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Using External Hard Drive

by jneenan / April 13, 2008 7:31 AM PDT

Hi I was wondering what the proper way of using an external hard drive is to avoid anything going wrong with the data. Can it be plugged in, or turned on and off whenever? or does it have to be turned on before the computer starts up. Also, I have heard that if the power source is unplugged, that you can lose all your data, is this true, and if so, how can you protect your data from blackouts?

Mine is USB connected, with an on/off switch.

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To get a still better picture ...
by Kees Bakker / April 13, 2008 7:50 AM PDT

one question. Is the deviced powered via the USB cable, or does it have a separate power cord, or even a separate adapter?

And what you heard certainly is untrue. I use my external hard disk for backup, and most of the time it's just lieing around in a drawer of my desk at my work. Hard disk don't lose data when disconnected. Neither do USB-sticks, by the way.

What you certainly should know, is that an external hard disk somehow is less reliable than an internal hard disk (in your computers case). It's a bad idea to use any hard disk to store the ONLY copy of any data you don't want to lose and it's a VERY bad idea to do so on an external disk. So whatever data you put on it, be sure to have at least one backup copy elsewhere.

I realize this is not an answer to your primary question about switching on/of and (dis)connecting. If you answer the question I started with, I'm sure somebody will give you a good answer.


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It has a separate power cord with adapter
by jneenan / April 13, 2008 8:06 AM PDT

The external HD has its own power cable with an adapter. What I meant when I said that I heard that I might lose the data if it was unplugged is that I heard that if the power to the drive was unplugged while it was being used then I might lose the data. Obviously I wouldn't just unplug the power, but if there was a blackout in my building then there would be no power coming into it.

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That's true.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / April 13, 2008 8:14 AM PDT

Losing power during a write is a bad thing. There is something we can do to help and that is to use a damage resistant file system. Some drives come in FAT32 and those have been known to vanish on an unplug or power loss. You want to move to NTFS for more damage resistance.

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by jneenan / April 13, 2008 8:22 AM PDT
In reply to: That's true.

Well my drive is formatted in NTFS, so that's good to hear. I just wish I knew that a blackout wouldn't harm my data though, and I'm wondering what I might be able to do to stop it. Also, is there something inside a computer that stops the data from being damaged that isn't in the external hard drive enclosure?

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For Windows...
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / April 13, 2008 9:18 AM PDT
In reply to: Okay

NTFS is good as it gets today. If you were using the old FAT32 file system then I'd worry. But for now your only concern is keeping your backups current. Don't whittle it down to one copy on any one drive.

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by VSchwenoha / April 18, 2008 4:43 PM PDT

Plug your computer and external hard drive into a surge protector with a battery backup. This way, if you encounter a blackout, they will have power for another 5-20 minutes, depending on the quality of your battery backup, and you will be able to save all of your work/finish writing to the external hard drive/cancel a write process, and then you can shut everything down and wait until the power comes back on, thus avoiding data loss through power loss. Search "surge protector battery backup" to find products that may interest you.


P.S. ~ I will not be tracking this thread.

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What I do.
by Kees Bakker / April 14, 2008 7:15 AM PDT

I've got one like you, with an external power adapter.

First I connect it to the USB-port. Then I power up. That's what my printer does also; that's always connected and turned on when I want to print something.
But, come to think of it, occasionally I might do it the other way around. It doesn't harm.

The essential thing: use the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the bottom right or shutdown the machine before disconnecting or powering down.


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Using External Hard Drive
by VAPCMD / April 14, 2008 10:46 AM PDT

Never have the only copy of your data on a single drive..especially an external HDD.

Once you've copied your data to the external HDD, 'unplug or disconnect it' like you would any USB device.

After disconnecting the drive...then power it down and remove the AC power from it. If it's not connected and not running it can't get hit by a power spike or a virus.

If you only have a small amount of DATA to backup....might be able to do that on DVDs.

Hope this helps.


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by jneenan / April 14, 2008 2:47 PM PDT

Thanks guys

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HD in enclousure
by lizardo_manson / April 18, 2008 2:04 PM PDT
In reply to: Okay

What i do is that, plug the power cable, turn the HD then connect the usb cable to the computer and that is. After doing any backup i just use the remove device using the icon in task bar.

I use an internal hard drive and the external (hard drive inside enclosure i bought) to have backups.

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Ext. HD Power
by lizardo_manson / April 18, 2008 11:49 PM PDT

I recommend to connect the power to a battery backup if available to avoid corruption if power go down.

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EVERYBODY should format the external HDs in NTFS
by b8375629 / April 19, 2008 3:21 AM PDT
In reply to: Ext. HD Power

I suspect 2/3rds of the problems people have with their external HDs would go away overnight.


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External Hard Drive Formatting?
by bobber135 / December 10, 2009 12:48 AM PST

I just bought a Verbatim 1TB External Hard Drive. I know little about them but I thought it would be good to back everything up since my system crashed and burned last July leaving me quietly sobbing in my beer. I had no idea of different formats. My only concern at the time was to know if it was going to be compatible with my machine. Now,
after reading that Fat32 should be avoided, I find that this hard drive is indeed formatted in Fat32. It seems that since buying this unit, I've read nothing but negative articles re: external hard drives. Can this drive be re-formatted or am I stuck with Fat32 and hoping for the best?

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First. Why?
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / December 10, 2009 2:10 AM PST

It comes that way so it works out of the box with the most machines. When makers shipped the drives blank, the support lines flooded with calls about the drives not working. No one expected to learn about partitions and formatting, they just want it to work.

So here you are, ready to convert it to NTFS. Most versions of Windows do that. Type "Convert to NTFS" on google to see how.

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First. Why?
by bobber135 / December 10, 2009 4:40 AM PST

Thanks for your input Robert! I read through the Verbatim instruction booklet and it says nothing about re-formatting or very much else, for that matter.

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Second why.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / December 10, 2009 4:43 AM PST
In reply to: First. Why?

The reason they won't put this into those manuals is the consumers will call them for further explanation. Support staff and phone lines cost so the trick is to say as little as possible.

If you hit google on "How to convert fat32 to NTFS?" you'll get the method toot sweet.

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When hard drives start to go bad
by isaguf / April 19, 2008 4:03 AM PDT

You can reformat like everyone else says, run check disk if hadware issues, run disk defrag "before" file corruption, or the best solution...throw it in the garbage. When hardware starts to fail it doesn't say it is broken, it is what it says that it is trying to stay alive for you. It says I am about to break so get off your butt and get a replacement. Anyhow this an FYI if you didn't already know it. All the other posts about NTFS and FAT are half truthes about what is better, but both do not provide a solution. Good luck though and do whatever you can to backup the data you think is critical and dump the rest. Don't believe me and you can find out for yourself, doesn't matter your data is your life.

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HDs fail - That is a fact of life
by b8375629 / April 19, 2008 7:36 AM PDT

And you're absolutely right, backups are a necessity, but if you bought a NEW HD and are having problems with files disappearing, then the first step is to reformat the drive away from the old FAT32 to NTFS. Most people don't. They just plug it in out of the box and start adding files.

Another rule of thumb I use is not to have it connected to the machine, powered on all the time. I only power up when I'm ready to do actual file transfers. Then I use the "Safely Remove Hardware" icon down by the clock in the service tray to unmount it through Windows each time I want to shut it off. I don't just pull the USB cable out of the machine when I think the transfer is complete. I've seen a lot of people do that, too. Sloppy.

You can do some things that will make your HD last longer. Try not to be so negative.

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When Hard Drives Start to Go Bad
by bobber135 / December 10, 2009 2:30 PM PST

Yep! I know the drive's failing. That's why the rush to get an external drive to back up the necessities. Now I won't be scared to death waiting for this drive to die.

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External hard drives
by forkboy1965 / April 19, 2008 7:27 AM PDT

I have read other sources indicating that external hard drives are less reliable than internal, but I have yet to read why. It would seem to me that they should be just as reliable (or unreliable, depending upon which way you wish to phrase it) as internal hard drives. Can you offer any insight into why it is alleged that external hard drives are less reliable?

In addition, and assuming they are actually less reliable, I think the more important issue is whether this less reliable state makes the users backup procedure less than useful. Assuming the external hard drive is less reliable and did crash, or otherwise become useless, it is highly unlikely the computer's hard drive(s) (the internal one(s)) would also die at the same time, thus leaving the user to repair the external or simply replace it and create a new backup.

Of course, there could be a situation whereby both the internal and external drives could crash/die at the same time (electrical surge), but following safety measures as outlined by others (unplugging the external, using a battery backup, etc.) would go far to mitigate this possible, but not probable, situation.

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Internal and External HDD reliability
by VAPCMD / April 19, 2008 1:53 PM PDT
In reply to: External hard drives

The hard drives used in external enclosures are not more or less reliable than hard drives used internally per se. However looking at external drives in terms of handling, connecting and disconnecting, enclosure mounting, enclosure electronics, air flow, cables, power adapters, and system interfaces (USB/Firewire/eSATA) required to use them, there are bound to be more failures or hiccups with external HDDs than with internal HDDs.

Adding to that ... buying an external when an internal would have been the better choice and poor user practices like using external HDDs as the only data storage, not unplugging externals when not is use and disconnecting USB drives without going thru the suggested process ... it multiplies the chance for failure dramatically.

The greater the complexity, the greater the handling .. the greater the chance of hardware failure and data loss.


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I don't get it...
by 4Denise / April 21, 2008 6:31 AM PDT

You seem to be objecting to the use of external hard drives for backups. Technically, you haven't backed up your system until the copy has been physically removed and stored elsewhere. You cannot do a true backup onto an internal hard drive unless you physically remove the hard drive after you are done (which is obviously not practical). I do not object to keeping an extra copy of a backup physically on your machine-- I do so myself-- but it isn't the same as an actual backup copy.

You also appear to be assuming a lot about user practices. While sloppy and incorrect use of computer hardware may be widespread, it is hardly universal. In fact, it is quite possible that the majority of users do follow proper procedure. What is being asked here is basically "What is the proper procedure to follow?" and that deserves an answer. But before I go on, I would like to point out that external hard drives, when used appropriately, run for only a fraction of the time that internal hard drives do. This increases their lifespans considerably.

What I do with my external hard drive (and have since I bought it) is go get it (from where I store it when it is not being used-- physical separation from my computer is important) and place it beside my computer. I then plug both the power and USB cords into the unit. I plug the power cord into the wall first, and then plug the USB cable into my computer. I wait for my computer to recognize the hard drive before I do anything else. Once that is done, I proceed with my backup.

After I am done backing up my system, I use the "safely remove hardware" wizard to disconnect the external drive. I then unplug it from the outlet and remove the cords from the unit. I immediately go and put it back into the place where I store it. I do this weekly.

The only thing that should be noted is that a hard drive is magnetic media. Do not use or store it near strong magnetic fields. This will likely compromise your data.


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These hard disks lack one basic feature which ...
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / April 21, 2008 6:36 AM PDT
In reply to: I don't get it...

It's the lack of write protection. It's not a valid backup system even with more than one copy since a virus or procedural error can wipe out the "backup."

As soon as the industry implements this I'll flip flop.

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Backups to CD or DVD are still a good idea
by 4Denise / April 21, 2008 6:53 AM PDT

But consider this: For me (and probably for most others) a backup onto DVDs can take all day. It is a long and boring process. If I still relied exclusively on DVDs for my backups, they would seldom be done.

There is a lot a person can do to reduce (if not eliminate) the possibility of a virus or other malware attack compromising the backup. I always run all of my updated scans immediately before doing any backup-- whether to DVD or external hard drive. For me, all backups begin with updates to all of my security software. The next step is to disconnect my computer from the network. I physically unplug my network cable until I am done. I run all my scans, one at a time. I make absolutely certain there are no detectable infections on my computer. I may even remove all restore points before backing up, if I see a reason to do so. I defrag. In fact, a backup is an opportunity for me to do all kinds of maintenance on my system, and I do it all before I actually connect the external drive and back up my system.

Okay, so it's not 100% certain, but nothing is. It is close enough. Maybe this will soften you up a little. If not, then keep up with whatever you're doing now.


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Maybe some need the excitement of...
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / April 21, 2008 7:02 AM PDT

A blank backup drive? Sorry but not me!

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by 4Denise / April 21, 2008 10:52 AM PDT

If hard drives are so incredibly unreliable, then why bother with computers at all? If all the precautions in the world will inevitably result in data loss, then it's time to keep all records on paper again.

But then, paper can be destroyed, too. I guess you have no solution to your dilemma.


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You're right.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / April 21, 2008 11:13 AM PDT
In reply to: What?

Remember I'm from the old school of backup. I also get to see the tears of those that thought a copy on the hard disk was enough.

Not only that we see post after post asking how to recover files from external hard disks.

Please do me and the forum a favor and error on the side of caution about backup?

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That is why...
by 4Denise / April 21, 2008 5:43 PM PDT
In reply to: You're right.

I periodically do full backups onto DVD (write ONCE media) and I make two copies every time. I do not believe in leaving my precious data unprotected. I still lost data once, but only once and only a small amount of data. My fairly new external hard drive is for weekly use-- and I have double backups on it! It's larger than my internal hard drives, and I see no reason not to use the built in backup utility and also just transfer the contents of the drive into a folder I set up just for that purpose.

I prefer to think of myself as prepared, rather than "anal retentive"-- but people can call me whatever they like as long as it continues to work as planned.


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by 4Denise / April 21, 2008 5:47 PM PDT
In reply to: That is why...

I'm not trying to argue with you-- really! I just think it's a much better idea to tell people how to minimize the risk, rather than tell them not to do something they're going to do anyway. Everyone needs to realize that data loss is always a very real possibility. Even people as paranoid as I am experience it on occasion.


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I have six
by Dango517 / April 21, 2008 1:09 PM PDT
In reply to: What?

circa 1997 PC hard drives in my living room right now all functioning. I had them running yesterday. All but a seventh Samsung works. My guess would be they'd last many more years. Sure they go bad but what mechanical device is indestructible.

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