USB 2.0 hard drives

Introduction

Fail to prepare; prepare to fail. We’d like to throttle whoever came up with that particular mantra. It’s the sort of know-it-all comment beloved of schoolmasters; the sort of annoying advice that any nervous student, first-time public speaker or interviewee is pretty much guaranteed to hear. Most annoying of all, it’s spot on.

Unfortunately, the best way to avoid becoming the recipient of such a trite comment is to follow its advice and actually plan ahead. (Don’t you just hate that?)

Of course, another reason it’s so loathsome is that it’s the sort of ‘told you so’ advice people dole out when something has gone wrong, leaving you up the creek without the proverbial spare paddle – or rather, without a backup copy of your presentation, year’s accounts or carefully edited promotional video, which you could easily have left with a trusted neighbour for safekeeping. If you had, recovering your data would be as easy as clicking your fingers.

Plan B
Small files can be carried in a pocket or handbag on a thumb-sized flash drive or the sort of removable memory card you stick in your camera. Complete digital archives, however, require a larger and more dependable medium.

While you could store a full 64GB of data on a 2cm-square CompactFlash memory card or a USB stick, there’s the danger of it falling out of your pocket without your knowledge – or someone pinching it – without you noticing it’s gone. Tiny media-storage options are all too easy to mislay, not to mention very expensive.

An external drive is a far better bet. We particularly like the 2.5in self-powered variety – these use the same size of hard disks that you’d find in a laptop computer.

A portable external drive has several uses. As we outline in our feature on ways to do everything faster (see page 104), one of the simplest ways to free up hard-disk space and give your applications much-needed memory is to store your music collectionon an external drive. The same applies to your photos and video clips.

This way, you’ll have that all-important backup, as well as the opportunity to take your media files on the move to show off to friends or simply for safekeeping.

Movable data Most 2.5in drives can be powered by the USB 2.0 port they connect to, with no need for an additional mains power source. This makes them supremely suitable for use on the road – as does their average weight of just 160g. In other cases, the drive comes with a Y-shaped connector that provides a supplementary USB 2.0 connection to draw enough power to sustain a constant data transfer rate. With USB 2.0, a maximum speed of 480 megabits per second (Mbps) can be achieved.

An LED status light will usually show whether one or both ends of the Y-connector need to be attached. Ensure you use the primary connection if only one is to be used; the booster connection will probably have
a tag on it with a forked-lightning icon.

The rate at which you can copy files over USB 2.0, from laptop to drive and vice versa, is impressive. Provided both destination and source have USB 2.0 connections, 10GB or 12GB of data can be transferred in around 15 minutes. In practice, you’ll be backing up far smaller quantities of data at once, but we used large quantities for our tests in order to assess how much transfer speeds varied.

Some drives offer a further option: FireWire 400 or FireWire 800 (the number refers to their respective transfer rates). You’ll pay more for this feature, and many people won’t need it, given the advantages of USB 2.0 over the dreadfully slow USB 1.1 standard.

Secure storage You can protect your drive’s contents with password algorithms or a PIN, and can opt for either complete or incremental backups. All of this can be automated. Provided your backup drive is attached on the day you’ve designated for your backups, or you leave your PC switched on for daily out-of-hours backups, you don’t need to lift a finger.

Many drives protect data against physical damage with robust cases or antishock-protection features. We tested the shockproof claims of the drives we review here to see how they fared when dropped. All survived unscathed.

Finally, shop around for a good price. You can expect to get hold of a 250GB or 320GB drive for not much more than £100.

Find the best price