External Hard Drives: How do I Choose Which One to Buy

Aug 4, 2009
Updated • Nov 29, 2012

Lately, I've realized that my computer is full of data and is close to its limit. Normally, I burn data onto a CD or DVD and then delete it off my system. The problem is that over time, the CDs have developed a few unreadable areas. So, I've pretty much lost a few chunks of data.

To combat this problem, I've decided its time for me to buy an external hard drive. I figure 500 GB is more than enough for me right now. What's confusing me though is choosing which hard drive to buy. I've settled on a 2.5" drive that draws power from the USB port so I won't have to worry about an external power source. After a fair amount of research and considering my budget, I've narrowed my choice down to these two:

Seagate FreeAgent Go
Transcend StoreJet 25M

I'm getting a lot of conflicting reviews about both drives which is why I'm asking the Ghacks readers to help me make my decision. Here are some of my queries:

Multiple OS support: My primary computer runs Windows XP but I also own a laptop that's running Ubuntu. I'd prefer something that works out of the box with both but I'm not averse to a little tweaking if necessary.

Partitioning: Would I need to partition my drive? I'm planning to segregate the data according to its format but can I just copy everything on it or should I create dedicated partitions? Should I leave some space free in case I want to install a portable version of an OS?

Durability: What's the point in spending all that cash if my HD's going to conk out after a while? Is build quality a factor and how long can I expect the drive to last?

What do you think of my choices? Have I missed anything out? What are you using for external storage and are you happy with it? Let me know in the comments.


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  1. Ace Winget said on October 27, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks for the article. These are some good tips. I think external hard drives are great for how flexible they are.

  2. Yonatan Amir said on August 6, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    In the case of larger 3.5″ drives, the power connector should be standard so it’s easy to replace the power supply should it fail or get lost.

  3. Snowdog said on August 6, 2009 at 3:00 am

    I’ve had issues w/ Seagate Freeagent drives on Linux systems. The primary problem is the power saving spin-down that occurs after about 15 min. This can cause access delays, particularly when attempting to use cron jobs for automated backup.

    Workarounds include using sdparm, or a succession of “ls” commands (2 or 3) prior to the commencement of rsync backups to ensure the drive is “awake” prior to attempting file copying.

  4. Pawel said on August 5, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    I use Seagate with few problems on a XP.
    It was Plug and Play really.
    Very nice look.
    Good luck in your decision.

  5. wabbity1 said on August 5, 2009 at 5:38 am

    Another important feature is the ability to spin down the HD (but
    keep the USB connection to the computer alive) during periods
    of inactivity. Some drives can (most major brands’ enclosures
    with HD included), so can’t (nearly all DIY).

  6. Chris said on August 5, 2009 at 2:17 am

    I see that you say that you didn’t include WD among your options because they seem to be more expensive, but perhaps they might end up being more reliable, too. I own three different WD external HDs, one of which is three years old and one of which I use daily and really acts as an external drive for my computer, and I haven’t had a failure on any of them yet.

  7. Beecher Bowers said on August 4, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    I’ve had poor luck with Seagate FreeAgent drives. Multiple failures with different drives. I had to run my last one on an ice pack just to get the data moved off prior to returning it.


  8. Steve said on August 4, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    I have 2 Seagate Freeagent Extremes 1.5 TB Externals. Both drives have
    been very unreliable with one crashed and the other on the way.
    I bought both drives in the past 2 months. The USB interface woks
    OK when the drive(s) work at all. The firewire interface may work
    1 out of 10 times so it is useless. This is the 2nd set of Seagate
    external drives I’ve purchased and in both cases, both sets have
    become useless in just a few months. I also have a set of 500 GB WD
    external USB drives a few years old where 1 drive still works and the
    other has crashed. All of my external drives are used basically like
    my internal drive with little physical stress of movement of the entire
    enclosure and drive
    I also have a 1.5 TB SATA Seagate internal only about 2 months old and
    so far that drive has been trouble free. Still, Seagate drive failure rate has been much to high, I don’t plan to purchase any more Seagate drives.


  9. Matt said on August 4, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    I’m taking a slightly different tack here, so forgive me if I go astray.

    The thing I really want you to understand is that anything you get will fail eventually. Based on how you started your question (an alternative to burning data), I’m thinking that what you’re really looking for here is something like an archival system, which is actually a really difficult problem to tackle. There’s a reason why businesses pay big bucks for off site backups and archival systems.

    IMO, all the prepackaged, external drives that run from USB power on the market today are pretty crappy, which is why you see mixed reviews. If it were me, I’d save my pennies and set up a nice little NAS box with RAID that can just sit in a corner and play nicely, have some decent backup capabilities and potentially be networked and therefore be “portable” wherever there’s an internet connection.

    My $.002

  10. Cheryl said on August 4, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    WD is something I considered but they seem to be more expensive without really offering anything different from the other two. That’s why I didn’t include it.

    Another brand I looked at was Maxtor.

  11. Rarst said on August 4, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Multiple OS support
    Most of external media uses same drivers, not an issue with any modern OS.

    Unless you are going to mess with OS on it, single partition is fine (as for me).

    External hard drives have life span of regular drive being moved around. If it is going to sit on the table – it will live as long. If you are going to throw it into walls – drastically less.

    As for what I use – 1.8″ 80Gb Prestigio Pocket Drive 2 (Toshiba HDD inside). It is expensive toy but I wanted something very small and it is. Quite reliable so far, considering amount of torture my external media gets (I kill good flash drive with overuse every year or so).

  12. kevinn said on August 4, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    I’m more trusting with WD drives. I have two WD Passport Essentials 320gb each, and they’re running fine.

    They’re preformatted to FAT32, so no problems for Linux or Windows to use them out of the box. Still, note about the 4gb limit on files. Partition them all you want to their own respective filesystems – depends on your use.

    I’m also thinking about getting another one or probably the desktop versions of the drive for a file dump.

  13. yosh said on August 4, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    i have to 320gig seagate for awhile, its very slim so noting in the way of shock absorption. its not rugerized by any mean.

    it work well and gets its power via usb, so some notebooks ports dont have enough juice for it, it then goes beep for a while until you are sure its brivcked and get it to another port.

  14. Marc said on August 4, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Seagate have a history of premature failure just after warranty, just like all manufacturers they correct their problems eventually but Seagate has had a very bad customer for this.

    Tanscend, hard to tell, depend on who makes them, where and with which specs, usually Fujitsu makes them so they are relatively reliable but are slower than most others.

    MyBooks from WD have a very low failure rate and WD warranty is hard to beat. They even replaced one of mine even if it was out of warranty. I personally would go for a WD but one thta has less than 1tb, like a 500gigs, they have been around a long time and have been debugged.

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