Buying Guide: Portable Hard Drives

As the world gets more and more digitized, our data storage demands are constantly increasing. In fact, pen drives have almost become an indispensable part of our daily digital lifestyle. But pen drives normally come in smaller capacities of 2 4 and 8GB. You also have pen drives with 16GB but these are rather expensive.

So what do you do when you want to copy all your favorite movies from your friends computer, but face the space constraint? You have an extremely worthy alternative in the form of an external laptop hard drive. A laptop hard drive when coupled with an external enclosure, connects to a computer using a USB port. It’s instantly recognized as a removable device and you don’t have to install any drivers (unless you are using Windows 98, wherein you will have to install the USB drivers). You can then use the laptop hard drive as you normal desktop hard drive by moving or accessing data.

Why do we need an enclosure and why are we using a Laptop Hard Drive?
The enclosure, as the name suggests provides a cover for the hard drive.

IDE to USB Interface on the Enclosure


With an enclosure, you just have to align the hard drive with the interface and screw it back

A laptop hard drive is also known as a 2.5 inch hard drive. In comparison, the hard drives used in desktops are 3.5 inch hard drives. The biggest advantage with a 2.5 inch drive is that when used with an external enclosure, it doesn’t need an external power source and actually powers from the same USB port that it plugs into, to transfer data. In comparison when a 3.5-inch hard drive is used with an external enclosure, it requires an external power source and for that you will need a plug point close to your computer.

For a 3.5-inch hard drive enclosure you need a power adapter to power the drive along with the USB cable for data transfer, whereas a 2.5 inch laptop hard drive powers from the USB port itself.

Besides the 2.5 inch enclosures are just about pocket-able whereas their 3.5-inch counterparts are almost brick sized.


Desktop Hard Drive Enclosure vs. a Laptop Hard Drive Enclosure

You get portable hard drives in much smaller sizes as well, but we are only looking at the 2.5 inch range as it offers the best value for money per GB.

There are two ways by which you can lay your hands on a portable hard drive:

1) Get your own hard drive and Enclosure
With the first option, as mentioned earlier, you get a laptop hard drive and an external casing (you will find it at the same computer store) and assemble it (it’s extremely easy, or if you are still apprehensive, you can ask the computer store guy to do it for you. It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes)

Laptop Hard Drive Buying Guidelines:
Hitachi – The replacement service is very good. In case your hard drive fails to work, give them a call or email them with the hard drive details. If the product is still under warranty, they will send a courier guy at your place who will pick up the hard drive. Within one or two weeks Hitachi will courier back the repaired hard drive. Both, the two and fro courier expense is taken care by them.

Western Digital—The replacement policy is same as above.

Seagate—With Seagate, in case your hard drive goes bad you will have to take it to their service center. After it has been repaired, you will have to go back to pick it up. So we recommend not going in for Seagate, rather you could opt for either the Hitachi or Western Digital.

All the brands carry a 5 year warranty

External Casing or Enclosure
You get an external case from Rs. 200 up to Rs. 1,600 . Remember it's just the case and doesn't include the hard drive . The package includes the enclosure, the USB cable and a cover to put in the enclosure. And all of them come with one year's warranty. The difference lies in the quality of the material used, the transfer speeds achieved and the bundled package (the Vantec NexStar gives a very useful good quality carry bag). There are many generic brands for enclosures costing around Rs. 200. This enclosure is good enough if you are a casual user and reliability is not that much of an issue. For better reliability and throughput or transfer speeds, we recommend branded ones like Vantec and Transcend.

Regular Enclosures (Many brands, any one will do)


Vantec Nexstar

A sleek enclosure with a matte finish

Vantec Nexstar3

Comes in sleek metallic mirror finish with a very useful carry case which also accommodates the cable. It also comes in three metallic colors.

2) Buy a completely finished Product
Under this, the hard drive and the enclosure is sold as a single item by the company. In most cases you will not be able to dismantle the case to replace or exchange the hard drive. And even if you are able to do so, you will void the warranty. All the brands come with a one year warranty.

Western Digital Passport


A French brand known for its styling. These drives are slightly expensive.

There are also finished products from Seagate, Transcend, Iomega, and Buffalo as well, though we didn’t have the pricing on them. You can look for them on their respective websites.

Our Ultimate Suggestion
The thing with finished products is that these only come with one year warranty which includes the hard drive as well. In comparison, the 'hard drive–enclosure' set up will have a separate 5 year warranty for the hard drive and one year for the enclosure. Besides, you can also upgrade the hard drive to a larger size whenever you want, without causing the warranty to go void.

We chose the Hitachi 80GB for its wide availability, good support and excellent value for money. And coupled it with the Vantec's NexStar enclosure, its a killer deal. The NexStar was chosen mostly for its neat looks (mirror metallic finish), good transfer speeds, reliability of operation and an excellent carry case which also accommodates the USB cable.

Published Date: Oct 13, 2010 10:52 am | Updated Date: Oct 13, 2010 10:52 am