Data backup is a necessary part of modern computer care, but there are numerous ways to properly back up important files.
External drives are a great way to do this, but even within that narrowed range there are many products to choose from. The majority of external drives on the market are divided into two categories, flash media and hard drive based media. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of each technology.
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Hard drives offer much more storage space per dollar than flash drives, and are capable of holding over 500 gigabytes of data while flash drives rarely hold more than 10 gigabytes or so. Because of this, computer users who are looking to back up their entire desktop computer rather than a specific folder or files will probably need an external hard drive. This also applies to anyone who’s looking to store a large quantity of videos or music, as those file types tend to be fairly large (and therefore less suitable for storage on flash media).
Flash media is generally designed to back up only select portions of an overall data set, but the sizes of external flash drives should be more than sufficient for backing up most computer users’ photo and documents.
Both external hard drives and flash drives are extremely portable, though hard drives may require an external power source. This can be burdensome and makes using a single external hard drive with a power source inefficient for use with multiple computers; and while portable external hard drives such as the Western Digital Passport are designed to only need a single USB port to operate, they still tend to be quite a bit larger than the miniscule flash drives on the market. If you intend to use an external to backup multiple computers or move files between several computers, a flash drive is probably your best bet.
Flash media is able to take physical shock a lot better than hard drive based media, though contrary to popular misconception flash drives aren’t impossible to break. They can be snapped in half, overheated, or subjected to electric shock quite easily, so it’s important to be careful with whatever you choose. Overall, though, flash drives are more rugged than hard drives, though the average lifespan of either form of media (when taken care of properly) is about the same with possibly a slight edge to hard drives.
Whatever data backup method you choose, stay consistent with your backup and make sure you plan ahead for what your needs will be in the future; a flash external drive might be fine now when you’re only backing up pictures, but if you have plans to backup 200 gigabytes of information in the future you’ll probably want to go with an external hard drive.
Also, keep your data in more than one place. As was already mentioned, external drives have the same likelihood of failure as internal drives–treat them carefully and don’t take your data’s security for granted.