How to choose an external hard drive

There is nothing better than an external hard drive for backing up your data. Here are the characteristics to consider when choosing one: storage capacity, type (SSD or mechanical), connectivity, etc.

Your computer may contain a large number of files that are valuable to you, such as important documents, music, photos, and videos. However, if your device’s hard drive breaks, you could lose everything. So it’s best to make a regular backup of your data on an external hard drive and, if possible, another copy to a cloud service like Backblaze or IDrive.

Here are the main criteria to consider when buying an external hard drive.

Portable or for home?

The first question to ask yourself is: will you often travel with an external hard drive? If so, it’s best to opt for a portable model – by definition smaller than a desktop model – that you’ll connect to your computer with a single cable. The latter will be used both for data transfer and for powering the hard drive.

If you plan to use the external hard drive primarily at home, choose the desktop model. It will be slightly larger and heavier, but its transfer rate and storage capacity should be larger. In addition to the data cable, it will be supplied with a power cable to connect to the wall.

What is the storage capacity?

The most common storage capacity is 1 to 5 terabytes (TB), which should be fine for most people. According to online storage service Dropbox, 1TB is equivalent to 250,000 photos taken on a 12-megapixel device, 250 movies, or 500 hours of HD video.

Expect to shell out around $80 for the 2TB model and around $140 for the 5TB model.

Mechanical or electronic?

Solid state drives (SSDs) store data in flash memory. These devices, with no moving parts, are less fragile than traditional mechanical models. Low power consumption, completely silent and very fast, SSDs are also more expensive. For a 1TB capacity, you will have to pay about $150. However, if you’re just planning on backing up your files, a mechanical hard drive is the way to go.

Is everyone compatible?

Some hard drives are pre-formatted for Mac, others are pre-formatted for PC (Windows). There is no material difference between them. By choosing a hard drive adapted to your operating system, you won’t have to reformat it. If you still need to, first make a copy of the software provided by the manufacturer (most often for data backup and encryption) so that you can reinstall it if necessary.


Here are the two most common types of connecting external hard drives. Note that they are often grouped into a single USB-C format port on a drive.


This port is ten times faster than its predecessor and can transfer up to 625 megabytes per second (MB/s). It connects to USB 2.0 ports without problems, but the transfer rate drops to 60 MB / s.

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Most commonly found on Apple computers, this port can reach speeds of up to 5 gigabytes per second (5 Gbps).

Prevent breakage

External hard drives can sometimes be more fragile than they seem. Here are two basic rules to avoid breakage:

• Never unplug and plug in a hard drive immediately. Always allow time for the readheads to stop.

• Lay the drive horizontally and route the cable behind the computer, not in front. This will reduce the risk of getting caught or dropped.

Also check the manufacturer’s warranty period. It usually varies from one to three years, depending on the model. Obviously, it is not necessary to count on it in the event of an accidental drop of the hard drive. On the other hand, in the event of a breakdown, you can always use this warranty to get a repair or replacement of the device.

>> Read also: Our laptop recommendations, our printer test and How to choose a computer monitor for remote work


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