How to Use an External Hard Drive

Learning how to use an external hard drive is relatively simple if you have a computer running Windows XP or Windows Vista. These operating systems feature plug-and-play functionality, so all you need is a little know-how to get started with an external hard drive.

USB is a wonderful thing.
Modern Windows operating systems feature something called plug-and-play functionality. "Plug-and-play" means that, when you plug in an external hard drive to a USB port, the computer recognizes it as a hard drive and assigns it an available drive letter. From there, you can do anything with your external hard drive that you could do with an internal drive. It's only a matter of deciding what you intend to do with it.

Use an external hard drive as a regular drive.
You can use an external hard drive in many ways, not the least of which is as a regular hard drive. While external hard drive transfer speeds via USB are slower than internal hard drive speeds via SATA or other modern hard drive protocols, it's still a fine option for using as a second hard drive.

If you're running low on space in your primary hard drive and don't have room inside your computer for a second drive, you can leave an external hard drive connected indefinitely as a regular hard drive. It functions in exactly the same manner, and it is as easy to use as an internal hard drive.

Get a large hard drive to hold your media.
Media files take up a lot of space. You need a large hard drive to hold many media files, and you can free up a lot of space on your primary hard drive if you store your media on an external drive. Freeing up space on your primary drive boosts computer performance, so it's a win-win proposition. Finally, if you store your media on a small external drive, you can carry it with you and access it wherever you go; not just when you're sitting at your home computer.

Consider computer backup options to protect your data.
The traditional use for an external hard drive is as a backup option. Several different software programs provide great computer backup options for your external drive. Many Western Digital hard drives come with built-in backup software, as do some other external hard drives. Additionally, some anti-spyware and protection suites include backup options, such as Norton 360. Finally, you can use cloning software to make a complete copy of your hard drive and preserve it on your external hard drive in case you ever have any difficulties.

If you don't have backup software, you can still manually back up the data from your hard drive by selecting the files you want to back up and dragging them over to your external hard drive. Make sure you copy them instead of move them; your original files should still be located on your primary drive.

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