Hi Lifehacker, I'm planning to build a new PC in ITX-form factor, so a lot of space for hard drives could be a problem. Instead I'm looking to buy a portable hard drive to do backups and storage. Can you give me advice on the capacity and what to avoid when looking at a portable hard drive? (It will be staying at home most of the time, so size isn't an issue). Thanks, Portable Backup
The short answer is, you can never have "too much" capacity — so buy the maximum you can afford. If you end up with more storage than you currently need, you can be rest assured that the remainder will fill up in short order.
As a general measuring stick, you can expect a single 90 minute HD movie to take up a few gigabytes of storage space, while a high-end video game can require as much as 40GB. If you're a fan of either entertainment form, you need to go large!
It sounds like you're after a semi-permanent desk fixture as opposed to something for frequent travel. You should therefore plump for a bulky model powered by its own PSU. These tend to come in higher capacities and are less expensive than sleeker USB-powered offerings; especially on a per-gigabyte basis. In other words, avoid SSDs and pocket hard drives that sacrifice capacity for speed and portability.
You should also ensure that your PC and chosen hard drive both support USB 3.0. This will speed up backups and general file transfers significantly.
It's also important to take hard drive reliability into consideration when making your purchase. The online backup service Backblaze recently analysed the failure rate of 25,000 hard drives supplied by Seagate, Hitachi and Western Digital. It found its Hitachi drives to be the most reliable, with an overall survival rate of 96.7 per cent over 36 months. On a per model basis, the Hitachi GST Deskstar range had the lowest failure rate; from 0.9 per cent to 1.1 per cent.
By contrast, Backblaze's Seagate drives suffered failure rates of between 3.8 per cent and 25.4 per cent, depending on the model. With that said, the majority of drives did survive for at least three years of heavy use, so it's more a case of lessening your chances of bad luck than avoiding shoddy products.
Another possibility is to run a Networked Attached Storage device, or NAS. These are central storage hubs that provide easy access to files on any computer on your network. Building a NAS system used to require at least a small amount of technical know-how, but these days most manufacturers provide streamlined options for beginner-friendly setups. For example, the latest Seagate NAS range come with an EasyNAS tool that can automatically array drives to match the user's preferences.
Another advantage of a NAS solution is that you can boost your capacity on the fly by adding or swapping out internal drives. This is also more cost-effective than splurging out on another external hard drive when storage is running low. You can find plenty of additions information on this area by following our NAS tag.
If any readers have their own HDD tips or brands to avoid, let PB know in the comments section below.
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