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Thread: External Hard drives

  1. #1
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    External Hard drives

    I am looking to purchase a hard drive to store music and to back up my data including photographs.

    I have absolutely no idea about how a hard drive works , what they cost or what to look for by way of technology.

    I believe the minimum memory size I need for the music is 180 gb but I need some more to back up my photographs /video clips.

    So can you help me identify a good quality, cheap drive, with the right connectivity for my windows xp.

    and a few clues as to how to use it!!

  2. #2
    Registered User El Salsero Gringo's Avatar
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    Re: External Hard drives

    This is how I see things:

    First check that your PC has a USB version 2 port. (If it's no older than 2 or three years then it probably does, but best to be sure.) If it does then that is your best bet for a connection to use for an external drive.

    You then have a choice between a pocket size hard drive that powers itself directly from the USB port or a "desktop" size one that still connects to that port but also has an external power supply and needs its own mains socket.

    £100 + VAT (very roughly) gets you about a 160 GByte external drive with power supply or 80-100GByte in pocket size, £50 gets you about 80Gbyte "desktop" or 40GBytes in pocket format. Try www.ebuyer.com if you don't have a preference for a supplier.

    Whichever format size or manufacturer you pick, it really is then just a matter of plugging it in. Windows XP should immediately recognise and be able to use the drive.

    I'm sure other people will chip in with their advice too.

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    Registered User David Franklin's Avatar
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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by El Salsero Gringo
    This is how I see things:

    First check that your PC has a USB version 2 port. (If it's no older than 2 or three years then it probably does, but best to be sure.) If it does then that is your best bet for a connection to use for an external drive.
    Agreed. Failing that, you can use Firewire (which is fine, but the drives are usually a little more expensive). If you have neither USB2 or Firewire, adding a firewire card to your PC is easy and only costs a few pounds - I don't have direct experience on adding USB2.0 but have heard a few horror stories.

    £100 + VAT (very roughly) gets you about a 160 GByte external drive with power supply or 80-100GByte in pocket size, £50 gets you about 80Gbyte "desktop" or 40GBytes in pocket format. Try www.ebuyer.com if you don't have a preference for a supplier.
    For what it's worth, Aria (www.aria.co.uk) do a 250GB external for £95 + VAT.

    Whichever format size or manufacturer you pick, it really is then just a matter of plugging it in. Windows XP should immediately recognise and be able to use the drive.
    It's maybe 3 years since I bought my externals; I'm fairly sure that although XP recognized them, I still had to format them - not that that's difficult. Other downside was they are relatively noisy - but again I think this has improved over time.

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    Re: External Hard drives

    I am considering buying an USB hard drive and DVD recorder. My first research found that only one of my machines met the minimum reqirements required for the ones I looked at. The age and performance of machines may be an issue.

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    Registered User David Franklin's Avatar
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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by bigdjiver
    I am considering buying an USB hard drive and DVD recorder. My first research found that only one of my machines met the minimum reqirements required for the ones I looked at. The age and performance of machines may be an issue.
    I don't know exactly what you're looking at (and how old your machines are), but I really don't think this is a concern for the original poster's requirements. Hard drives don't particularly care about machine speed - DVD burners are a little more fussy. Anything involving video will generally need a fairly powerful machine spec.

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    Registered User Gojive's Avatar
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    Re: External Hard drives

    I'm using both an external AC powered drive (Maxtor), and a USB powered pocket drive (Freecom). I use the Maxtor drive to store my entire music collection in Windows Media Lossless format, together with multiple full uncompressed backups of my main desktop machine. The pocket drive, is used to store the same music collection in various levels of MP format.

    The Maxtor drive has dual connection options, in Firewire and USB 2.0 It also has a neat bit of bundled software for backing up, using a dedicated button on the drive. This drive works flawlessly, with my Windows XP system, running on an ancient AMD Duron 1.2 processor, with 512MB RAM.

    The pocket drive is quite new (about 2 weeks), but so far is proving to be a great piece of kit. The fact that it it's so slim (fits in the palm of your hand), and USB powered, means it's so easy to slip in the laptop bag.

    Incidently, there are Wireless network drive enclosures/adapters appearing on the market now, meaning with the right setup I can use the Maxtor drive without it needing to be connected to any particular pc.


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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by Gojive
    Incidently, there are Wireless network drive enclosures/adapters appearing on the market now, meaning with the right setup I can use the Maxtor drive without it needing to be connected to any particular pc.
    You need to check how these format the disk. Some run a copy of Linux, and need the drive to be formatted in a certain way. You can't then use the drive directly on a Windows XP machine.

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidB
    You need to check how these format the disk. Some run a copy of Linux, and need the drive to be formatted in a certain way. You can't then use the drive directly on a Windows XP machine.
    Thanks for the heads up David, I'll watch for that one

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    Registered User Feelingpink's Avatar
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    Re: External Hard drives

    Having spent today in a technical photographic seminar, one of the big messages was back-up and the guy lecturing said of external hard drives "It's not a question of if they will fail, but a question of when". Apparently the biggest enemy of hard drives is heat and external ones are more likely to feel this than internal ones. So choose whatever system seems appropriate ... then back up!

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by Feelingpink
    Having spent today in a technical photographic seminar, one of the big messages was back-up and the guy lecturing said of external hard drives "It's not a question of if they will fail, but a question of when". Apparently the biggest enemy of hard drives is heat and external ones are more likely to feel this than internal ones. So choose whatever system seems appropriate ... then back up!

    These drives do seem to fail quite often. In particular it seems quite common to lose the data without the hardware failing (data recovery tools might get it back).

    Mechanical knocks and unexpected disconnection often do make life difficult for data on external hard drives.

    Heat may be an issue for some poorly designed external drives, but in theory with so more surface to play with external drives could run cooler.


    If the data is re-creatable data such as ripped CDs, or itself a backup that sort of takes into account failure by whatever cause.


    Once consideration is while much more expensive per Gb the smaller drives usually survive being dropped ( experimental observation ).


    As far as system requirements they often are as high as they are because of bundled software. I've had no problems with a 6 year old laptop using an external DVD writer and hard drive over USB 2.0.

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    Re: External Hard drives

    I'd like to thakyou all for your assistance in educating me.

    Can someone tell me how you can tell if you have USB 2 connection?

    Hope that isn't a "DOH" type of question.!

    Likewise how can you tell if a PC has Firewire?

  12. #12
    Registered User David Franklin's Avatar
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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by under par
    I'd like to thakyou all for your assistance in educating me.

    Can someone tell me how you can tell if you have USB 2 connection?

    Hope that isn't a "DOH" type of question.!

    Likewise how can you tell if a PC has Firewire?
    Not a "DOH" question as far as I'm concerned - I had to look it up!

    Open up Control Panel (under Start>Settings I think, but it depends how you have your system set up), and go into System. Pick the Hardware tab, and go into Device Manager. This gives a list of all the hardware attached to the system (in alphabetical order or thereabouts). If you have Firewire, there should be an entry with IEEE 1394 (mine says IEEE 1394 Bus host controllers).

    USB2.0 is a little more complicated. Near the bottom of the list, will be an entry for Universal Serial Bus controllers. Expand that entry, and you will probably get a long list of USB "stuff". The important thing is to check whether there's a line that says Enhanced Host Controller (EHC) rather than Universal Host Controller (UHC); my machine has 4 UHCs and one EHC and it took me a while to notice that of the 5 entries, one was different from the rest!

    The other thing I guess is to check you have an external firewire port (you are pretty much assured to have external USB ports!). The port looks like an very elongated letter 'D' and may either at the front or the back. See the attached image.

    More detailed instructions on checking for USB2.0 here.
    Attached Images Attached Images

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by under par
    I'd like to thakyou all for your assistance in educating me.

    Can someone tell me how you can tell if you have USB 2 connection?
    I have nothing to offer in the way of education, just experience. I've got a 4 year old laptop that has 2 USB 1.1 connections. I've used it with 4 different external hard drives and it works just fine. You do get a message when you plug it in that says something like "you've plugged a fast thing into a slower connection" (can't remember the words) but it always works, probably at the speed of the slower connection - which is plenty fast enough for me. My advice is to buy a hard drive from a reputable manufacturer and plug it into your computer. It will work, and, if it doesn't there's plenty of people on here who will tell you why and what to do about it

  14. #14
    Registered User David Franklin's Avatar
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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by Andy McGregor
    I have nothing to offer in the way of education, just experience. I've got a 4 year old laptop that has 2 USB 1.1 connections. I've used it with 4 different external hard drives and it works just fine. You do get a message when you plug it in that says something like "you've plugged a fast thing into a slower connection" (can't remember the words) but it always works, probably at the speed of the slower connection - which is plenty fast enough for me. My advice is to buy a hard drive from a reputable manufacturer and plug it into your computer. It will work, and, if it doesn't there's plenty of people on here who will tell you why and what to do about it
    Depends what you're doing. Yes, USB1 should work, but the maximum data rate is only 1.5MB/sec; that's OK for playing mp3s, but I think it would make working with photography very painful. Horses for courses, I guess, but on a desktop PC, the cost of upgrading to a high-speed interface is so small I'd say it's a worthwhile investment.

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by David Franklin
    Not a "DOH" question as far as I'm concerned - I had to look it up!

    More detailed instructions on checking for USB2.0 here.


    Whhoooa I have USB 2 ....thankyou David thats a start.

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by David Franklin
    The other thing I guess is to check you have an external firewire port (you are pretty much assured to have external USB ports!). The port looks like an very elongated letter 'D' and may either at the front or the back. See the attached image.
    Just to make things more complicated there are two types of fire wire connection, big and small to get really technical.
    Your pic shows the big one, but the small one found on laptops/camera is a square hole about the third of the size of a USB socket and a little indent to make sure cable connector is in the right way.

    I got caught out by this as my travelling laptop has 2 USBs and a fire wire connection and I was going to use the fire wire for one of my external HDs and discovered [whilst away] that the Fire wire cable that came with that HD was for big comectors and I had a small connection. The HD was USB as well, so nothing insurmountable.

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by jezzyjj
    Just to make things more complicated there are two types of fire wire connection, big and small to get really technical.
    Your pic shows the big one, but the small one found on laptops/camera is a square hole about the third of the size of a USB socket and a little indent to make sure cable connector is in the right way.
    Correction. There are two types of firewire and three types of plug (interface) you've forgotten about firewire 800 - this is faster than the standard firewire 400 - and from my experience with graphics work - well worth the investment (I run it with a Apple G5 powermac).

    I've been using externals for years (seagate, micronet and iomega) and have settled on LaCie as a really reliable brand... I've two @ 160Gb FW 400 Blue and 500Gb FW400/800.

    Yes to USB 2.0 but it's soooooo slow!

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by Seahorse
    Correction. There are two types of firewire and three types of plug (interface) you've forgotten about firewire 800 - this is faster than the standard firewire 400 - and from my experience with graphics work - well worth the investment (I run it with a Apple G5 powermac).

    I've been using externals for years (seagate, micronet and iomega) and have settled on LaCie as a really reliable brand... I've two @ 160Gb FW 400 Blue and 500Gb FW400/800.
    The problem with Firewire 800 is that it's rather obscure even if better, Apple didn't even bother with it on the MacBooks which annoyed a fair few people.


    LaCie don't make hard drives [or monitors] they just package other people's hardware in slightly fancier wrappings. Though I actually prefer my WD mini HD to my LaCie mini HD as it is better designed for rough+ tumble whilst travelling. Prettier too, judging by people's reactions when they see it.

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by jezzyjj
    The problem with Firewire 800 is that it's rather obscure even if better, Apple didn't even bother with it on the MacBooks which annoyed a fair few people.
    The new MacBook Pro 17" has FW800.
    Let your mind go and your body will follow. – Steve Martin, LA Story

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    Re: External Hard drives

    Quote Originally Posted by ducasi
    The new MacBook Pro 17" has FW800.
    That's good news for some, but what about those who don't want a tea tray on their lap for travelling but still need faster drives.
    I also never understood why Apple use the same annoying compromised keyboard on the bigger laptops as on the small ones. It not as if you lack space on the 17".

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