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Top 5 Uses for External Hard Drives

Top 5 Uses for External Hard Drives

Zach Cabading
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So much of our everyday lives are centered around the computer. We use computers to store our photos and videos, to get work done, and to communicate with our friends via the internet. None of that would be possible without the hard drive. The hard drive is the component that stores all the data on your computer, from files to software. It’s the central storage bank for our digital lives.
Unfortunately, hard drives don’t have an unlimited amount of space. While 500GB storage is more than enough for most users, you might run out of free space if you have lots of large files like movies, PC games, and editing files. Thankfully, you can always use an external hard drive to store your computer data.
Here are the top 5 uses for an external drive.
  • Storage
  • Backups
  • Digital editing
  • Data sharing
  • Gaming
That’s right, you can use an external hard drive for so much more than storage. Let’s review each one of these items in detail.

1. Storage

External hard drives are mainly used for storage

Every computer – whether it’s a tower desktop or laptop – is equipped with an internal hard drive. The hard drive is where all your permanent computer data is stored. Whenever you save a file, photo, or software to your computer, it’s stored in your hard drive.
Most hard drives have storage space between 250GB and 1TB. That’s more than enough for the casual PC user, but if you’ve had your computer for a long time or if you’re using your computer as a workstation, you’ll probably need more hard drive space than 500GB. When you run out of space on your hard drive, you won’t be able to save any additional data to your computer – no more photos, no more software, no more word processing documents.
You’ll run into problems when your computer is running on low storage space. When your computer CPU is performing tasks, it creates “temporary” files that are often saved on your hard drive. If your hard drive is too full, then your CPU won’t have as much space to store these temporary files, and it won’t be able to process things as quickly. You’ll have slowdown when you’re playing games, streaming movies, running programs, or even just browsing the web. For that reason, it’s always best to keep as much free space on your hard drive as possible.
Most people use an external hard drive for that very reason. Unlike an internal drive, which is nestled firmly inside your computer, an external hard drive is a device that you plug into a computer port. An external hard drive gives you more storage space to keep your data.
When you store data on an external hard drive, you can only access it when the hard drive is plugged into your computer. You can use an external hard drive to store files that you don’t access very frequently. These might be:
  • Old photos or videos
  • Records and archival data
  • Completed projects/portfolios
When you store your older documents on an external hard drive, you’ll be able to maintain a higher amount of free space on your hard drive, so you can keep adding new files and ensure your computer is running as fast as possible.

How to free up space on your hard drive

In addition to using an external hard drive, you can free up space on your hard drive by using the Storage Sense utility on Windows 10 computers. Storage Sense automatically finds and deletes temporary files from your computer. To turn on Storage Sense:
  • Press the Windows key
  • Click the Settings icon
  • Click System
  • Click the Storage tab

Portable external drives for travel

If you’re traveling, you can get a portable external hard drive to store all the photos and videos you take while you’re on vacation. You could easily store all your photos and videos on your laptop or phone, but if you take a massive number of photos, that could quickly eat up your hard drive space. Use an external hard drive to store your new photos while you travel.

2. Backups

One of the most important things you can do to protect your computer data is to back up your hard drive. A backup is just a second copy of your hard drive that you’ll have available in case something happens to your computer.
Moisture, drops, and computer viruses can cause catastrophic damage to your computer that can destroy your hard drive. You could also lose all your computer data if your computer gets stolen. That’s why it’s important to have a backup stored on an external hard drive. That way, when you get a new computer, you’ll be able to transfer the data from your backup onto your new hard drive – you’re up and running, good as new.
The most advanced external hard drives have an automatic backup function that will create backups of your computer once or even several times per day. Just remember that your external drive must be plugged into your computer for these automatic backups to occur. You can, however, create manual backups of your computer hard drive whenever you want, and you can also create backups of any file or folder.
We store so much valuable information on our computer hard drives like photos, work files, and financial documents. If you want to protect all this important data, you should make a habit out of making hard drive backups as frequently as possible. It’s best to back up to at least two different sources. Be sure to store these hard drives in different locations so they won’t face the same risk of environmental damage or theft. Or, use both an external hard drive and the cloud.

3. Editing

An external hard drive is an absolute necessity for digital editing. What is digital editing?
  • Video editing
  • Photo editing
  • Digital illustration
  • 3D rendering
  • Audio editing
  • Advanced simulations
These are some of the most intensive tasks that your computer can do because they require massive computations and data processing. While your CPU and GPU do most of the work, an external hard drive is a crucial aspect, too.

RAID processing

RAID stands for “redundant array of independent disks.” Basically, you connect two or more hard drives and they act as a single hard drive. You can set up RAID so that your data is being stored on multiple hard drives - so if one drive crashes, you’ll still have the data on the other hard drives.
When you’re doing high-octane processing, there’s a greater chance your hard drive may crash. A crashed hard drive could cause you to lose all the new data that’s not yet saved. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is to do RAID processing when you’re doing intensive tasks. If you’re new to digital editing, do some research on how to set up a RAID array.

External scratch disk

A scratch disk is any hard drive that a computer program saves data on. Most computers only have a single hard drive, so that’s the designated scratch disk for computer programs. If you’re doing digital editing, it might be beneficial for you to select an external hard drive as the scratch disk for your editing software.
Your computer hard drive is probably going to be full of software and personal files, and if you’re doing editing that’s going to spawn a large number of temporary files, you might run out of space on your hard disk. Plug in an external hard drive instead and set it as the scratch disk for your editing program (typically you’ll set the scratch disk in-app). An external hard will have more free space for editing.

4. Data sharing

An external hard drive is a great way to transfer a large amount of data. The most popular ways to transfer data are by flash drive, email, or cloud storage. Unfortunately, these methods aren’t ideal for sending/receiving more than a few files. If you’re trying to transfer many gigabytes of data, you’ll find these transfer methods are slow and inconvenient. Cloud storage can handle a larger quantity of data, but upload and download times may be long.
An external hard drive, on the other hand, allows you to transfer more data at a faster speed. If you’re trying to transfer data from an old computer to a new computer, or if you’re trying to exchange data with a business partner or client, you’ll find it easier to use an external hard drive. You just put the data on the external drive, and then connect the external drive to whichever computer to want to transfer it to. It’s like a flash drive, but with much more storage space.
Pro tip: The best external hard drives have fast connectors, like Thunderbolt or USB-C.

5. Gaming

Modern PC games are absolutely massive in scope and graphical detail which means they take up a lot more space on your hard drive. If you’re a hardcore PC gamer and your hard drive is getting overstuffed with games, get an external hard drive to store them. Remember that your computer won’t perform as quickly if you’re running low on free space. An external hard drive could significantly boost your gaming performance.
If you’re going to use an external hard drive for gaming, be sure to get one with either a Thunderbolt or USB-C connector. USB Type-A is too slow and won’t be able to quickly transfer information from the hard drive to your computer, so you’ll suffer from severe lag. Thunderbolt and USB-C, on the other hand, are high-speed connectors that will minimize performance issues when you’re gaming on an external drive.
You can also use an external hard drive for console games. Both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One support external hard drives via a USB 3.0 connector. USB 3.0 is a good connector that’s fast enough for gaming.

What are the best external hard drives?

1. BUFFALO DriveStation Axis Velocity USB 3.0

The BUFFALO DriveStation Axis Velocity USB 3.0 is a fantastic high-speed external hard drive. This external hard drive has a whopping 3TB storage capacity so you’ll be able to use it for making backups or for storing infrequently accessed data.
What’s great about this hard drive is that it’s incredibly fast thanks to the speedy USB 3.0 connector (remember, USB 3.0 is much faster than the more commonly used USB 2.0). The maximum data transfer rate is 5120 MB/s, so you’ll be able to backup whole hard drives or very large folders without having to wait for too long.
This makes it a good external hard drive for gaming thanks to the fast connector, not to mention the fact that the slick, black design will look great next to your gaming rig or console. Weighing only 2 pounds, it’s compact enough to take with you while you’re traveling so long as you have a larger carry-on case or electronics backpack. It’s definitely not built for travel – this is more of a desktop external hard drive – but you could surely take it with you on business trips or easy-going vacations.

2. BUFFALO MiniStation Extreme NFC USB 3.0

The BUFFALO MiniStation Extreme NFC USB 3.0 is a mini version of the BUFFALO DriveStation. This portable external hard drive weighs only 10 ounces and measures 3.5 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches. You’ll be able to slip this external drive into your backpack, laptop bag, or purse, which makes it a valuable piece of gear when you’re traveling. This external hard drive has a more rugged shell than the desktop version, so it’s more resistant against drops, shocks, and all those little things that’ll shake your hard drive while you’re on-the-go.
Although it’s small, you’ll be happy to know that it has plenty of storage space at 1TB. It also uses a fast USB 3.0 connector so you’re able to transfer a large amount of data at fast speeds.
About the Author: Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.

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