If you’re thinking about purchasing extra storage, there are a few things you can keep in mind to find the cheapest external hard drive that is a good match for your computing needs.
The first thing to be aware of is the variety of drives you will find while you’re looking. External hard drives can come in multiple sizes and styles. If your primary concern beyond price is portability, you can find some very small drives that will run off of your computer’s power, eliminating the need for a power cord. These drives are slow, however, so they might not be suited to all tasks. If you plan on using your portable hard drive from home, you can find larger models based off of desktop hard drives that plug into the wall. These types of drives generally have the best price. They are also faster and usually have a much larger storage capacity.
What are your storage needs?
Storage is one of the easiest things to change on a modern hard drive without impacting the price. Many of the cheapest external hard drives come in large sizes, though you may want to shy away from the largest options to maintain a good value.
There are some important things to consider when you choose the storage capacity you need from your new external hard drive. First, ask yourself whether you plan on using your drive for backing up your computer or for extra storage. If you want to perform regular backups, you should get a drive that is at least as large as the hard drive in your computer. That way, you can use backup tools to perform the most complete backup possible. If you just want a place to store extra media, you should go ahead and simply get the most storage space you can afford.
How fast do you need your data?
Even though you are trying for an inexpensive drive, speed should be a concern if you want to regularly access data off your new external hard drive. Usually, mid range drive speeds are a good match of price and performance, allowing you to get the cheapest drive possible while still meeting your needs. If you are planning on using your drive for backups only, you can probably ignore drive speed entirely. Hard drive speed is measured in RPMs, with the higher number being faster. You should also make sure your hard drive has a buffer size of at least 4 MB and a seek time of 10 milliseconds or less if you decide speed is a factor.
How will you connect your external hard drive to your computer?
The different connection port options can be a confusing mess, and external hard drives are one peripheral you want connected to your computer with the fastest port available. The lowest common denominator is USB 2.0. Almost every computer comes with this type of port, so if you don’t know what your computer has or you plan on connecting your external hard drive to more than one computer, this is a safe and inexpensive choice. Unfortunately, it is also the slowest. Firewire 400 is a faster option, but it has mostly been phased out in favor of USB 2.0, so it might be hard to find. If you’re lucky enough to have a new computer, you might have an ESATA port. ESATA is much faster than either USB or Firewire, making it a great way to connect external hard drives. Unfortunately, ESATA drives are also frequently still a bit more expensive.
By taking these options into account, you can find the cheapest external hard drive available while still finding a drive that is a good match for your computing style and will allow you the best possible access to your stored data.