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What to Look for When Searching for an External Hard Drive for Windows XP

March 21, 2009

in computer hardware,data storage and recovery

by Tina Gasperson

If you store photos, videos, and other multimedia files on your computer, or you’re a computer gamer, chances are you’ll need extra hard drive space at some point. You don’t have to buy a new computer to gain that space, or install a new interior hard drive. External hard drives are inexpensive, portable, and very easy to use.

Most external hard drives have a USB connection, making them compatible with virtually any computer. Installing it is a matter of running the installation program on the included CD, then plugging in the drive. All external USB hard drives now being made use the newer high-speed USB 2.0, but these will still work with your system even if it is an older one that only has the slower USB 1.1. You may find a good deal on a hard drive that runs using the Firewire interface, but I recommend you stick with USB, since Firewire is just about obsolete, and chances are you don’t have Firewire capability anyway.

Buy as much space as you can afford, because you’ll get more use out of your hard drive that way. You may not think you’ll ever use a whole terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of storage, but the very thing that is motivating you to look for an external hard drive in the first place can end up being the reason you may actually need that much space in the not too distant future. The last thing you want to do is buy a hard drive that is too small, run out of space again and have to buy another one before too long.

Look for a hard drive that has a decent cache size. The cache is similar to the virtual memory on your computer – it’s a place to store extra data while the hard drive is busy. The larger your cache, the rarer it will be that you’ll have to “wait” on your hard drive to finish an operation. If you’re using the hard drive mainly for backup or overflow multimedia storage, cache size is not as much of an issue. But if you’re using it to run applications, spend the money on a larger cache. You’ll be glad you did.

Tina Gasperson (, affectionately known as Computer Lady by her family, has been writing about IT, home computing, and the Internet for more than a decade.