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Desktop external hard drives are great workhorse options

When it comes to handling large data transfers such as video or multimedia files, cheap drives usually don't offer the performance and storage capacity to keep up. Desktop external hard drives, however, can have much higher capacities and, in many cases, more speed. The tradeoff is that desktop drives require an external power supply (they need to be plugged into a wall or outlet) and are much larger. They're designed to sit solidly on a desktop, so the risk of them sliding around is minimal. This helps protect the drive from bumps and bruises. Some are rugged enough to withstand fire and water as well.

According to backup hard drive reviews, the Buffalo DriveStation DDR (Est. $180 for 3 TB) is an exceptionally fast and reasonably affordable choice. Experts say that its superb performance is in part because it includes 1 GB of RAM cache. Dong Ngo at CNET compares the external hard drive's USB 3.0 performance against 19 other backup drives, many of which are tested using Thunderbolt connectivity, and it comes out on top. Impressively, it edges out the LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (Est. $1,150) , which costs more than four times as much. USB 2.0 performance is less spectacular but still respectable. Other reviewers report similar findings. As an example, Michael A. Prospero at Laptop Magazine races the DriveStation DDR external hard drive against some internal solid-state drives (SSD), and finds that it is faster than several of them.

Setup and use is straightforward, at least for Windows users. As is often the case, the external hard drive will need to be re-formatted for use with a Mac, and you'll need third-party backup software such as Apple's Time Machine. The biggest downside is that the Buffalo DriveStation DDR is a single volume backup external drive. That means that if its one disc fails, your data is lost. That leads Ngo and others to recommend that you not rely on the Buffalo DriveStation DDR as the sole repository for irreplaceable files.

Those who think that backing up a backup hard drive is redundant might want to consider a multiple-volume external hard drive instead. The LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt Series (Est. $500 for 4 TB / 2 TB Dual)  has two separate hard drives inside. These can be set to mirror each other in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) configuration, so in case one should fail, you don't lose all your data. Hard drives that have failed can also be easily replaced with new ones.

The LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt receives good reviews from experts overall, though it's not for everyone. It's relatively expensive compared to many other external hard drives. Ngo says it's the fastest dual-bay drive he's seen, though it's "noticeably slower than other Thunderbolt drives." PCMag.com calls it a "specialized hard drive for Mac-equipped graphic artists."

For the ultimate in data protection, however, ioSafe external hard drives have a track record that's hard to beat. IoSafe delights in impressing reviewers by burning, drowning, electrocuting and even shooting its hard drives during demonstrations -- and many reviewers delight in repeating those experiments for themselves during their evaluations.

All of that holds true for the IoSafe Solo G3 (Est. $350 for 2 TB) . Experts say this drive is nearly indestructible, and reviewers subject the Solo G3 to all manner of abuse to back that up. However, getting this level of peace of mind comes at a steep price; the Solo G3 costs more than twice as much per GB as the top rated external hard drive, the Buffalo DriveStation DDR. It's also slower than the Buffalo DriveStation DDR, but that doesn't mean that it's an all-out slowpoke. Matt Smith at DigitalTrends.com notes that data transfer speeds are at the "upper end of the performance scale."

If your data is truly irreplaceable, and storing copies in multiple locations is undesirable or impractical, the Solo G3 is certainly a top choice. Others, however, might be better served with a faster and less-expensive external hard drive.

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BUFFALO DriveStation DDR 2 TB Ultra Fast USB 3.0 Hard Drive with DDR3 RAM Cache - HD-GD2.0U3
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New: $159.99   
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Solo G3 2TB Fireproof and Waterproof External Hard Drive
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New: $349.99 $299.99   
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LaCie 5big Thunderbolt Series 10TB External Hard Drive (9000378U)
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New: $1,099.00   
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LaCie 4 TB 2big Thunderbolt Series 2-Bay RAID Hard Drive (9000191)
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New: $599.00 $509.00   
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