The Varieties of External Hard Drives

External hard drives aren't a one-size-fits-all solution. People use external hard drives for a variety of tasks, and you'll find a variety of external hard drives to meet each of those needs.

Why Buy an External Hard Drive?
External hard drives come in a variety of flavors for a variety of needs. You might want an external hard drive to perform backups in case your computer's internal hard drive crashes. You might want a portable external hard drive to carry around your digital media. You might want a thumb drive to transfer files from one computer to another. Different types of drives offer unique features, performance and price, so think about what you need before you start shopping.

Full-Size External Hard Drives
Plain external hard drives are typically the size of internal hard drives, but they have a separate enclosure and sit on your desk. The enclosure includes cooling mechanisms to ensure the drive doesn't overheat, and design elements to promote stability at high speeds. Because external hard drives are somewhat bulky, they're used primarily to perform computer backups in the home or to provide extra storage. You typically wouldn't carry external hard drives around with you; they'd live in the home and you'd only use them at home. Regular external hard drives tend to be faster and offer more storage than their portable counterparts. They're great if you have a lot of digital media files, such as music and movies. You can also use them to archive older files or back up everything on your computer.

Portable Drives
Portable external hard drives are designed for computer users on the go. For example, if you have a large digital media collection with thousands of songs and video, you might want to use a portable drives to store some of that media and carry it with you. That way, you can plug in the drive wherever you are and access your media. If you're traveling on business or have a lot of photos to share, a portable is a compact and lightweight way to carry what you need without filling the memory on your laptop. Portables aren't as fast and don't have as much storage space as desktop external hard drives, and they cost more, making them the best choice for those who value light weight or suitcase space over high-speed performance.

Thumb Drives
Thumb drives are tiny storage devices that aren't really hard drives at all. Thumb drives are solid-state devices that use flash memory to write, store and rewrite data. Also called flash drives, key drives, USB drives and data keys, thumb drives come in much smaller sizes than external hard drives. Popular thumb drive sizes are 1GB, 2GB, 8GB, 32GB and 64GB. They'll hold a lot of photos, a good number of music files or a few video files, and they're durable and small enough to carry in your pocket.

Because of their small size and inexpensive costs, thumb drives are used primarily to transfer files from one computer to another. You can use thumb drives to carry your presentation from your work computer to another computer, or to carry files from home to work. There's even a market for custom thumb drives, where you can install software or your company's logo and distribute them to end users as promotional materials.

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