Using a Portable Hard Drive

Need to take your data with you? Or do you need a second hard drive? Then consider portable hard drive. They’re a powerful and inexpensive way of adding storage capacity to your computer.

If you’ve been using a computer for even just a few years, you can probably remember when hard drive space was at a premium. Drives used to be small — a few gigabytes or less. And with an operating system, some software, and your files, your hard drive became pretty cramped. Aside from replacing your hard drive with a bigger one, a solution to the space crunch was to pop open your system and add a second hard drive.

If you need more storage space or want to transfer files between computers conveniently, you can do it using the latest generation of portable hard drives. These devices are small — many fit comfortably in your pocket or the palm of your hand — and can store as much data, if not more, than the hard drive that’s in your computer.

Why Use a Portable Drive?

Having some form of external storage might seem a bit redundant in this era of multi-gigabyte hard drives. You’ve probably got enough space on your hard drive for all your files and programs. And if you need to move large amounts of data to another computer, you can always burn the files onto a CD-ROM.

For many people, though, using a portable hard drive makes a lot of sense. A CD-ROM can only hold about 700 MB of data. That’s not a lot, especially if you consider how much space many files, like digital video and MP3 audio, take up.

No matter how much hard drive space you have, you can never have enough. As you use your computer, files and programs gradually add up. Before you know it, you have gigabytes of data. Using a portable hard drive, you can store these files without worrying about clogging up your computer’s primary drive. And you can move them between computers quickly and easily.

Uses of a Portable Drive

What can you use a portable hard drive? Around the house, you can use them to hold personal documents, archived Web sites, scanned photos, audio files like MP3s, digital video, movies in DVD format, games, and more.

For business and notebook users, portable drives are a great power tool. You can use them to transport your presentations, applications, and other files to meetings or off-site demos. You can also use portable drives to store customer and accounting information, as well as spreadsheets and other business documents. Publishing professionals can use portable drives to move large documents and be supporting graphics files from their computers to a printer or service bureau.

One use for a portable drive that some people may overlook is system backups. With computers, problems can crop up when you least expect them to and can take down your entire system. It’s nice to have a mirror copy of your computer’s hard drive. In fact, aside from burning a DVD, portable hard drives are just about the only practical way to do backups.

Types of Drives

“Types of drives” means the kind of connection that is used to hook a drive into your computer. It is done using ports. Also calledĀ interfaces, ports are external connections at the back of your computer (sort of like electrical outlets) that allow you to connect devices to your machine. Without ports, external devices can communicate with your computer.

The two most popular ways to connect a portable hard drive to a PC are Universal Serial Bus and FireWire.

Universal Serial Bus

Universal Serial Bus (USB) supports high-speed data transfers, at rates up to 12 Mbps (12 million bits per second). You can connect up to 127 devices, ranging from keyboards to modems to drives, to one USB port on your computer. As well, USB also supports Plug-and-Play installation and hot swapping. Plug and play means that once you plug the device in, your computer automatically detects it. Hot swapping allows you to move a USB device from one computer to another without having to reboot the machine. On top of that, your computer’s USB port supplies power to the drive.


Next up is FireWire, also called IEEE 1394 (the technical standard used to designate these devices). FireWire is high-speed, supporting data transfers of up to 400 Mbps (400 million bits per second). Like USB, FireWire supports hot swapping of devices and receives its power from your computer. While fast, FireWire devices can be expensive. But they’re great for transferring data, like video and audio, which require a lot of bandwidth.

What’s On the Market

Going portable has become quite popular. Some companies have entered the marketĀ to meet the demand for portable hard drives.

Two of the best-known makers of portable drives are LaCie and Iomega. Amacom is a smaller company, but it does manufacture one of the most versatile portable drives that are currently available.

Two other companies that make nice portable hard drives are MicroSolutions, known for its Backpack series of hard drives, and Archos Technology. Archos is known for its MP3 players, but its portable drives are small and can hold a lot of data.

Of course, if you need to move a lot of files from computer to computer, you should check out the offerings from TREKSTOR. The company’s thumb drives are USB devices that are the size of a human thumb.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Portable Drive

Before you lay down your money, you should first think about what you want from a portable hard drive. Here are a few factors to consider:


First, determine how much you want to spend. If money is no object, then get the biggest and most expensive drive that you can. The benefits of data transfer speed, storage capacity, and all around convenience will help the drive quickly pay for itself. If, on the other hand, you’re on a tight budget, look at a smaller drive.

Storage Capacity

Storage capacity will be your primary concern when looking for a portable drive. Don’t just think about your present needs, but your future needs as well. Sure, a 1 GB drive might be enough for all your MP3 and graphics files, but somewhere down the road, you might want to digitize your family videos. One GB of storage space definitely won’t be enough.

If you plan to use your portable drive move only documents between computers, then something like a thumb drive will be more than sufficient for your needs. But if you want to store a lot of larger files or even back up your system, you should seriously consider buying the largest drive you can afford.


If you need speed, at least where data transfers are concerned, you’ll want to get the fastest drive you can. It is especially true if you’re going to use the drive as a second hard disk. So, if you regularly work with large PowerPoint presentations, with a lot of graphics and some multimedia waiting while the data moves from the drive to your computer is frustrating.


Portable hard drives are a small, fast, and convenient way to add storage space to your computer. And if you move large files between systems, a portable drive can be an indispensable tool. One is waiting for you. All you have to do is find it.

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