4 Questions Before Buying an External Hard Drive

We get lots of questions about expat living, how to be more productive, and general inquiries regarding social media. To be honest, we’ve done a poor job sharing that information publicly. We want to improve.

Recently a friend of ours posed a question on Facebook: “Does anyone have any suggestions on type/size of external hard drive I should get to back up my computer?” That exact day, I had just finished thinking through our back-up strategy for the next few years, purchasing an external hard drive, and felt prepared to answer her question.

Hard Drive

Deciding what type of back-up system, process, brand, size, etc can be stressful. Especially since none of us “knows” what the future holds. Who knows, you might become a professional photographer later this year, I could find out that my wife loves to create movies, or that I really just want to digitize my music collection. Regardless of who you are, I’ve put together below 4 questions regarding external hard drives and personal storage.

(1) What Is Your Current Data Usage? – This sounds easy enough, right? Not for everyone. The best place to start is by tallying the total space used for music, movies, and pictures. These three usually take up the bulk of the average computer user’s data.

(2) How Much Data Will You Have? – If you mostly just use Microsoft Word, listen to an occasional song, and never take pictures, the amount of data you’ll have will be low. If you create a new movie a week to post it on YouTube or take 30-40 pictures a week, you’re somewhat of a medium or average data user. But if you take 1000-3000 pictures per week, download an album a week, or regularly creative HD movies using Final Cut Pro or iMovie, you are a heavy data user.

(3) Where Do I Need My Data? – Some people never travel and only need their data at home. Other people travel weekly and need their external hard drive to fit in their briefcase. If you travel weekly, you probably need a portable HD that’s around 500GB that uses the USB as its power source. If you never travel, you can save money by buying a larger HD that uses the wall as its power source. The latter has more cables and is physically a larger piece of equipment (usually more space though), but the former is smaller, much more portable, and less cumbersome to plug-in (usually less space though).

(4) What Is My Backup Plan? – Will you backup your data monthly or quarterly? Will you back it up from your computer or from one external hard drive to another? Will you have multiple back HDs? Many people find themselves in bad situations of complete data loss because they didn’t have a plan. Others lose all their data because they kept it all in one place. Keeping all data on one computer in the same room as your back-up HD is not a wise.

We currently use my laptop as the primary data hub, we back it up regularly to our mini-HD that is 500GB (USB powered so I can take it anywhere), then we back it up to two different (and much larger) external hard drives in different locations (in case of fire, flood, etc). We also use a service called DropBox for other “daily use” files that both of us need access to on different computers on the fly. We’ll share more about DropBox at a later time.