB or more — will cost you anywhere from $100 to $150, perhaps a bit more depending on the brand and from where you buy it. Higher capacity storage devices will set you back anywhere from $200 to $600.
Where to buy one
Some of the better known, and better-regarded manufacturers include LaCie, Western Digital, Maxtor and Seagate (Seagate bought Maxtor in 2007, but they seem to be offering competing product lines), and SimpleTech. Each company has a good selection of devices at a variety of sizes.
You can buy external storage devices online (Geeks.com has a good selection of external storage devices from a variety of manufacturers), or at a computer store. But, keep your eyes and ears open for bargains. Recently, I dropped into an Apple Store with a friend. While admiring some external storage units that were on display, my friend mentioned that one of the devices we were looking at was on sale at a well-known warehouse store for several hundred dollars less. The moral? You can find a good deal if you’re willing to do the legwork.
For peace of mind when it comes to your valuable files, an external storage device is a worthwhile investment. It can be a bit on the expensive side, but when disaster strikes (and with technology, you never know when that will happen) a good external storage device is definitely worth the cost.