Comparing External Hard Drives

External hard drives let you back up your data more safely. For example, if you back up to a separate internal hard drive, your data might not be as safe as you think. If your computer’s power supply fails, it can burn out all internal hard drives. If a burglar breaks in and steals your desktop computer, he or she might have neither the time nor the courtesy to remove your hard drives and leave them on your desk.

Note: You can back up more than your data. You can also back up your entire computer (all programs and data) through a full-system-backup utility such as:

While prices on all hard drives (including external) are declining, their storage capacities are increasing. Some external hard drives can store as much as 2.0 TB (TeraBytes), which is 2,000 GB (GigaBytes), 2,000,000 MB (MegaBytes), or 2,000,000,000,000 bytes.

This article presents information about:

  • External Drive Enclosures
  • Desktop External Drives
  • Portable External Drives
  • Protecting Data in External Drives

External Drive Enclosures

An external drive enclosure is an electronic box into which you can plug an internal hard drive. You need to purchase the internal drive separately. According to an external drive enclosure’s specific power-supply capacity and heat-dissipation limits, its internal drive can have a capacity as great as 2.0 TB. Typical external drive enclosures include Thermaltake’s BlacX Series Docking Station.

An external drive enclosure lets you hide your backups for better security. After you make a backup, simply remove the drive and store it in a safe location.

Desktop External Drives

A desktop external hard drive can have a storage capacity as great as 2.0 TB. Desktop external drives are not portable because they are inconvenient to move, even from room to room. To move a desktop external hard drive, you need to first disconnect its AC power cord and/or its external power supply. A USB 2.0 cable does not provide enough power for a desktop external hard drive. A typical desktop external hard drive is the Western Digital My Book Essential.

If your computer’s power supply fails, it cannot burn out your external hard drive. However, your desktop external hard drive is as vulnerable to burglary as your nearby desktop computer. For more security, you have three alternatives:

  • Make backups to removable media, such CDs, DVDs, or memory sticks.
  • Use external drive enclosures as described above.
  • Use portable external drives as described below.

Portable External Drives

A portable external hard drive typically has a storage capacity less than 1.0 TB. Most portable external drives are easy to move and hide because you need not disconnect any AC power cord or external power supply. A USB 2.0 cable usually provides enough power for an external hard drive. A typical portable external hard drive is Iomega’s Prestige Portable Hard Drive.

Protecting Data in External Drives

Although external hard drives are vulnerable to loss and theft, you can use encryption to provide password protection for your data. You can either use folder encryption or full-disk encryption:

  • To use folder encryption, you should first put all folders and files into a single folder, such as “Main,” on your external drive, and then do either of the following:
  • To use full-disk encryption, you can use either software encryption or hardware-based encryption:
    • Full-disk encryption software, such as Magic Lab’s StorageCrypt 3, provides password protection for all files on your drive, except its MBR (Master Boot Record). For more information, see Full Disk Encryption.
    • Hardware-based full-disk encryption provides password protection for the entire drive, including its MBR. For example, the Maxtor BlackArmor portable hard drive has this built-in security.

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