Help me find a good exteranl hard drive
December 6, 2013 11:59 PM   Subscribe

The current external hard drive I have is "WD' brand that I got at best buy and I'm not happy with it. I am looking for a external hard drive that is easy to use for someone not that great with computers and I can back up my computer with it, that has the ability to be encrypted, is reliable, is ideally available locally at a place like best buy, must have a metal case, not a plastic one (the one I have now heats up and smells like burning plastic) Also bonus points if it has a fan in it. I have a PC not a mac, so it should be for a PC. Also I am not sure if I want to but one of those large external hard drives you leave attached or the smaller pocket sized one so any pro's and con's of both would be great.
posted by john123357 to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Any hard drive will work with Mac or PC.

As for encryption, that's up to the software; I don't know of any drives that do this automatically, and I'm not sure I'd want them to. Encryption is notoriously difficult to implement correctly, and very subtle mistakes can compromise much of your security. A software approach gives you more choice (you don't have to rely on one company being good at both hardware and at encryption) and more updatability. TrueCrypt is a reasonable candidate.

As for metal-housing hard drives, Lacie makes some (e.g.). I have basically that one, and it works great for me, but according to the reviews other people have been having trouble. You shouldn't need a fan in a hard drive housing. They generally don't use more than 10W of power, which should be easy to dissipate passively. That's comparable to the amount of heat a 3rd gen iPad generates when playing graphically intensive games. A fan means move moving parts to get clogged with dust, and more noise.
posted by aubilenon at 1:36 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. There's quite a few options out there. Western Digital (WD) is a pretty great brand in my experience. Good warranty etc.

2. Not sure why the whole thing regarding a metal case? Never had a problem and I like to keep my gear easily transported so metals weight I'd hate to add.

3. Formatting isn't an issue between mac and PC. You can plug an external into either and it'll work fine.

4. Any data you store on a HDD can be encrypted using something like Truecrypt, so don't think you need specifics there.

In most cases, pocket drives are handy for transport, as I said I like to be able to pick up and go.
You might want to give folks some ideas regarding what you're looking at for size, expected usage etc. Myself, I'd grab this guy

One option that can be REALLY handy is getting an enclosure that allows you to turn any normal HDD into a USB based external drive. If anything happens to your system between backups that renders your main drive unbootable, you can just swap things about and go. I haven't played with it in a bit, so I'm not sure what the best option is there.
posted by ThrowbackDave at 1:36 AM on December 7, 2013

3. Formatting isn't an issue between mac and PC. You can plug an external into either and it'll work fine.

Well macs don't do great with NTFS. If you want to share files between both operating systems you should probably use exFat.
posted by aubilenon at 1:38 AM on December 7, 2013

Response by poster: To ThrowbackDave I want a metal case becasue the WD one I have now has a plastic case (I think it might even be ABS plastic which is notoriously sensitive to heat) and it smells like burning plastic when it heats up when doing large file transfers.
posted by john123357 at 2:46 AM on December 7, 2013

There's really only two hard drive manufacturers in the world now. Western Digital and Seagate. Apparently Toshiba still make them too, but I haven't seen one in a long time. And their products are pretty much equivalent, unless you're a PC performance die-hard who wants to get that extra 2% performance.

As for the metal case, it really shouldn't matter. If it smells like burning plastic, something is wrong and you should probably take it back to the place you bought it from. I have three 2.5" hard drives in plastic cases which run constantly, and I never smell burning plastic.

As for encryption, as said above, that's a software issue, not a hardware issue. Truecrypt is good, or if you really want to encrypt the whole disk, you're gonna gave to pay for software to do it.
posted by Diag at 3:45 AM on December 7, 2013

I was too late to edit my post, but I wanted to start it with explaining that there are two formats of hard disk - 3.5" and 2.5"... 3.5" is slowly dying, but there's still a good chance your computer has a 3.5" disk inside it.

As for external disks, generally, a 3.5" hard drive will need it's own power supply - ie, you need to plug it into a power point. 2.5" drives can get their power from USB, so don't need their own power cord. That's a key differentiator and something you should be aware of if you're in the market for a hard drive.
posted by Diag at 3:55 AM on December 7, 2013

When I need an external drive, I'll generally buy a nice external case from Vantec and mount a bare drive inside it. Seagate, Samsung and WD are all fine; I've had enough Hitachi drives grow bad blocks at an alarming rate that I avoid those now. Vantec makes USB3 enclosures for both 2.5" and 3.5" drives.

An external 3.5" drive will need its own 12V power supply (these come with the cases); 2.5" drives are generally powered from USB. The 2.5" cases usually come with a double-plug USB cable, allowing you to fit and use drives whose power requirements exceed the rating of a single USB port.

Seagate had a run of drives with a nasty firmware bug that occasionally made them self-brick, but I absolutely don't hold that against them; drive firmware is complex, the bug manifested quite rarely and would have been ridiculously difficult to test for, and honestly could have happened to anybody. What I did find out from encountering it, though, was that Seagate's handling of warranty claims was absolutely first-class: they supplied return packaging and paid for all shipping, and the drive was repaired and returned promptly with all data intact.
posted by flabdablet at 4:30 AM on December 7, 2013

By the way, your existing WD external drive will have a standard SATA mechanism inside, which you could take out and mount in one of the Vantec enclosures if you're handy with a small screwdriver.

You don't need specific computer skills for this (everything only fits together one way) but you do need patience; the WD enclosures tend to contain a lot of flimsy sheet metal stuck to the drives with double sided foam tape, and the way the plastic shells clip together is not immediately obvious. You'll most likely find disassembly instructions for whatever model you have on YouTube.

WD is unlikely to honor the warranty on a drive you've taken apart, though.
posted by flabdablet at 4:35 AM on December 7, 2013

If you're not into DIY even slightly, Buffalo makes good external drives. Not sure whose mechanisms they use.
posted by flabdablet at 4:41 AM on December 7, 2013

WD drives are pretty dependable, in my experience. I use one of these to power/swap drives. About as easy as it gets.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:13 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

No matter what drive you get, you can use CrashPlan for free to make great automated backups. I don't know for sure, but I believe they're encrypted. Although that might only be for their cloud storage option.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:48 AM on December 7, 2013

Make your own. This is the enclosure I have, and I love it. Easy to clean, and never overheats. I've been using it as my active (meaning I never turn it off) network media drive for over a year and it's been great.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:54 AM on December 7, 2013

Response by poster: G-Technology, and Fantom Drives appear to have aluminum cases, what is the quality of these external hard drives?
posted by john123357 at 12:45 PM on December 7, 2013

posted by jindc at 4:10 PM on December 7, 2013

I use WD portable 1TB drives for personal backup. They have never smelled like burning plastic (and I do huge data transfers due to the nature of my work). They use 2x500gb 2.5" drives, draw power over USB (and transfer over USB 3.0, which is your best all purpose format), and come formatted either for Mac or PC (you can always reformat), with included and solid encryption and drive locking software. They are tiny, weigh nothing, come with a carrying case and USB 3 cable, and I have probably transferred petabytes of data onto and off of those drives over the past ca 2 years. One always travels with me, even under rugged conditions. -- so far super durable. They're silent. And they cost like $100. Best portable drives I've ever owned. I think they are called "Passport." They use off the shelf WD 500gb 5400rpm laptop hdds in a striped raid pair (I may have set mine up that way, I forget how they shipped). I recommend them to all my colleagues stung by the loss of drive space on new SSD-equipped laptops.

But just to reiterate, I've never smelled "burning plastic" from these or any of the other 6-8 WD externals in my life. Your drive may be failing and/or a fire hazard. Get your data backed up and stop using it. I've seen drives smoke and burn before. It's always fatal.
posted by spitbull at 10:12 AM on December 15, 2013

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