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How to Install a Portable Hard Drive on Your Computer

If you need more space than your computer offers, you can get a portable hard drive. With a portable hard drive, you can plug it into your computer to access the data you’ve stored whenever you need.

1

Decide what kind of portable drive you want.

Compatible with any computer, portable USB drives live inside their own little cases, and they plug into any available USB port. Some people call portable drives “external drives.” Like USB drives, portable SATA drives are also portable, living outside your PC. Instead of plugging into a USB port, though, these plug into an external SATA port, a rare feature found on some newer PCs. Because few computers come with an external SATA port, portable USB drives are much more versatile.

2

Figure out what features you need (or want) and are willing to pay for.

The higher the capacity of an external hard drive, the more information a drive can store, which also raises the price. Access or seek time measures the amount of time the drive takes to locate stored files, measured in milliseconds (ms). DTR (data transfer rate) measures how quickly your computer can transfer the files after it finds them. And your drive stashes recently accessed information in a special, extra-speedy spot called a cache, where it can dish it out quickly if you need it again.

3

Before settling on a particular make and model of drive, read that drive’s customer reviews on sites like Amazon and NewEgg.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to trade some speed or capacity for reliability.

4

Find the size of your Windows drive, also referred to as your C partition, by choosing Start→Computer and looking at the number beneath your C drive’s icon.

A partition is simply a sectioned-off portion of a hard drive. A hard drive can have one partition that fills the entire drive; a drive can also be divided into several separate partitions, each with a different letter.

5

Buy a portable hard drive at least as large as your C partition.

For example, if your C partition is 279GB, buy a hard drive of at least 300GB, preferably 500GB.

6

Plug the portable hard drive into its power adapter, if needed.

Some portable hard drives don’t require any power; others require a power adapter connected between the drive and an outlet. (Geeks call their little black power adapters wall warts.)

7

Plug the portable drive’s USB cable into both your computer and the drive itself.

The cable’s large plug fits into your computer’s or laptop’s USB port (left); the small end fits into the drive’s own, smaller USB port (right).

8

Double-click the new drive’s icon in Computer to see the drive’s contents.

That’s it. After you open its window in Computer, you can start moving files to and fro, just like with any other drive.

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