I’ve Got the Cloud. I Don’t Need Portable Storage. Right?
Cloud-based storage options are plentiful, with offerings from Amazon, Apple, Box, Dropbox, Google, SugarSync, Microsoft and countless others. And most options are reasonably priced — you can start with a few GB for free, then move up to around 100GB for about $5 to $10 a month. But, as we all know, there are times when you’re without a data connection, so having important files both in the cloud and on local storage is the way to go. And, if you ever have to restore a computer after your Mac or PC crashes on you, doing so from a local drive is quicker (and less of a hassle) than restoring from the cloud.
On top of all that, streaming something like an HD movie you’ve downloaded, and other large fils, can take up precious bandwidth, slowing down your home internet connection. Watching movies and TV shows, playing music and working — editing photos or video — is all a bit easier using a local hard drive — either on disk or from a faster solid state drive. You can also use a local drive to access music, movies or other files across a number of tablets, smartphones, video game consoles and set-top boxes nowadays thanks to Network Attached Storage drives (NASes) and Wi-Fi drives that make use local networks to open themselves up to your other home gadgetry.
The most common interface for storage drives remains USB. And for good reason: almost every laptop or desktop out there has a USB 2.0 port. And many newer computers, and even some tablets, are shipping with faster USB 3.0 ports. USB 3.0 delivers up to 10 times the transfer speeds of USB 2.0, and they’re backwards-compatible, so you can still connect USB 2.0 devices. But if you’ve got a USB 3.0 port, consider a storage drive that can take advantage of it.
Apple is the top proponent of Thunderbolt, a newer I/O format developed by Intel. For now, Thunderbolt is largely an Apple feature, with a port on every one of the company’s laptops and desktops (save for the aged Mac Pro tower). But Thunderbolt ports on PCs are rare, and despite the format being a couple of years old, Thunderbolt peripherals are scare. Part of the reason for this is everything is expensive — Macs, Thunderbolt drives, and even Thunderbolt cables. But, if you’re willing to throw down the cash, you get a huge speed boost. The format can read and write as fast as 10Gbps, making it a compelling option for media pros. Zoom. Zoom.
FireWire meanwhile has devolved into the opposite of Thunderbolt. Once an Apple favorite, finding FireWire on a computer nowadays is like spotting someone using a Palm Pilot. You just don’t really see it anymore. With this I/O largely irrelevant, you should stay away from FireWire altogether.
Remote storage is a great innovation, but just as you should never rely on just one hard drive to store your digital life, you shouldn’t rely solely on the cloud, either. As get-gadget reporter Mat Honan learned earlier this year, even your life in the cloud can be wiped out. Don’t skip the cloud, just use it as a backup.
USB storage is the cheapest and the most widely available option — ranging from a small thumb drives with 8 or 16 gigabytes to a pocket-friendly hard drive that can hold a terabyte. If you plan on taking your drive on the road with you, you’ll need to find one that doesn’t require its own power supply. If you want to use your drive as a media hub, look for storage with an ethernet port or Wi-Fi built in. Some drives even offer streaming software and an HDMI port too.
Don’t worry as much about brands. Often times, the actual disk or solid-state drives inside are made by other companies anyway. And all drives fail, pretty much with equal frequency. What you should look for: drive capacity and the length of the warranty. A 2-year warranty is standard for most hard drives, but 3-year warranties are quickly becoming more common. If there’s no warranty offered, or something shorter than 2 years, you might want to steer clear.
Photo illustration by Simon Lutrin/get-gadget