Which is better – an expensive or a cheap external hard drive?

Portable hard drives have been popular for over two decades. During this time, the volumes, data transfer rates and interface have grown. Now on sale it is extremely rare to find a drive with a volume of less than 1 TB with an interface that differs from USB 3.0. But at the same time, some models are cheaper, while others are significantly more expensive. What influences the price of outsiders, besides the volume? And is there a difference between expensive and cheap models?

Form factor
Determining factor for hard drive usage scenarios. There are two types – 2.5 and 3.5 inches.

The vast majority of portable hard drives are available in the 2.5-inch form factor. They are lightweight, small and do not require additional power, being satisfied with the power from the USB cable. Used as a base, notebook hard drives are less afraid of shocks and vibrations than their “big” brothers. It is convenient to carry such devices, many even fit into the pocket of jeans or a shirt. These slim models have a capacity of up to 2 TB. More capacious models differ only in thickness (instead of 1 cm – 1.5-2 cm), but the maximum capacity is also higher – up to 5 TB.

2 TB External HDD Toshiba Canvio Basics [HDTB420EK3AA] 4 699 *
3.5-inch models are mainly used for archival storage. Such disks are quite large and heavy, and require an electrical outlet to operate. The power transmitted by the USB is not enough to run them, so an additional external power supply is used. Representatives of this type are found in volumes up to 20 TB, there are also “dual” models with two hard drives inside – their capacity can reach 40 TB. True, these models can be called portable rather conditionally.

4 TB External HDD Seagate Expansion [STEB4000200] 7 299 *
Larger drives are usually cheaper in terms of the cost per GB of information, but they have narrower use cases. 3.5-inch models are designed more for data archiving and backup. If you wish, you can take them with you, but you will hardly be able to carry them all the time and use them everywhere – due to their size, weight and the need for an electrical outlet. Models of the 2.5-inch form factor can be taken with you almost everywhere, and they do not need additional power – this is your choice if you need to always have a drive at hand.
















The “More expensive is faster” rule does not work for portable hard drives. Modern 2.5-inch disks have read and write speeds of 110-130 MB / s at the beginning of the disc, 3.5-inch drives are almost twice as fast – about 200-250 MB / s. By the end of the volume, the speed drops to 50-60 Mb / s and 100-110 Mb / s, respectively. The mechanics of magnetic drives are almost at their peak, and there is no difference in data transfer rates between cheap and expensive hard drives within the same form factor.

There can be a slight difference only when comparing old and new models, and even there it rarely exceeds 10-15%. The reason is that the newer models use “pancakes” with a slightly higher recording density. But you will not find frankly old models on sale, so when choosing a new disc, there will be no such difference between different models.

1 TB External HDD Seagate Basic [STJL1000400] 3 699 *
Large drives are expectedly faster, but as stated above, they are not particularly portable.

Connection options

The connection interface for modern hard drives is the same – USB 3.0. Old drives with USB 2.0 have long since sunk into oblivion, and newer versions of the interface – USB 3.2 Gen 2 and USB 3.2 Gen 2.2 – are superfluous for hard drives, because the latter simply do not need such transfer rates. And, although the marketing materials of new models proudly indicate “USB 3.2 Gen 1” – this is nothing more than a new name for the good old USB 3.0 with data transfer rates up to 5 Gb / s.

But the options for connecting drives to devices are still different, as are the connectors on the hard drives themselves. The mainstream 2.5-inch models have a micro USB Type-B connector on the side of the drive and a regular USB Type-A for connecting to devices. For 3.5-inch models, this is also the case, but on the side of the device there is a full-size USB Type-B. Specialized models are equipped with USB Type-C at both ends of the connection for connection to the new universal Type-C socket. The widest functionality is provided by disks, which come with two cables – with USB Type-A and USB Type-C connectors on the side of connection to devices.

To connect to the vast majority of computers and laptops, mass models with USB Type-A are sufficient. For modern laptops and computers that have a USB-Type C port, it is wise to purchase a model with the appropriate connection cable. Devices with two types of cables are universal and allow you to connect to all kinds of gadgets without the need to use adapters.

Body material
Typically, entry-level hard drives are equipped with a plastic enclosure. In the cheapest drives, simple plastic is used, in models a little more expensive – plastic with a corrugated texture or a simulation of a soft touch rubber coating. Above models have a body partly or entirely of thin metal, most often aluminum. Above are models with a thick metal case, as well as models with a combined rubber and plastic / metal case. The latter also have additional protective properties, which are discussed below.

1 TB External HDD Verbatim Store ‘n’ Go ALU [53663] 5 799 *
The working functions of the hard disk do not depend on the material of the case, but its appearance and tactile sensations when taken in hands depend. Plastic is easily scratched and cracked, but has a minimal cost. The metal is durable, although sometimes it scratches just as well. But a deep scratch when dropped or hit, which will touch the inside of the disc, is very difficult to leave, unlike plastic. Rubber-backed drives are best protected and are often waterproof.

Impact protection
Models with a combined rubber casing are often marketed as shockproof. This is only partly true – if such a drive falls in the on state, of course, nothing will happen to the case itself. But the hard drive inside can be damaged in the same way as in an unprotected model. But in the off mode during storage, shock protection really helps: the rubber casing softens vibrations transmitted to the hard drive, and damaging the rubber itself is much more difficult than other casing materials.

1 TB External HDD A-Data HD650 [AHD650-1TU31-CBK] 3 899 *
If you constantly carry the drive in your bag and travel with it in vehicles, the shock protection can smooth out the jolts and small shocks without damaging the drive. It has only one drawback – such disks are much heavier and larger in size than their unprotected counterparts.

Water and dust resistant

These models are included in the subcategory of shockproof models. They are more expensive than conventional shock-resistant disks, but they will not allow foreign small particles and liquids to enter the drive.

4 TB External HDD A-Data HD710 Pro [AHD710P-4TU31-CBK] 8 050 *
This model is recommended if you plan to operate the disc in a high humidity or dusty environment. Otherwise, you can save on this option.

Backup button
Many lines of models above the baseline have a built-in backup button. It makes it possible to start a backup of the necessary information with one click, without wasting time on manual copying. The set with such disks comes with proprietary software that allows you to configure the parameters of the information being backed up.

2 TB External HDD Transcend StoreJet 25H3 [TS2TSJ25H3] 5 699 *
In case you frequently back up your data, models with a backup button are definitely your choice.

User data protection systems
There are two types – software and hardware.

The first is the encryption software pre-written to the drive. This software is supplied with most hard drives. But even in the absence of it, you can use free alternatives that are in no way inferior.

But the hardware protection system is much more interesting. They consist in an additional built-in device for user authorization, which will not give access to the disk in the absence of correct data. This is usually a fingerprint reader or PIN pad.

1 TB External HDD Verbatim Fingerprint Secure [53650] 9 099 *
It is definitely not worth choosing a disk based on the criterion of a data encryption program previously recorded on it – even if it is absent, this drawback can be eliminated on its own. Devices with hardware protection in this regard are much more interesting and will not allow third parties to gain access to your disk without the need to encrypt the file system. But the price of such devices also bites, so you should pay attention to this option only if you will actually use it.

As you can see, the hardware characteristics of different models do not change – perhaps in different form factors, which is due to the different sizes of drives installed inside. Choosing a portable hard drive, the user pays for the comfort of its use: appearance, case material, physical protection and protection of information, as well as additional options for connecting to devices.

Basic models are sufficient for home and office use. If the disc is constantly being carried, then take a closer look at models with protection against shock and vibration, or at least models with a metal case. For high humidity environments, it is wise to purchase a disc that is water and dust resistant. For frequent backups, a disk with a corresponding hardware button will be convenient. If you plan to work with devices equipped with a Type-C connector, then you should choose a model with the appropriate connection option, so that you do not look for adapters later. To work with confidential information and conditions of access to the disk by unauthorized persons, it is best to take a disk with hardware data protection.