Hard drives buying guide

Photos, videos, games, TV shows, documents and more: our lives are becoming increasingly digitised with every passing day. On the whole, this is a good thing, but it does create one problem. We're running out of room on our hard drives.

Until recently, a few megabytes seemed like a whole universe of space, but now it's possible to fill up a drive millions of times that size in just a few days. At some stage, you're going to need more storage.

What sort of hard drive do you want?

There are two main types of hard drive, internal and external. Buying a new hard drive to go inside your PC is slightly cheaper, but they're tricky to fit and mean that all your data is stuck in one place.

So should I get an external drive?

External drives connect to your computer via USB cables, and the advantage is that you can unplug them and take them with you if you want to watch a movie on another PC or laptop, say. Some TVs even have USB ports for reading photos and video files from a hard drive, for example. The only downside is that you can't install programs directly on to an external drive.

What about back-up?

The other reason to buy an external drive is that you can use it to duplicate data from your PC's main hard disk. This means that if your PC breaks down, any photos, videos or important documents you've copied over are easily rescued. Often, new external drives will come with software to make backing up data simple.

What about networked drives?

There is a third way of getting more storage, and that's to plug a hard drive into your home network, so that it can be accessed and shared by any PC you own. These are called Network Attached Storage (NAS) drives, and usually come as a single device that plugs into your router. Some routers, however, have USB slots so you can use a standard external drive in the same way.

Glossary

  • SSD - the latest type of hard disk is the Solid State Drive, or SSD for short. Like camera memory cards, these use silicon chips rather than magnetic discs to store data. They're popular in laptops because they use very little power, so extend battery life, and are hard to damage. But they are expensive per gigabyte of space compared to traditional drives.
  • Terabyte - many new hard drives will have their capacity measured in terabytes, or TB for short. A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes (GB), which in turn is a thousand megabytes (MB). A digital movie can easily be a gigabyte or more, and modern video games can use up to 20GB of space. It's surprisingly easy to fill even a terabyte drive.
  • USB - Universal Serial Bus is the standard way of transmitting data between a PC or laptop and an external device, like a hard drive. It's also how you hook up printers and keyboards. A new version, USB 3.0, is now available which supports much faster file transfer speeds - but only if both hard drive and your PC or laptop have USB 3.0 compatible ports.
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