So Many Types of External Hard Drives, Which One Should I Get?

External hard drives are convenient since swapping one external hard drive for another is as easy as unplugging its attached cable.  Modern external hard drives are exploding in sizes which is very encouraging and tempting.  There are so many types of different external hard drives that sometimes a person like me could get lost from knowing which one is best for my purpose.  The specifications for these external hard drives often do not reflect the real speeds of theirs when actually putting them into practice.

Doing some research online, the majority is agreeing that eSata (external Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) hard drives are faster than USB 2.0 hard drives by a lot.  By a lot?  Well, eSATA transfers data at 157 Megabytes per second in practice which is 4 times faster than USB 2.0.  Unfortunately, eSATA isn’t as universal as USB 2.0.  This means many computers may not have the eSATA ports which limits some people from going out and purchase eSATA hard drives.

Some external hard drives use FireWire connection.  FireWire is also known as IEEE 1394 interface or in short as 1394 connection.  There are two types of FireWire.  The older kind of FireWire is known as FireWire 400 or 1394a.  The newer kind of FireWire is known as FireWire 800 or 1394b which is way faster than its predecessor.  FireWire 800 can transfer data at rate of 786 Megabits per second full-duplex.  Calculating 786 Megabits to Megabytes, FireWire 800 can only transfer data at the rate of roughly around 100 Megabytes per second.  Even newer types of FireWire are available, but these have not yet applied to any new device.  The people that are behind FireWire technology plan to improve FireWire connection so it could compete against USB 3.0, and so the future plan is to boost the connection speed of FireWire up to 6.4 Gigabits per second (800 Megabytes per second).

USB 2.0 external hard drives would be the slowest of them all.  Technically, USB 1.0 would be the slowest, but we don’t need to go back that far.  The newest USB 2.0 external hard drives are known as hi-speed hard drives, and these transfer data at the rate of 57 Megabytes per second.  USB 2.0 ports/connection are universal since almost all computers carry them.

In this point in time, USB 3.0 external hard drives are the fastest hard drives of them all.  USB 3.0 hard drives are also known as SuperSpeed hard drives, and these transfer data at the rate of 572 Megabytes per second.  Even though the name USB 3.0 stands for Universal Serial Bus 3.0, but in practice not that many computers carry USB 3.0 ports, therefore limiting people from going out and buy USB 3.0 external hard drives.  Nonetheless, more computer brands are slowly jumping on USB 3.0 bandwagon as the year of 2011 is moving forward.

According to Wikipedia, and so I quote “Light Peak is a proprietary optical cable interface designed by Intel to connect devices in a peripheral bus. The technology has a high bandwidth at 10 Gbit/s,[2] with the potential to scale to 100 Gbit/s by 2020.”  Which means hard drives of the future are going to use Light Peak technology and to become the fastest of them all.  10 Gigabits per second when calculating it out would be 1250 Megabytes per second.  Do I even need to calculate the 100 Gigabits per second part to Megabytes?  Obviously, in this point in time, Light Peak is no where to be found, and so don’t go out to an electronic store and ask for a Light Peak hard drive!

The best things to do before buying a new external hard drive?  It’s to check to see the best connection speed for external hard drives that your computer can support.  In my case, my computer can support USB 2.0, FireWire 400 and 800, and eSATA; with this knowledge, the logical thing for me to do is to get an eSATA hard drive since eSATA is faster than both USB 2.0 and FireWire.  Unfortunately, if you plan to use an external hard drive among many computers, the logical thing to do is to get USB 2.0 since you may have an older computer which can only support the slowest external hard drive.  You can always upgrade your computer so it can support USB 3.0 external hard drives, but your computer’s motherboard must support PCI-E (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express).

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE_1394_interface, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Serial_Bus, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_Peak.

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