Advice on buying an external hard drive for my PC

My hard drive is only 80GB and is nearly full so I need to get some more capacity, clearly. I’m pretty tech-savy but in perusing the offerings on Ebay and doing some research on the subject I’m a little unsure on a few things when it comes to the notion of having an external hard drive.

  1. A lot of the drives being advertised on Ebay/Amazon state that they’re great for backing up music, films, photos etc. Fine, but what about using an external drive as an additional area to install software? I think the answer to this is that it’s the same as it being on your C drive as long as the drive is on/connected but I just want to be sure before I invest in one.

  2. Is there any major difference in RPM speed? I would have have thought that higher would be better but does it make a big difference?

  3. Is it better to get a LAN/network drive or does any old plug and play work?

I think what I’d like ideally is a power-by-USB drive that I can use as a secondary data drive for programmes and files, rather than just as a repository of music/photos. Any thoughts? Thanks Dopers.

Running a program is a lot more I/O intensive than archiving data. And USB throughput is high, but not as high as ATA or SATA, like you would have with an internal drive. Think seriously about the performance hit you’re going to take running actual programs through a USB port.

Edit: Full disclosure: I am typing this in a browser I run as a PortableApp on my flash drive, so needless to say, when I say “think about it,” I don’t mean “don’t do it,” I mean you should actually consider what you’re willing to put up with.

Faster RPMs mean quicker access times. By and large, yes, faster = better.

If you already have the network infrastructure in place and want to store data on this drive that you will use from other PCs, NAS (network attached storage) is probably a good idea. OTOH, keep in mind that any drive attached to any computer on your network is, by definition, a network-attached drive.

Here’s a good comparison chart of external drives from a respected hardware review site.

  1. You can install software just fine on an external drive. Generally you will get better overall performance from your internal drive (although not necessarily) so keep things you want to load fast (e.g. games) internally and put other stuff (e.g. Office apps) externally.

  2. RPM speed can definitely make a difference but there is more to driver performance than just RPM speed and they can be all over the place. See link above for meaningful comparisons.

  3. Network Attached Storage (NAS) is nifty but unless you have others on the network who want to access given data on that drive there is no need for it and it is more expensive. Stick to the USB drives unless you have a specific need for stuff NAS can get you.

Is your machine a desktop or a laptop? I got an external HD for my laptop that’s eSATA. I’m very happy with it, but it required an eSATA adapter and the drive itself is a bit on the bulky side for toting around. But my main requirement was speed so I’m willing to deal with it.

If you’re just going to keep it on your desktop most of the time then this won’t matter.

I own a bunch of external drives of all types.

Lately I’ve been heading toward Toshiba 2.5 drives. The reasons are that external 3.5 drives tend to be more noisy, require separate power cables and tend to clutter up a desktop space considerably with the the required power and USB/firewire cables.

I can pick up Toshiba 2.5 320 gig unitsfor around $ 120 on sale at Circuit City. They are dead silent, more shock resistant than 3.5 drives, require one thin cable for power and data, and are the size of deck of cards. 3.5 drives can be had for less per gigabyte, but the single cable 2.5 format is aesthetically perfect for me. Other 2.5 drives require 2 cables one for power and one for data which make them more clunky. They are also plenty fast for virtually all uses.

My hard drive is only 80GB and is nearly full so I need to get some more capacity, clearly. I’m pretty tech-savy but in perusing the offerings on Ebay and doing some research on the subject I’m a little unsure on a few things when it comes to the notion of having an external hard drive.

If you have an available internal slot, why not install a second internal drive? It’s cheaper (per GB), mostly faster, and more convenient. No external cables, power cords, etc. I have about 5 external drives, but I used those mainly for backups and only after I’ve used up all my internal slots.

As others have noted, you can definitely so this.

But in your case, i’d probably transfer my files from my C: drive to the external drive, and leave my C: drive for installing programs. Unless you need a LOT of programs, there’s no way that you should need more than 80Gb for your Windows installation and programs. I have a lot of programs on my computer, and my 40Gb C: partition is only just over half full.

There is a difference, but in my experience you really won’t notice any difference for 90% off apps that you’re likely to use every day.

As Whack-a-Mole says, if you don’t need to share this drive on an extended network, a plain old USB drive will be fine.

If you want to do that, it will certainly work, but i’m not convinced that there’s anything to be gained by installing programs on your external drive. As i said above, unless you have a particular need to have certain programs installed on the external drive, i think you’re better off cleaning out your C: drive and installing your programs there.

Like ratatoskK, i’d be interested to know whether your computer is a desktop or a laptop. Here’s some extra comments, based on the two possibilites.

  1. Laptop

In this case, i think it would definitely make more sense to install all your programs on the C: drive, because then you can take them all with you when you go somewhere, without necessarily having to drag the external drive along as well.

Also, if it’s a laptop and you need it (and the external drive) to be mobile, i would definitely consider astro’s suggestion of a smaller, USB-powered external drive. As he notes, they are slightly more expensive, but they’re much more portable than the bigger 3.5" drives.

  1. Desktop

If it’s a desktop, my first question would be: Is there a spare internal drive bay? Because if there is, you’d be much better off (both in terms of performance and price) to buy an internal drive to slot into it. Installing a second internal drive really is a pretty simple process. It’s outrageously simple if your motherboard supports the newer SATA drives, but even the older parallel (sometimes referred to as IDE) drives aren’t difficult.

ETA: nivlac beat me to it. :slight_smile:

A few months ago, Fry’s had Maxtor 500Gb external drives for $99 so I picked one up. I didn’t have an immediate need for it so I just set it aside. This weekend I thought of a use for it so I unpacked it, set it up and turned it on. Nada, zilch, zip, nothing. I’ve never has a problem with any drive from any manufacturer until now. I only mention this because it’s still fresh on my mind and I’m still a little pissed about it. Carry on.

I will echo the sentiment of those here as well. I’d find it hard to believe that you’re going to be using your entire hard disk space of 80 GB with only programs.

I know of no 3.5" externals that are powered by USB, but I have seen 2.5" ones that do.

I’d say get one and then move all of your media on your current disk to the new one. You don’t need a network drive.

Do I dare quadruple the general sentiment? Yes, yes I do :slight_smile:

If an internal drive is not an option, then leave the current one for programs ONLY, and move the rest of your media files to your external drive.

Another suggestion for the external drive is to buy an enclosure. Typically you can get an enclosure plus a nice large internal drive (500 GB +) for LESS money than an external drive.

And you get the nice benefit of being able to easily replace that drive should something go wrong.

Final suggestion: Since you plan to use this external drive to store your media files, and I’m going to assume that you wouldn’t want to lose all that data, I’d strongly consider a NAS solution with RAID support.

This was any PC on your network will have direct access to your drive (s) and your data will be protected through the RAID 1 array. A decent consumer grade NAS can be had for $300. An internal drive for it can be pretty cheap, just look on newegg.

Okay - you guys have convinced me that it’s probably better to go for another internal drive and I’m pretty certain that I’ve got a spare slot (need to open up the PC next time it’s off and check). I bought my PC at the start of 2004 and have checked the system info on the control panel and am sure it’s only capable of an IDE drive (my main drive is IDE).

In terms of installing another internal drive you’re saying it’s relatively simple but I’ve never done it before, could someone elaborate on what is involved?

Here’s a guide

The main reason that it’s (slightly) more difficult than installing a SATA drive is that you have to deal with the annoying, large ribbon cables, and that you need to make sure that the “jumpers” on each drive are set properly.

But i installed an older PATA drive for a friend recently, and it took all of about 15 minutes, and the majority of that was struggling to fit my stubby hands into the relatively small spaces of his computer case.

You should open up your computer and make sure that your it really does only have the older connectors. PATA (aka IDE) connectors look like this, and the newer SATA connectors look like this.

Also, Newegg is a great place for hard drives. For internal drives, i like to get Seagates. I’m not sure they’re any better than drives like Western Digital or Samsung (the latter often get very good reviews), but Seagate drives have a 5-year warranty, so at least if it does go tits-up in a couple of years, you can get it replaced. I’ve had a couple of Seagates working as my storage drives for a few years now, and so far (knock wood) i haven’t had a single problem with either of them.

Here is a Seagate 750Gb IDE drive for $120, and here is a Seagate SATA drive of the same capacity for $100.

Interesting, because I’ve opened up my PC before when I was upgrading the RAM and I’m pretty certain the connectors I had were like the ones in the SATA pic. I’ll definitely look again before I make a decision.

Thanks guys, this has been really helpful (as usual). :slight_smile:

Okay - odd. I checked inside my PC this morning - my C drive is definitely IDE but is connected to my DVD drive by a SATA connection. There are several “spare” SATA connectors in my tower branching off the main bundle of cables going into the motherboard, does this mean I have spare slots?

Mhendo posted the wrong pick for the SATA connector.

This is what SATA wires look like: And

What Mhendo showed was a molex to SATA power adapter. You probably have several molex power wires ( coming from your powersupply, feeding your DVD and hardrive.

The IDE wire going to your hard drive should have another set of connectors mid cable. There is where you’ll hook up your extra hard drive. Make sure you set the jumpers on both drives correctly. The drive at the end of the wire should be set to master, the other should be set to slave.

Brilliant - thanks Kinthalis. Guess I’m stuck with an IDE drive but at least I know I can add one as there was definitely another point on the wire.

im kinda surprised no one has said to just replace the hard drive with a larger one. as a tech i do this all the time. the 80 gig is almost certainly a ide but you can tell by the flat ribbon cable going to it. attach the new drive to the cable which goes to the cd/dvd.
ghost the original drive with ping (get it here ) to the new drive. place the ribbon cable from the old drive to the new drive and reboot. it is pretty simple.

Before you decide that, you should check the specs on your motherboard, or look at the connectors on the board. Many boards made in the last couple years support both IDE and SATA (mine does, for instance). It is possible to have both IDE and SATA drives on a system, but it would be better if the SATA were your C drive in this case, so if you have a SATA connection available, you might wish to simply replace your C drive as just suggested, if you want to upgrade to SATA.