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External Hard Drive Backup Software

Most, but not all, portable drives come bundled with external hard drive backup software. When it comes to deciding which external hard drive backup software is best for your needs, personal preference rules.

For instance, users who want to automate the entire process (the hard drive automatically backs up the files as specified) should choose a model with external hard drive backup software that makes this easy; those who prefer manual backups (specify the files to copy every time a back up is run) will be indifferent to this functionality. Experts generally say the included external hard drive backup software is easy to install and use, although it often lacks some of the bells and whistles you'd get with software bought separately.

All of the external hard drives we researched include a backup program. Consumers and experts like the external hard drive backup software bundled with most of the models on our list, citing the programs' effectiveness and ease of use. The Buffalo MiniStation Stealth comes with a suite of programs, including external hard drive backup software and an encryption utility, which Expert Reviews considers a nice bonus. Tech Radar gives a thumbs-up to the external hard drive backup software included with the Western Digital My Passport Essential, and points to useful features like the ability to create an encrypted password or run a diagnostic test. CNET reviewers found the Hitachi Touro Mobile Pro software to be easy to use and point out that one bonus with the Mobile Pro's software is that you can use it to create a backup schedule. One expert review of the Verbatim Titan XS says the preinstalled Nero backup software is well suited to scheduled backups of basic files. The Daily Tech likes the Toshiba Canvio software, especially its simple interface and customization options.

By comparison, enthusiasm for the external hard drive backup software included with the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra device is muted, at best. The Seagate comes with a "light" version of the backup program; another $50 will get you the full-featured external hard drive backup software, which allows for online backup and backup plans for several PCs. Experts at both CNET and PC Mag pan the limited functionality of the bundled external hard drive backup software.

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Mac users, heads up: Many pre-loaded external hard drive backup software programs don't run on Macs. However, if you have a Mac OS 10.5 or above, you've already got built-in back up in the form of software called Time Machine. Mac users may prefer to stick with Time Machine even if the external hard drive backup software is compatible -- partly because they're already familiar with it and partly because its performance is at least as good as what you'd get with the external drive.

Since we're speaking of Macs, we want to point out that most cheap external hard drives are compatible with both PCs and Macs. That said, some cheap external hard drives are formatted for PCs when they leave the factory so Mac users will need to reformat the external hard drive before using it. (Check with the manufacturer to determine if the drive needs reformatting; all the models on our list will work with a Mac after reformatting.) Remember, though, Macs don't use USB 3.0 connections so the external hard drive will run at USB 2.0 speeds.

External Hard Drive Ease of Use.

External hard drives are very simple devices and a cinch to use. Installing and setting up a drive involves little more than plugging it into your PC and running the included software. There's really nothing else to do unless the device requires an external power source; most portable hard drives simply draw power through the computer's USB port.

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We found very few complaints about ease of use from expert or consumer reviewers regarding most of the external hard drives we researched. The Toshiba Canvio 3.0, however, suffers from a usability problem that angers many consumers and explains its low standing on our list. The reviews we found report that the Canvio's cable is too short and stiff and easily disconnects from the port. Quite a few consumers express their frustrations in reviews posted on Amazon and Newegg, where some also comment about corrupted video files and limited longevity.

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