The Hard Drive Buying Guide for Students
When you’re putting big projects together, megabytes can turn into gigabytes and even terabytes before you know it, especially if you’re studying a visual arts field like filmmaking, animation, or photography. Many newer laptops limit internal storage space in favor of an ultra-portable design, assuming you’ll turn to external resources to store large files. Cloud storage is a great option, but it relies on Internet connectivity, which isn’t always available when you need it, and can be expensive for storing large amounts of data.
The solution? An external hard drive. These affordable devices are becoming an increasingly popular way to keep your work safely stored and available anytime you need it.
Generally speaking, external hard drives come in two flavors -- desktop and laptop –- and both have their strengths.
Desktop-class drives need to be plugged into the wall to run, tend to have a larger capacity than laptop drives, and are usually somewhat cheaper. But they’re not very portable, and when you’re running from dorm room to classroom to deliver your latest animation, packing it up and then plugging it in is not very convenient.
Laptop-class drives are slimmer, tougher, and don’t need a dedicated power source. You can just hook them up to your computer (or even someone else’s) to transfer the files you need.
Types of hard drives
If you’ve decided to pick a laptop-class drive, you’ve got another choice: SSD vs. HDD; solid state drives and conventional hard disk drives.
Unlike HDDs, solid state drives have no moving parts, are shock resistant, and can read and write data faster. Because they’re so small, they’re a good choice if weight and space are issues. But their capacity is limited, and if you need a drive that’s big enough to hold hundreds of gigabytes (think video files), a large enough SDD will put a large dent in your budget. In that case, think HDD; chances are it will get the job done.
The need for speed
There’s another set of variables to consider: speed of the drive and the speed of its connection to the PC. Many applications don’t need the fastest-possible speeds, but others, particularly video, demand it.
SSDs are quicker than traditional hard drives, if you can afford them. But whether you’re using an HDD or an SDD be sure to consider the transfer technology it uses to move data to the network or the PC.
For transferring very large files or working directly on your external hard drive, you may want to seek out something with a little more zip than standard USB 2.0. Your best bets are Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, which both offer excellent transfer speeds. FireWire is also a faster alternative to USB 2.0, but it has lost popularity since USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt took off.
Take a look at some of the portable hard drives we’ve put together in this chart to find the best external hard drive for you.