I'm a music and photos addict, and even with my quite spacious (memory-wise) laptop I knew I wouldn't be able to fit everything on - not if I wanted the computer to run faster than a very slow crawl, that is! I wouldn't be able to fit my vast music collection AND my vast photo collection onto memory sticks, so I decided that I had to get myself an external hard drive. I wanted something big which could hold all my music and photos as well as doubling up as a backup for all my documents; as I'm a student I've got tons of essays which need saving...so after a bit of shopping around I decided to go for the Toshiba StorE Alu in the whopping 1.5 TB size, so there would never be any worries about running out of room!
WHAT'S AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE?
Basically, an external hard drive is pretty much what it says on the tin: an 'outside' version of the memory on a computer or laptop, which is where all files, programs, functions etc are saved. Computers with more memory can save more programs and tend to run faster as they've got more space free - the problem with having a lot of files on a computer's memory is that it slows everything down and makes using the computer a real pain. Sticking a huge music and photo collection (they're all files which are pretty big) onto a laptop's memory is asking for trouble, so the smart thing to do is keep as much memory free by adding an external hard drive to the computer too. The other advantages are that you can back everything up onto it, and it's also portable - you can connect it to any computer by USB and have all your documents ready and waiting. In terms of size, the bigger the memory on the external hard drive, the more it can store: they tend to range from 300 GB-ish to a huge 10 TB (though this is quite rare and most home users definitely wouldn't need this much memory!)
IN THE BOX
As with most computer items, I had a look in the high street shops and then ordered my Toshiba StorE Alu from Amazon. It came fairly simply packaged with a stand to mount it on, a power cord and USB cable, as well as a quick-start guide with instructions about linking it up with the computer and a warranty leaflet.
While choosing a hard drive, I was looking for practicality and function over appearance (at 1.5 TB I knew I wasn't going to get a dinky, charming little hard drive) but I was certainly not disappointed to find that the Toshiba was also actually a really nice-looking piece of kit! At 20.9 x 3.5 x 11.6 cm, it's chunky; it's brushed-silver aluminium in colour and apparently weighs 1.6kg. It's not really suitable for carrying around as it's heavy and not particularly portable, but if you're looking for a piece of kit to 'install' on your desk and treat as a permanent extension of your computer, this might just be the ticket. Tucked away at the back it's got an on/off switch, a jack for the USB cable and a socket for the power cable.
The manual states that the hard drive is compatible with Windows XP, Vista and 7; my laptop runs Windows 7 so that's the only operating system I've been able to try. It's really easy to set up - just stick the power cable in and switch it on, then connect the USB cable to the computer. There's a long thin bit at the front which lights up blue when it's switched on; it's not flashy or particularly distracting, more like a gentle glow. The hard drive is pre-loaded with software which enables you to load files and programs onto it, so it's a case of plugging it in and allowing it to load the software onto your computer - which it does with the minimum of fuss. It's just a case of following the on-screen instructions and watching for the pop-up at the bottom of the screen which tells you it's loaded and ready. Once it's done that, you're ready to go and can start loading your own files onto it. The whole setting-up process took just a few minutes and was very 'intuitive', ie there wasn't any fiddling around trying to get it right, or having to do any technical procedures. I like my computer but get confused pretty quickly when I have to do anything really fiddly, so for me this was perfect.
Toshiba make a big deal of this hard drive being a "fanless design" and therefore really quiet, so I was keen to check this out as I wouldn't be keen on something noisy chugging away on my desk. And while it's not actually silent, it is nevertheless very quiet and certainly wouldn't disturb you - no clicks or whirring at all. Saving things onto it is also a really simple process: I tried saving a folder of music to test how long it took, and it was speedy - probably only a few seconds transfer time. A feature-length film took a minute or two, which is absolutely brilliant, and a folder of photos just a few seconds. Really impressive stuff. Seeing as I'd bought the hard drive to save space and store my music, it made sense to have iTunes on the hard drive rather than the computer as I wouldn't be disconnecting it all the time. I had to fiddle around with the download settings to make iTunes go directly onto the hard drive, but once I had the correct settings, the actual downloading was really simple. It didn't make any chugging noises or take forever; in fact, everything was incredibly painless and now using iTunes off the hard drive is no slower than if I were using it directly off the desktop. I have a LOT of music and files on here and not only has it not slowed down, it's also not even nearly full - I'm certainly not going to have to go out and buy another any time soon!
I couldn't be happier with the Toshiba StorE Alu. It looks brilliant on my desk, was easy to set up, works like a charm and doesn't make any noise at all. Depending on space, you can set it up vertically or horizontally on its stand. In terms of the actual hardware, it's well made and solid; the cables connect securely, the switch isn't wobbly and the stand holds it up well. The one gripe I could foresee is perhaps that the cables aren't as long as they could be - it's not an issue for me as my desk isn't that large, but maybe if you needed to plug it into a far away socket then there might be an problem. For me, though, it's not enough to warrant docking a star, so 5 stars it remains! It's also not portable, but then if you're choosing a 1.5 TB hard drive, portability probably isn't the first thing you're looking for.
I've had it for a couple of months and it's been consistently reliable, giving me easy access to the files I need and making sure my computer runs as fast as possible - which it has been. I tend to leave it connected all the time because I like listening to music a lot; it's become like a second part of the computer! It's easy to navigate and find folders and files within it: it works just like the actual hard drive on the computer and enables you to create folders, rename things and move everything around very fast. It comes pre-programmed with security software, so that adds extra peace of mind, and this particular model is, as I've said, 1.5 TB, but it does come in a 2 TB size if you need even more space. I haven't moved it much or bashed it around at all, so I'm not sure how it would stand up to being carried about everywhere, but it seems pretty solid. It also has a one year warranty, so if anything goes wrong at first it's covered.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
I bought mine on Amazon for £63.43, which is a really great price for what you get, particularly as postage is included. It's available in a few other places such as Maplin, but I've not seen it listed as cheaply as on Amazon - it's usually around the £70 mark.