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External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

In our final article of the series we’ll look at external hard drives so you have a better idea of what’s out there, what’s involved when it comes to external data recovery, and what to do if your external drive has been damaged, typically from being dropped.

These days, through really cost effective external drives PC consumers can dramatically increase the amount of data in their lives and keep it better protected by backing it up. Almost all modern PC-tech allows for one to multiple external drives so they’re worth getting to know.

Other Articles in This Hard Drive and Data Recovery Series

Note: Through the hyperlinked titles below you can browse this blog series easily without getting lost and cover each base.

Article 1: Your Hard Drive (How It Works and What Causes It to Crash)

Article 2: The Basics of Modern Hard Drive Disk Failures

Article 3: Hard Drive Mechanical Arm Failures 101

Article 4: How Hard Drives Save and Retrieve Your Files

Article 5: Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

Article 6: An Intro to Internal Hard Drive to PC Connections

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

an external hard drive, usb thumb drive and hard drive

With these products you just need to figure out which external drive is best for you, providing the right amount of space and performance (speed) to suit your needs, and then match it with the right input connection. Let’s look at common drives first, then we’ll talk a little bit more about input.

The 3 Common Types of External Drives

  • Desktop Drives: These are going to require an adapter and come with 3.5-inch mechanisms inside so typically they’re kept stationary v. carted around. When possible, we advise people invest in desktop drives that have a built-in cooling fan to extend the life of the external drive as much as possible. Simply because people tend to leave their desktops on longer than mobile PCs. In terms of space they can go as high as 6 terabytes, but through multiple mechanisms (similar to ram sticks) they can get up to 8 TBs – or two 4TB drives.
  • Notebook-Class Drives: Common size for these smaller 2.5-inch mobile-friendly external drives is 500GB-1TB, but 2TB capacities are out there.
  • External Solid-State Drives: Because of their much higher ticket price, shock resistance, and increased complexity, SSD notebook-class external drives are rarer. And they’re on the smaller end of data capacity (64-512GB) which is why a fair amount of DIY’ers use them as internal drives instead.

In terms of input, as discussed in Article 6 of this blog series your common external cables are going to be USB 2.0/3.0, FireWire 400/800, and eSATA. Then there’s the more exotic options like USB 3.1/USB-C or iSCSI.

In his informative PC Mag article, “How to Buy an External Hard Drive” Joel Domingo does a great job of summarizing basic information on the USB and FireWire connection options:

External drives typically have a USB port, which is a good thing since even convertible tablets and ultrabooks have at least one USB 2.0 port with its theoretical 480Mbps throughput. Less common, but ostensibly speedier, is the FireWire port, in both 400Mbps and 800Mbps formats. FireWire 400 and 800 are signal-compatible (they can use the same wires), but they have different FW400 or FW800 connectors on the ends of those cables. FireWire can be daisy-chained; i.e., you can connect several drives or devices up to a single FireWire port when you connect them together first.”

While we could go much deeper into eSATA and advanced stuff like Thunderbolt from Intel, or even G-Tech options with much steeper pricing, but that would be a bit much for this setting. Besides, there’s other things to consider when choosing your external drive like style/coloring, included software, and warranty!

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.