Which Portable Hard Drive Should You Buy?

Category: Hard-Drives

I'm a commercial artist and need to carry around my work in digital form. I don't want to keep the files on my laptop, because it could be lost or stolen. I'd prefer a portable storage gadget that I can keep in a pocket or handbag. What type of portable hard drive would you recommend?

What to Look For In a Portable Hard Drive

Portable hard drives are smaller, more rugged, and often sexier than external hard drives used around the home or office. Portable hard drives are designed to be in motion most of the time, in a coat pocket, briefcase, or laptop bag.

Like mobile phones, portable hard drives make a certain fashion statement about you when you pull one out in a coffee shop or client meeting. But of course, performance, capacity, and price are what really matter.

Portable does not mean small when it comes to storage capacity. Today's portable hard drives pack up to a terabyte of storage space into a wallet-sized chassis. 500 GB portable hard drives are common, and cost under $100.
Portable Hard Drives

Data transfer speeds of portable hard drives are in the 50 to 75 MB/second range. The fastest portable hard drives use USB 3.0. Firewire 800 and 400 are popular interfaces as well, if your device supports one of them. Rotation speeds are generally between 5400 and 7200 rpm. On-board cache memory is usually between 8 MB and 16 MB.

Check Out These Six Portable Drives

The Iomega eGo 1 TB portable hard drive is bigger (5 inches long) and heavier (14.4 ounces) than most by a long shot. But its huge capacity, USB 3.0 interface, sleek design, and ability to survive 7-foot falls make it a very popular accessory. It comes in red, blue, or silver, at a street price of around $120.

Seagate's GoFlex Slim is only 9 mm thick. Perhaps that's why its capacity is only 320 GB. But it spins at 7200 rpm and connects via USB 3.0. The current version is for both Mac and PC, but a more Apple-looking style is planned just for Mac. The MSRP is $99.

The A-Data Sport SH93 portable hard drive looks like something Jacque Cousteau designed. Heavily cushioned with yellow and black rubber, the Sport is water- and shock-resistant, designed for camping trips and other rough environments. This 320 GB USB portable hard drive lists for $115. It does not include backup software (or scuba gear), so you will need to provide your own.

The Rocstor Rocport ID9 comes with three interfaces: Firewire 400 and 800, and USB 2.0. The $140 Rocport holds only 320 GB of data, however. Its red-and-black case is stylish in a boxy way.

The $195 CMS V2ABS sports some very useful software that makes a mirror image of your laptop's internal hard drive in just a few minutes. The proprietary Bounceback Professional software lets you boot from the portable drive if the computer's internal drive fails, making the V2ABS ideal for backups of mobile or desktop machines. USB 2.0 is its only interface.

The Western Digital MyPassport Elite comes in 500 GB or 1 TB models priced at $130 and $179, respectively. Although it's a USB 2.0 only drive, MyPassport Elite comes with the versatile WD Smartware software and a low-profile docking station. There's even a little LED display that tells you how much storage space is available.

Your feedback on portable hard drives is welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Which Portable Hard Drive Should You Buy?"

Posted by:

22 Jul 2011

I used a portable hard drive and then it died (and stupid me didn't have a recent backup, so I lost some information). I prefer using "the cloud" now. I use google documents and box.net, and for synching between my desktop and notebook, I love Dropbox (which I read about here, I think) only a few short weeks ago!

It is still necessary to backup, Backup, BACKUP!

Posted by:

John Palmer
22 Jul 2011

Here's a drop test of several popular portable drives performed by Popular Mechanics in 2008:


Surprisingly, an Iomega eGo with their protective band survived all the drop tests and being run over by a truck!

Posted by:

22 Jul 2011

I just use a thumb drive. Should be more rugged and cheaper than a hard drive.

Posted by:

Tom S.
22 Jul 2011

I picked up a BRAND NEW Iomega external 2GB drive for $60 a few weeks ago. While I wouldn't exactly say its 'portable' it is fairly light and holds a ton of data!

Posted by:

23 Jul 2011

Has anyone ever tried Toshiba Canvio 3.o 1 Tb? The rating looks good and being an ex-Toshiba copier and fcsimile saleperson, I can vouch for product quality in general. I am curious because I will be needing a portable HD shortly. Anyone using it now?


P.S. I have to add a special 'kudos' to Bob for the wealth of technical info he provides on his website.

Posted by:

29 Jul 2011

storm, the only problem with putting info on thumb drives is that they often fail (their lifespan is theh least of any storage out there). Make sure, as stated, that you back up EVERYTHING! Also, they are easily lost, so password protection is a must. I think the cloud is the way to go, if you can use it. It's always available (if you have an internet connection)and little chance of your info being hacked or stolen...no chance of losing it. Just my thoughts.

Posted by:

29 Aug 2011

I have several WD Passports and they are great. I have had an external hard drive crash on me and another one seems to be heading there.

I have had no problem with my HD Passports.

I also have a 4gig Iron Key thumb drive. It is password encripted and built like its name. I was always breaking thumb drives. It seemed to me that they only lasted a couple of months. I have had the Iron Key for over two years with no problems.

Posted by:

Bruce Tech Guy
02 Sep 2011

I have used several brands of both small (2.5-inch) travel size and 3.5-inch full size external drives.

For the portable travel drives (2.5-inch), I am currently using an Iomega Prestige 320 GB, and two LaCie 250 GB drives.

The Iomega Prestige is USB2, all metal case, and has been very reliable. And a big plus is that it seems able to power from a single USB port in almost all computer situations.
The LaCie's (square black plastic case) I have because they are combo USB2 and FireWire, which I need/prefer for connecting to Macs - as FireWire seems to be about 20% faster transfer in my real-life experience. The downside on the LaCie's is that they seem to need a bit more juice than some computers put out when I connect via the USB. They get power fine over the FireWire connection. They have also been solid in reliability.

One thing I would strongly recommend for all folks who travel with a 2.5-inch portable drive is to buy a small case for it/them. The case both keeps the small cables and adapters together and really does an important job of protecting and cushioning the drive.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2012

have several external hd and they all failed after a few year wander

EDITOR'S NOTE: Maybe you shouldn't let them wander? :-)

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