Best Portable Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

A portable hard drive is one of handiest inventions ever. But what's the best portable hard drive for your particular needs? Let's look at the various factors that go into making that decision...

best portable hard drive

Choosing a Portable Hard Drive

A portable drive can be used to back up data and transport it to a secure, off-site location. It can be walked around the office to back up everyone's data, or to install new software, or even create identical clones of a standardized system setup so that tech support is more efficient. But portable hard drives can vary widely when it comes to four factors: capacity, speed, ruggedness, and physical security.

First, consider storage capacity. The price of a hard drive is directly proportional to the amount of data it can store. If you don't have too much data to back up, you may be better off with a smaller, less expensive USB flash drive that fits on a keychain comfortably. But if your storage requirements are very large, then a portable hard drive makes sense. You can buy a monster 2TB (terabyte) portable hard drive for under $200 now. I found a Fantom GF2000EU G-Force drive for $159 at Tiger Direct!

Next, think about speed. How fast do you need to transfer data from the computer(s) to the portable hard drive and vice versa? Just like internal drives, portable hard drives have internal components that affect how fast data can be read or written. Look for the RPM rating on your drive. 5400 RPM is common, but 7200 and even 10,000 RPM drives are available.

You also need to consider the interface, which is used to transfer data to and from the device. Less expensive portable hard drives may use slower communications interfaces, making the transfer of a computer's entire data inventory a long, tedious process. Some older computers and portable drives have only USB 1.0, while new ones come with the much faster USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Firewire or eSATA options. Buffalo Technology recently announced the MiniStation Cobalt USB 3.0 portable hard drive, which can transfer data at up to 5 gigabits per second. That's smokin' fast.

Another important consideration is ruggedness. This is essential in a portable hard drive that will be carried around the office, driven around town in the back seat of a car, or carried in a briefcase. Sooner or later, a portable hard drive will get dropped. You want a portable hard drive case that is very sturdy - made of lightweight metal, ideally. LaCie sells a Rugged Hard Disk line that has an aluminum shell and shock-resistant rubber bumpers. But you also want to ask the seller how fast the read/write heads are parked; whether the parking timer can be set by the user; and what sort of shock-absorbing technologies are used in the interface between the case and the actual hard drive. Check the specs to see if your drive has a drop sensor, sometimes called a free-fall or sudden motion sensor.

And don't forget about security. The physical security of a portable hard drive is its greatest vulnerability, even greater than the danger of losing data through damage. Every month, we read news reports of portable hard drives containing the sensitive personal information of several thousand people being lost or stolen. A portable hard drive should be password protected, at the least. Easy, on-the-fly encryption and decryption should be built into hardware, for fastest performance. The Western Digital My Passport Essential Drive comes with password protection capability and beefy 256-bit encryption.

The drive case may include a lock or even a chain and handcuff to attach it to the person carrying it. A two-part proximity alarm is a good investment. Basically, it's a pair of radio transmitter/receivers. One transceiver is worn by the person carrying the portable hard drive and the other is built into or mounted on the drive's case. When activated, both transceivers sound loud alarms and flash lights if they become separated by more than a few feet or yards.

The best portable hard drive is fast; rugged; physically secure; and holds all the data that you need to move from one place to another. But each of those features carries a price tag. You'll decide which are most important, then shop around online to find the best price.

Do you have something to say about portable hard drives? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Best Portable Hard Drive"

Posted by:

Dennis Hayes
09 Apr 2010

I bought a LaCie 1TB HD with an aluminum case and was very happy with it until I knocked it over. It fell about 12 inches and stopped working. While taking it apart I discovered it was really two 500 GB drives. I felt a little cheated. I need to install each as internal drives to find out if they function.

Posted by:

09 Apr 2010

I recently got myself a 1 TB external HDD in a casing, to be used as a backup, but it became very hot very quickly. We changed the case for a more expensive one with a built-in fan. Cost of the new casing was 42 USD but no more worries about heat.

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Posted by:

09 Apr 2010

I would like to know what size external drive I need. I have 320 gig internal hard drive.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In my opinion, it doesn't make sense to buy smaller than 500GB.

Posted by:

09 Apr 2010

Bob, look at some of the Transcendstore products in the one terabyte category.

I have the 500 G StoreJet in red. It is smaller than my palm, can withstand being run over by a truck, and it's fast.

Posted by:

10 Apr 2010

I apologize in advance for a comment an question which is maybe peripheral to the original issue. But it is an annoying problem that others may encounter.

I own several external drives from as many different manufacturers. One thing they all have in common it that even after setting XP to not perform delayed writes to them, they all still usually refuse to dismount using the "Safely Remove Hardware" utility on the toolbar.

It's such a lot of fun when I want to turn the computer off or hibernate it and some stupid piece of hardware basically is telling me to "buzz off". Hibernating or shutting down the machine (as I generally wind up doing) frequently results in a BSOD when I reboot or awaken the machine, complaining that something or other wasn't written to the master file table. When I run CHKDSK on the drive, it never finds anything wrong with the data or the file structure, and I don't _seem_ to be losing any data.

Is there a utility which will actually FORCE the drive to finish its dubious business (which it shouldn't need to still be doing in the first place) and dismount?

This is very different behavior from my USB thumb drives, which all dismount just fine using that utility. As to why I'm still using XP, the main machine I use the drives with is one I also use at work and they are still standardized on WinXP & Win2K.

Posted by:

John Verstappen
11 Apr 2010

I am upgrading a older dell latitude cpi A400XT with a 6 GB hard drive in it now. I bought a 80 GB WD Hard drive and the bios will not recognize it at all. Can I fix that by updating the bios and where exactly on the dell site can I find the update. The service tag does not help, TO OLD! I tried that. Second question is if I made that drive into a IDE external drive would the laptop recognize it then? Any and all help welcome.
John Verstappen

Posted by:

jack scalia
12 Apr 2010

Hey BoB....

I like to thank you for all good things that you had done for us

You're The Man....

Keep up with your greatest work

God Bless You

Posted by:

13 Apr 2010

At the strong recommendation of PC World (magazine) I bought a Rebit external hard drive. It says it is "ridiculously simple backup" and it is. You plug it into your USB port and it automatically backs up your entiresystem. Then each time I plug it in it search of new files or updated files and backs them up.

It really is plug and play. It became drive "J" on my system, and if you look at drive "J" it looks exactly like your C drive.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2010

CoolDrives = UNcool.

I bought an external case from CoolDrives, because it had USB, Firewire, and eSATA ports.

It stopped working shortly after I got it.

And their tech support was rude, to boot.

I installed the Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000KS internally, and it has been working fine for the past three years.

I also bought two Seagate FreeAgents, and they have been working for over a year. They are compact and quiet, and I recommend them.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2010

No more WD (Western Digital) "My Passport" drives for me.

We recently purchased a 1T "My Passport" series drive. When I got it unboxed and attached to the computer, it turned out that WD has created a UDF partition (that seemingly cannot be deleted) full of bloatware, some of which seems to "phone home" when the drive is first connected. When the drive is plugged in, this UDF partition also acts as a CD drive in Windows, mounting an image with the (largely useless) WD software.

When I called to complain about the partition, and ask how to REMOVE it, the tech calmly told me that date and time that I had first connected the drive to my computer - and the told me that it is NOT possible to reclaim that partition, but WD has generously made it possible to "hide" it, if it really irritates the consumer!

Because the unit had been unboxed and was considered "used" (even though I had not yet transferred any data to it) I had the choice of either keeping it, selling it on CraigsList, or eating a 15% restocking fee.

Because I run everything through PortableApps, I need a drive that I can rely upon and trust. I am NOT comfortable with the software installed by WD. Rather than lug a computer around, I carry a portable drive that has PortableApps installed. That way I can go from computer to computer as required - take all of my files with me, my favorite programs, data, etc. and never leave a trace behind that I was there.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2010

We bought my wife a 1TB Fantom Green Drive GD1000EU external hard drive over six months ago. In a reshuffling and organization of her office area we had the drive disconnected for over a week. The power adaptor (step-down xformer) that came with the unit got lost (misplaced somehow in the shuffle) and another adaptor showed up. But since this 'new' adaptor was labelled as a Fellows brand I became a little cautious and skeptical; I wanted to make certain that we got the correct voltage, mAmperage as well as the correct POLARITY for the adaptor to match the hard drive. WELL... that's when I discovered that the back end of the Fantom Green Drive does NOT label the power adaptor requirements. Absolutely NO info labelled with regard to the DC voltage, mAmps, let alone ... the plugs polarity. "No problem, eh?" Well you just try and get that info anyplace on line. We can't even find the company's web site, (which is probably Micronet™,). We called Tiger Direct (from where we purchased the unit) and even their Tech Support folks couldn't help us with the info. Ergo: CAVEAT! folks... take the pains to label all this type of information as soon as you take it out of the package. A little tag may save you time, money and or aggravation. [Anybody know where I can go for help? Not in the online Instruction manual ... nothing there!]

Posted by:

Tim Hohs
13 Apr 2010

I have had good luck with WD's until this last one(Elements 1tb) started corrupting files. It might be because of all the times I have disconnected it (re Paul's comments) to use with other computers. I am not worried about dropping my hard drives but I am worried about them losing or corrupting data. Do you think the bigger ones have higher rates of failure? I've heard LaCies are dependable but some people have had problems with them too.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2010

Hey Bobby... did I miss something?

Referring to your TOURBUS vol.15, no.57 of 12Apr10 your article title "Best Portable Hard Drive" was rather short, and you managed to use several high-techy terms that I think the average, non-techy reader does not likely truly understand, and you make no effort to elucidate. Well, that's one issue. But the other issue I wanted to point out is that I can't see where you actually express your high-techy knowledge about which is the "Best..." portable hard drive ... which is what your article alluded to. You could have listed half a dozen HDs and bestowed a Star rating system (your opinion, of course) for each. Do you wish to re-think this presentation?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry if I didn't meet your expectations on this one. My intent was to give the reader enough info to choose a drive that meets THEIR needs. I gave criteria, mentioned some specific drives that fit each one as examples.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
13 Apr 2010

A cheap and nasty solution is to buy an inexpensive IDE-to-USB, or now SATA-to-USB converter, which lets you use any HD you have lying around as an external auxilliary drive; More hassle with cables and power supply, but a lot cheaper.

Posted by:

d. Schreiber
13 Apr 2010

Another important consideration - software. I'm trying to find a good portable HD for backup with reliable, easy-to-use software with lots of options that makes backing up a breeze. For example, I want the option to omit certain files or folders in a backup, create various backup scenarios for different drives, folder and files, etc. From the reviews I've read, the quality of the backup software varies widely.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2010

I bought a WD 320GB 2.5" PATA interface harddrive (about $80 a year ago) and an external enclosure with USB connectors (extra $10) for an IBM T43p laptop. Although I usually use it as an external drive, I have cloned my internal drive's OS (WinXPPro) to a separate partition on the new drive, so that if the internal drive fails, I can swap out for the external drive and keep going. For this potential use, I needed the now deprecated PATA interface. Newer laptops use SATA interfaces and so can use much larger capapcity drives.

Posted by:

15 Apr 2010

A couple of other criteria.

1) If you are going to be using this drive in 'mixed company' - PC & MAC; you have to look for one that plugs into either compatably. My daughter brought up her MAC and plugged in my PC created USB external drive - which promptly lost its 'mind' & went blank !!

2) Sometimes its nice to be able to plug your portable drive onto a network - via an RJ45 Ethernet interface connector. My ideal external drive would have E-Sata, USB, RJ45 & Firewire/IEEE1394 interfaces. (I think the Firewire connection to the MAC may be the way to play nice together - but not sure.)

3) The INTERNAL connections - if you are rolling your own external drive - should support the aging PATA (Because you will slowly end up with a collection of these) & the more modern SATA - BOTH.

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