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It's a data storage device. Similar to the one inside your laptop or desktop computer, except an external hard drive lives outside your computer in its own enclosure.
There are 2 types of external hard drives: 3.5" and 2.5". The 3.5-inch or desktop external hard drive needs a separate power connection to work. So it's meant to stay in one place such as workspace at home or your office. The 2.5-inch or portable external hard drive draws its power from its USB connection and doesn't need a separate power connection to work. This helps gives the 2.5-inch drive its small form factor making it light and portable.
Lots of reasons. External hard drives are handy for adding more storage space to your desktop computer or laptop without needing to know how to install an internal hard drive. They're also good for backing up important files, keeping collections (music, movies, or photos) organized, file sharing, improving your workflow, and so on.
More than you might think. Beyond simply knowing how much storage space you need (or want), consider connectivity: USB 2.0? USB 3.0? Thunderbolt? Firewire? Wireless? Does the drive need a separate power connection? Also think about spindle speed and cache memory size: More RPMs and RAM give you better performance.
Most external drives will work cross platform. But make sure that the drive you want to purchase will work with all of your systems whether it's Windows, Mac, or both. Also, know what format the drive you are purchasing uses, NTFS or FAT32. Both have their pros and cons, but some formats get along better with certain operating systems than others.
Desktop versus portable is a lot like asking: Marvel versus DC? While both are awesome, each offers something different for everyone.
Desktop drives have the largest capacities available. This means they are great for active users who transfer and store lots of data. Some desktop drives feature built-in cooling fans that helps extend the drive's lifespan.
Portable drives are just that - extremely portable. Some even have rugged enclosures that are water-, shock-, and crush-proof, making them ideal for those who need to store or transport files in inhospitable conditions.
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