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Choosing the Best Data Storage and BackUp Hard Drive

If you’re one of those who keeps their entire life on a computer, then we’ve got three crucial words for you – BACK IT UP.

Whether it’s your music collection, favourite movies, personal budgets or important documents and presentations, you always need to store your precious data in more than one place.

Even the best PC or Mac in the world can break down, crash or even get stolen, so it’s a must to backup your files to a data storage device.

But it’s not only about keeping your files safe in case the worst happens. Data storage can make it easier to transfer and transport your digital life too, for example to share music with a friend or take documents from home to work.

Below we take you through the different types and sizes of data storage devices on the market, along with a handy guide to the jargon you may come across when buying.

How do I find out how much data I need to backup?

Data storage devices are measured in Gigabytes (GB) or Terabytes (TB), with 1TB being 1024GB. Sizes range from just 1GB right up to 4TB.

The smaller memory devices are simply for transferring files between computers, while bigger ones allow you to make a copy of your entire hard drive.

The easiest way to find out how much data you have on your computer is to right click on the main folder(s) storing your data. On a PC for example that would be ‘My Documents’ or ‘My Music’. You can then select ‘Properties’ and a pop-up box will reveal the ‘Size’.

On a Mac, one way is to right click your ‘Documents’ folder in ‘Finder’ and click ‘Get Info’.

As a rough guide, a 1TB drive would be able to hold 284,000 digital photos or 250,000 songs or a mixture of anything in between.

What’s the best type of data storage for me?

What device you go for depends on a number of factors: how much stuff you have to backup, how portable you need your storage to be and how much you have to spend.

The main products are:

  • USB Stick

    These are small, cheap and often fit straight onto a keyring. Typically they store 1GB to 32GB of data and plug straight into the USB port on your PC or Mac. The great advantage of a USB stick is its small size, making it ideal to carry around and transfer or share your documents, photos and music. But remember, plugging a USB stick into different PCs can run the risk of picking up a virus on it that then spreads to your main computer when it is connected. Some USB sticks like the one from Yuuwaa provide extra storage space online to compliment the amount on the stick itself.

  • 2.5 inch Portable Hard Drive

    The big brother to the USB stick, this can store a lot more data but is still lightweight enough to to carry. Some will even fit in your shirt or trouser pocket. A portable hard drive of this type stores from 250GB to 1.5TB of data and connects to your computer using a USB cable.

  • 3.5 inch Desktop Hard Drive

    These are bigger devices, designed to sit next to your computer and are used either as a backup or additional hard drive. They also connect via a USB lead. The advantage over portable devices is they can store an even greater number of files, starting at 500GB and going right up to 4TB – so, for example, you can backup data for a whole household.

  • Multimedia Hard Drive

    A popular choice right now, this lets you watch content such as digital movies or view pictures through your TV in high-definition (HD). Most store around 1-2TB of data. Cheaper ones on the market though don’t have any built-in storage, they simply connect to your portable/desktop hard drive and then send content through your TV. Many multimedia drives come with a remote control, allowing you to fast forward and rewind. A lot are also portable so you can take them around to friends or family.

  • Networking Hard Drives

    Often known as a NAS – Network Attached Storage – these work through your router and Wi-Fi to allow multiple  users to access the drive from various computers around the house or office. This can be perfect for a family or small business as they will also allow you to wirelessly share one printer.

    With the right setup, they can even let you access your files from anywhere with an internet connection as long as the NAS is turned on. They can also automatically backup files wirelessly to save you having to remember to do it and like Multimedia drives can stream content around your home to other computers, your TV or a mobile phone and tablet.

    One other advantage of these is some devices have space to install extra hard drives inside, boosting the storage capacity as your digital life grows. They also provide an extra backup solution by double copying files to the separate drives, just in case one then fails.

What are the costs involved?

USB sticks start as cheap as £5 and go up to about £50. Portable and Desktop Hard Drives cost from £30 to £300, depending on their size.

Multimedia Hard Drives again go up to the £300 mark, starting at around £50 for those without storage or £100 for a 1TB device.

Networking Hard Drives vary but expect to pay between £100 and £150. Owners of Apple computers could consider its own wireless Time Capsule costing around £250 for a 2TB device.

What features should I be looking out for?

If you’re after a Portable Hard Drive, and are going to be carrying it around a lot, then look for ones that have ‘shock protection’ – meaning that they won’t corrupt if you drop them.

‘Password protection’ is important if you’re storing sensitive information, while ‘automatic backup’ can be useful as it keeps various copies if you change or delete a file. So you can find older versions if you need to.

For those devices using a cable to connect to your computer, USB 2.0 is the main connection. But the new USB 3.0 standard is up to three times faster, which means data will copy over quicker. You will need both a computer and a hard drive that supports this new technology.

Apple has just put a port on the back of its machines called Thunderbolt. This provides an even fastest transfer rate – up to 20 times more than USB 2.0 according to Apple. But the
number of data storage devices using Thunderbolt is currently limited due to it being a brand-new technology.

Are there different colours available?

It might not sound important but if you’ve got a data device next to your computer all the time, then why settle for boring black, white or silver.

Whether it’s a wine red portable hard drive or a USB stick in the shape of an orange fish, there really is something to suit all tastes. Cases are also available to keep portables safe when carried around.

Is there anything else I need to check before I buy?

Yes, if you’re planning on storing data from a Mac, then please check that the product you want to buy is ‘Mac compatible’. Not all are. Others will have been designed to work with a PC out of the box so will need to be reformatted when you plug it into the Mac. It’s easy though and you’ll be guided through the process.

Jargon Buster


If you see terms such as ‘TurboPC’ and ‘Turbo Copy’, this means the device has features that enhance and speed up file transfer and copying functions.


This acronym, simply meaning Hard Disk Drive, is often used in product descriptions.

Spindle speed/RPM

You don’t see this very often any more, but if you do then it tells you the speed at which the hard disc spins, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). The higher the number, the faster the drive will work.

Flash Memory

Generally associated with USB sticks, Flash Memory stores data on a static chip, rather than a spinning hard drive. It makes them more resistant to shock, such as being dropped, and also faster when accessing files. So-called Solid-State Drives, using Flash Memory, are now becoming more common in computers instead of a traditional spinning hard drive. But they are a lot more expensive so come in smaller sizes.

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