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November 12, 2010

External Hard Drives – Making Sense of the Different Types

Buying an external hard drive is an excellent idea. These innovative devices take information storage to the next level in many cases. For years, the de facto means of storing data was an internal hard drive within your PC or laptop. Sometimes, you might have used a sort of removable media for information backup, such as floppy disks, tapes or Zip drives.

While these removable media drives certainly offered benefits in their day, that day is long past. Today’s computer user demands far more in the way of information storage. Where it was once possible to use something like a tape drive to create viable backups for vital information, this is no longer the case. External hard drives have become the best option here. These devices allow the storage of enormous quantities of information, from several hundred MB to several terabytes of data.

External hard drives connect directly to a PC or laptop, and can be removed for travel or for use with another computer. This means that all that information is far more portable than ever before. Everyone has something to gain from these devices, from casual computer users seeking to backup their photos and tax information to students who need to take their information from the dorm to class and businesses in need of essential data protection. However, not all external hard drives are created equal. There are numerous types of technology here, including different connection methods.

In fact, understanding the different connection technologies is an essential ingredient to purchasing the right external hard drive. Before you make any purchase in this area, you need to have a firm grasp of these technologies. Not only will they affect things such as data transfer speed, but they will also limit what types of external drives you can connect to your computer. Below, you will find a discussion on connectivity issues.

USB Connectivity

USB is one of the oldest types of connectivity technology currently in widespread use with external hard drives. Of course, there are older forms here, but they are antiquated and not seen on what most consumers would recognize as a modern computer. However, most people are familiar with USB technology.

Today, it seems like almost everything has “gone USB.”

You’ll find wireless mice and keyboards that connect via a USB port, external DVD/Blu-Ray drives that connect via USB and more. Even some monitors can connect to your computer via a USB cable. However, if you are looking at external hard drives, you need to know a bit more about this technology. There are two primary types of USB technology in current use around the world. These are USB 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.

USB 1.0 is largely outdated. In fact, if you have a computer that uses this technology, it might be an excellent time to upgrade your entire computer. 1.0 was released way back in 1996, with 1.1 coming in 1998.

Obviously, any machine that uses this technology is at least a decade old, and will most likely not offer you the performance benefits that you need in the modern world of computer use.

USB 2.0 is far more common here. 2.0 was released in 2000 and lasted for an entire decade unchallenged (by other USB technologies, that is). USB 2.0 offers decent data transfer speeds of 480 MB/s, which was a considerable improvement over the older 1.0 speed. You may also hear this type of connection referred to as “High-Speed USB.”

USB 3.0 is relatively new, debuting on the market in 2010. The chief advantage with this technology is another boost in data transfer speeds – up to 4 GB/s. Most older computers do not have this type of connection, though newer models will be manufactured with it. However, many external drives do not yet support 3.0 technology. Of course, over time, this will change.


FireWire is actually an older technology than USB, though it is not as widely used with PCs. To understand the differences here, you need to understand what these two technologies were originally designed to achieve. First, USB was designed to be cost-effective and simple. FireWire, on the other hand, was designed for performance and power. Therefore, FireWire connections provide greater electrical power (12 V, as opposed to 5 V with USB).

FireWire is also capable of higher data transfer speeds. This makes it an ideal solution for those working with video and audio, where immediate transfer of large quantities of data is vital. You will find FireWire technology used more frequently with Apple/Mac products, as a result of this. However, FireWire technology is beginning to lose popularity and, as a result, many new computers do not come with this type of connection. Even high-end machines will come with either a USB 3.0 or an eSATA connection.


One of the fastest means of transferring data from a computer to an external hard drive is through an eSATA connection. This is actually faster than FireWire, and comparable with USB 3.0 technology in most instances. However, not all computers have an eSATA interface. If your computer does not, then you will need to install an adapter card.

However, many external hard drives with eSATA connections also come with USB connections. Therefore, even if your computer cannot connect via eSATA, it can connect with a USB connection. This is highly beneficial. As a note, you should look for eSATA to become more prevalent as time goes by, particularly with high-end PCs and laptops.

Network-Connected Hard Drives

Network-connected drives, or NAS (network-attached storage), are popular options. These connect directly to a network, usually a server. However, home network solutions have been developed that connect to the home’s router, allowing wireless transfer of data from computers in the home directly to the hard drive.

These are also valuable for homes where multimedia files need to be served to Blu-Ray players or HDTVs with the capability of wireless access to the network. As such, this is an excellent solution for many consumers who want to be able to enjoy their files from anywhere in the home, at any time, without being tied to an external hard drive connected directly to a specific computer.

RAID Drives

A mention should be made about RAID hard drives. RAID stands for redundant array of independent discs, and, as such, has been traditionally used for data backup. External RAID drives are available on the market, though they use different types of technology to connect to computers.

Generally, you will find RAID drives that use USB 2.0 and FireWire connections. However, as newer technology becomes more widespread, look for external RAID hard drives to become available with eSATA and USB 3.0 connectivity.

Ed Molino is a staff member of specializing in the support of their network hard drives. Fancy an external hard drive? Find quality drives at