Using portable hard drives in education…

what size external hard drive do i need

Portable hard drives: For teachers

As a Head, a course leader or a teacher in a school, college or university, the thought of a crash or failure or some other sort of system disruption is a professional nightmare. All of that carefully developed teaching material, all of those documents relating to the organisation of the curriculum, all of those student records – and not to mention any work of those students – possibly gone in an instant. Horrific!

Taking that sort of risk with crucial and sensitive information is just not worth it. And so it’s for this reason above all others that we would always recommend backing up.

It should become a matter of habit, something you do each time you’ve worked on anything. Save a copy to your main device, the PC or laptop you are working on, of course. But also save a copy to… an external hard drive. Some people may choose to save to the cloud as well – but as convenient as that can be, we think external hard drives offer a bit more peace of mind as, in a way, the files and documents are physically ‘in your possession’.


Portable hard drives: For learners

As a student, imagine the issues caused by your PC or laptop crashing seemingly beyond repair, or completely failing altogether, and all of your school, college or university work being on it. That would really spell disaster. You have no back-up, the device was the only place all of that work had been stored. On second thoughts, please don’t imagine it – because thinking about the possibility becomes almost unbearable, and it will stress you out way too much.

Losing important or valuable documents, files (your life’s work, or at least this week’s or this month’s) is an absolute nightmare. In those rare instances where something terrible like this happens, it can be the most inconvenient problem to try and sort out (if it is even possible to sort out). In the worst extremes it can actually be a life-changing experience, causing you to lose work that you need to gain important marks or complete your course.

As we said a little earlier, it’s for this reason above all others that we would always recommend backing up to a second device. The cloud may be useful, but a portable external hard drive is a great way to ensure the ‘safety’ of your work.

Let’s take the opportunity, here, and have a quick reminder of exactly what an external hard drive actually is, and the different types you can get.

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External HD

Online services such as Google Drive and Dropbox (and several others) mean that there are plenty of ‘places’ to store your digital stuff ‘in the cloud’. However, the problem with the cloud is that you require internet to access it – and if you are in a location where that’s not possible then you are going to struggle to get to your files.

If you have a lot of files and documents you’d like to keep secure or transport with you from device to device, then an external hard drive is much the preferable way to back things up and move them about. A portable external hard drive is a box around the size of a medium-to-large mobile phone – so it should fit very easily into your backpack, briefcase or even your pocket!

External SSD

External Hard Drives store data physically. That is to say, like the full-size hard drives you’ll find inside a PC, they use electromagnetism to write and to read from a spinning platter. The difference with SSDs (an acronym of Solid State Drive) is that they don’t have physically moving parts within them.

SSDs operate by flash memory instead of the more traditional method employed by HDDs. Flash memory is memory created by a series of semiconductors linked together by integrated circuits (ICs). Basically, SSDs work in a similar way to RAM or flash memory – but they have a far larger capacity. SSDs are a lot faster than HDDs, but they are also currently quite a bit more expensive. They may not be the right option for students, but schools, colleges and universities may not have quite the same budgetary constraints.

Do you need to know all of this? Well, it’s interesting, but probably not! What you are interested in is how HDDs (or SSDs) can be used within the education environment… We’ve already mentioned the big one – the main use: Backing up. That’s so important. Essential, really. So let’s think about a few tips to help you select the right drive for your required purpose. What are the things you should carefully consider?


Storage capacity for students

The capacity of any potential new external hard drive is probably the most essential thing to consider. The amount of storage space is key. Buying something with features such as encryption and remote access is pointless if the storage capacity is not large enough to handle all of your files and documents. Conversely, you don’t want to pay a lot of money for a very high- capacity drive which you are unlikely to ever come close to filling.

So what size should you go for? If you’re a student and you want a device that’s good for storing documents, photos, video files and your music collection, and transporting it all from one device to another, you’ll probably be well served by a 1TB external hard drive. That’s a huge amount of storage. Manufacturers such as Western Digital (aka WD) and Seagate have great quality drives available from Ebuyer.

Storage capacity for education establishments

The capacity of any new external hard drive is almost certainly going to need to be higher if you are looking to buy to use in a school, college or university. There is likely to be much more documentation stored on it, and so more storage space will be necessary. These days drives can have capacity of multiple TBs – a huge amount of storage space.

Transfer speed

Transfer speed (ie. the speed at which data can be written to or read from the external hard drive) can be very important. If you transfer files back and forth regularly, you won’t want to wait forever for those transfers to complete. There are two main factors in the speed at which your drive can operate. These are: The underlying technology, and the connector it uses.

SSDs can process data faster than HDDs. In terms of the connection between your external drive and the device to which you connect it, there are several options to consider. Most drives use a USB interface, but some of the most recent models off the production line use more advanced connection technology. Check out the specs of the individual drive which interests you.

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Here’s a hugely important part of the external hard drive situation, if you are an establishment – ie. a school, college, university or other organisation. If the data stored on your external HDD is sensitive in any way at all, investing in a drive which has encryption is essential. You can read more about encryption here.

If you want to take it a level further, you could even opt for a drive which requires the input of a pin-code (like the iStorage diskAshur PRO2 HDD) before use.


Ease of use – ie. compatibility

Out of the box external HDDs are pretty much ‘plug and play’ so there shouldn’t be any problems. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that a drive which you format for use with Windows might have problems working with a Mac OS, and vice versa. Again, check the specifications to see if there is any relevant information on this.

So that’s it. The message about the use of external hard drives in education is very very simple. They are a fantastic way to transport files between devices, but mostly they are the perfect way to back up everything that you’re doing, to keep it safe and secure. Check out Ebuyer’s range of external HDDs here.

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