Not to date myself, but when I was preparing for my freshman year of college, the textbook and materials for my major included a zip disk. This was 2004, and USB drives were on the cusp of becoming mainstream. But at the time, a 250MB disk was considered a massive amount of external storage. How could someone ever fill it up completely?
Flash forward a little over a decade, and memory needs look very different (even though zip disks are still available for purchase). Anyone can create 250 MB of content just using their smartphone on vacation in a day. Music, photos, videos, and other apps have broached the border of fundamental to a normal day. But knowing what to buy for what purpose can be daunting. Is a custom flashdrive the best option? Or should you go all out with an external hard drive? How safe is my data in the cloud?
Let’s break it down.
Choosing the Right External Storage Option
When it comes to external storage options, we’re usually talking about a few different options:
- Cloud storage
Data is stored on remote servers accessed by the Internet. They’re maintained and managed by whomever the provider is…Dropbox, Google, etc.
- USB drives
Basically a tiny hard drive. Portable and contains ever-increasing storage.
- External SSD
Solid state drives (SSD) use a different format for storage than hard disk drives, but typically have less storage than hard drives. Portable as well, but less so than a USB drive.
- External hard drive
External hard drives are typically used to back up computers or serve as a separate network drive. They have the highest storage capacities.
So what should be used and where? Basically, PC World recommends different tools for different jobs. Saving a spreadsheet or document to access at another location with internet access? Cloud. When you want to move files from one computer to another and a network is reliable or practical, use an SSD or USB drive. And when it comes to backup, hard drives are the most reliable and stable.
To drill down a little deeper, questions of price and potential for physical damage come into play. Hard drives provide the most storage for the dollar, but you can’t hook an external hard drive on your key chain like custom flashdrives. External storage is as much about how you use technology as it was about how much you need to access.
Finding the External Storage Sweet Spot
Essentially, choose the option that fits your budget and your lifestyle. If you need a back up option, a 2TB hard drive might be $100. Flashdrives and SSDs will easily cost twice that…and probably with less storage. However, if you need mobility, SSDs and flashdrives are the way to go.