What is an External Hard Drive? You need an external hard drive to help organize your photos. Why? You have photos everywhere. Your computer. Your old computer. Maybe the computer before that. Digital cameras. Teeny tiny camera cards getting lost in the junk drawer. Thumb drives. DVDs. Even old floppy drives! Did you have some printed photos scanned? Those are now digital, too. On the cloud. Or maybe on a few clouds, you aren’t even sure anymore. Let’s explain what is an external hard drive and how EHDs help organize photos.
What is an External Hard Drive?
Technology is a moving target. As of 2023, this external hard drive will meet the needs of most of my clients. (affiliate link) I always buy hard drives in a bright color, if available, to make them easier to find on my desk.
Digital photography has only been around for about 15 years, and we’ve all used many different types of digital storage in just a few short years. The price of storage devices has come down as they’ve gotten larger capacity, but not all of us were watching where all of those photos ended up, and now we feel like we have a big mess. Sometimes we might have copied photos from one place to another, but that only made the mess bigger, since now we’ve almost certainly got duplicates!
What to Look for in an EHD
Organize all of your photo and video mess with an External Hard Drive, or EHD for short. The many brands of EHDs, for the most part, are roughly equal in performance for the average user. An EHD will cost about $100-$120 for about 5 Terabytes of storage (as of 2023). Purchase an external hard drive on Amazon or wherever you get your computer supplies locally, including big box stores like BestBuy and warehouse stores like Costco.
What is an External Hard Drive? The don’t look like much. EHDs are about the size of a wallet, and they just sit on the desk and plug into your computer with a USB cord. For the last couple of decades, standard drives in a reasonable size have always been around $100, but we’ve gone from recommending a minimum storage capacity of 500 GB years ago to now a minimum of 2 TB of storage. Four and five TB are better.
What is external hard drive software and is it included?
What is the software on an external hard drive? Backup software might already be installed. As of 2021, WD Elements do not include backup software, while the WD Passports do. Similarly, the Seagate Basic line does not include backup software, but the Seagate Backup Plus line does.
Whatever brand you buy, you don’t need their backup software, because your computer also has a backup program already on it! Here’s an article on using your PC’s backup program. I also wrote an article on how to backup your Mac using Time Machine, the free backup software that comes on every Mac. If you purchase a drive without backup software and you want to use it, you can download the backup program from the drive company website (usually for free), and carry on!
Do you need an external hard drive formatted for PC or Mac?
An EHD is an economical way to increase the storage capacity of your computer. You plug it in, and your computer will see it as another drive, like the D: drive instead of your computer’s default C: drive (or Apple Home drive).
The easiest thing to do is purchase a drive that is formatted for a PC or a Mac, and it will be plug-and-play right out of the box. It will tell you on the box how it is formatted. You can also reformat an EHD to work on both a PC and a Mac, usually through some menus within the hard drive’s pre-installed software. There are also plenty of tutorials on the web that can walk you through reformatting an external hard drive. It’s not hard.
Just remember that you don’t want to re-format your drive that already has your pictures on it, or it will delete them forever!
What is an External Hard Drive marked SSD?
What is an External Hard Drive if it’s marked SSD? Solid State Drives are a bit different because they have no internal moving parts. The internal disks do not spin, which means they don’t wear out in the same way or as fast as regular, non-SSD drives. They are smaller, lighter and faster. They are also able to withstand some drops, bumps, and shocks without losing data. They also are more expensive, often double the price of standard drives for the same storage capacity. If portability and durability in rugged conditions is important to you, an SSD might be worth it. By rugged, I mean if you take your computer to the shore house every weekend. Investing in an SSD is an extra layer of protection for your data. Need a starting point? Start here to choose an SSD drive for your photos. (Affiliate link)
What is an External Hard Drive used for?
There are a few ways that you can use an EHD to help with organizing your photos. You will only use ONE of the options below with any given drive.
- You can plug it in, and move all of your existing photos onto just the drive, in order to remove them from your computer. You can then tell your computer that all new photos should be stored on the EHD. You’ll save space on your computer this way.
- You can use the drive’s installed software (or the backup software on your computer) to run a periodic or continuous backup of all or some of the data on your computer. In this case, you decide how often the backup occurs, and what is getting backed up. But you don’t save space on your main computer, because the external hard drive is just holding backups, or exact copies of your photos and other documents on your computer.
- You can use a hard drive as a parking lot to place all of your various photos onto, wherever they are from. You can gather all of your photos together from your computers, your thumb drives, disks, and even downloads from cloud services. This is a great tool, because once gathered together, you can then use a software program to remove duplicates, and then you can finally have all of your photos in one place. Once you’ve gathered them together and organized your photos (and documents if you like), you can set that drive aside and treat it like you would a safe deposit box: insurance for your most important info.
Do you Still Need a Cloud Backup?
In any of the above scenarios, one copy is never enough. If possible, you always want to backup your computer, and also backup your EHD to another source. Sad but true, computers and EHD’s could both will break at some point. It’s just how they are made. They could break in 5 minutes, 5 months, 5 years, 15 years, or any point in between. You just never know.
Most hard drives only last between 10 and 15 years, but many die before then. Don’t take chances, and make sure that you have a backup of what’s on your EHD, even if your EHD is the backup! Services like Carbonite and Backblaze (affiliate link) are good cloud services to backup everything on your computer.
Professional Photo Organizers like members of The Photo Managers (formerly APPO) recommend using the 3-2-1 rule: at least 3 copies of your photos on 2 different types of media, with at least one copy stored off-site/in a cloud service.
Tip: An External Hard Drive only works if you plug it in.
Bottom line, an EHD is a relatively inexpensive tool to use to help you organize a lifetime of photos, however you choose to use it in your home or business.
Ready to buy an EDH? Start with this external hard drive and shop for the size and features that will meet your needs. (affiliate link) Note: these products change all the time, so if that link doesn’t work, please contact me for an updated recommendation, or look for an external drive with at least 4 TB.
Affiliate links send you to products that I recommend, and I may earn a percentage of sales, but you don’t pay more for my expert recommendation.