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External Hard Drives: How To Carry Your Life With You (And Why You'd Want To)

Author:  William Halbyrd
Date:  2008.07.16
Topic:  Editorials
Provider:  Seagate
Manufacturer:  Seagate

External Hard Drives:
How To Carry Your Life With You (And Why You'd Want To)


External hard drives, once the sole province of IT administrators and hardware geeks, have become as common as CD-Rs. From high-end specialty computer shops to your local Wal-Mart, the devices are everywhere. Some may wonder, why bother? Aren't internal drives faster and cheaper? While this is generally true, external drives have uses beyond the ordinary role of an internal drive. Let's have a look at what makes external drives unique and useful.

Backup & Archive

The first use that springs to mind for most people with external hard drives is backup. Keeping a backup of important data and system files is one of those things that we all know we should do, but almost never accomplish. The traditional methods, backing up to tape or CD, are slow, expensive, and a huge pain to accomplish. In addition, there's the problem of longevity, as CD-Rs and DVD-Rs are notorious for becoming unreadable after only a few years in storage—or much sooner, if an errant bit of sand or dirt gets onto the disc and scratches it. Hard drives, by contrast, are quite durable, often lasting 10 years or more in storage.

Backing up data files to an external hard drive has the dual advantages of speed and simplicity. No special burning or mastering software is required to create a backup, the files are just copied as-is. Updating the backup is as easy as creating it, and accessing any part of the backup to restore lost files is a simple matter of drag-n-drop in your file manager of choice.

Backing up system files is a bit more complicated, but still retains the virtues of speed and longevity. Programs like Norton Ghost or DriveImage XML allow you to create snapshot backups of your operating system and files, which can then be restored to your main drive to roll back your system to a known-good state. These programs can, of course, be used with optical or tape storage for backups, but using an external hard drive eliminates much of the strain and hassle that make backups such a rare event.

A related use for external hard drives is archival—offloading files you no longer use on a regular basis from your internal drives. This frees up space for more immediately relevant files, and lets you hold on to older files without having to make painful decisions about what to keep and what to scrap. Anyone who has a sizeable collection of pictures, videos, or music will immediately see the advantages here.




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