How To Keep an External Hard Drive Useful and Healthy Longer

What are your external hard drive best practices?

External hard drives are a ubiquitous, simple way to provide additional storage or portability (or both) to an existing desktop or laptop computer.

These are the steps I take to ensure my external hard drives remain as useful as possible as long as possible. They break down into three categories: hardware, software, and something so important that it deserves a category of its own.

You can probably guess what that last one is.

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Should I Defrag My External Drive, and If So, How?

Should I defrag my external hard drive? I thought I should as it contains some important documents and my computer backups. As such, I tried to use Defraggler (Piriform Ltd”s program) for the purpose. The program has been running on my external hard drive (capacity 2T) for the past 10 hours and it has done only 10% of defrag. The analysis does say that there are 32 fragmented files and 92% fragmentation. Is there anything I am not doing right? How should I defrag this drive, if I should?

While there are alternatives, you’re doing it right; Defraggler is a fine program to use.

The more important question is that, even with “92%” fragmentation, should you even be bothering?

Read moreShould I Defrag My External Drive, and If So, How?

What External Drive Should I Get?

I frequently recommend you purchase an external hard drive for your backups. Backing up to an external drive is probably the most important first step in getting an overall backup strategy in place.

The inevitable question is, “What external drive should I buy?”

The problem, of course, is that the answer keeps changing. Technology evolves, and as a result, so does my recommendation.

Let me give you a few guidelines, and then a few current (as of this writing) examples.

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How Do I Create a Bootable USB Thumb Drive from an ISO?

ISO files are disk images often used to distribute software. In years past, we burned them to CDs. As the ISOs themselves became larger, we’d burn them to DVDs instead. In either case, we would then boot from the CD or DVD to run whatever the software provided. A good example might be operating system installation DVDs.

More and more machines are coming without optical drives — that is, they don’t have the ability to read a CD or DVD, much less boot from it.

Fortunately, there are tools we can use to take an ISO that contains a bootable image and place it on a USB thumb drive from which you can boot.

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Why Does My Phone Charge More Quickly on Some Chargers?

I have several USB chargers for my mobile phone. I’ve noticed that one will charge my phone quickly – like in an hour if it’s really dead – while another will take several hours. And connecting a USB cable between my phone and laptop will also charge it, but that seems slowest of all! What gives?

Two things are at play here: how much power your charger can supply, and how much power your phone is using while it’s being charged.

I’ll warn you: for the first, at least, you’re going to need a magnifying glass, or at least extremely good eyesight.

Read moreWhy Does My Phone Charge More Quickly on Some Chargers?

My machine has no optical drive. What if I need one?

My aunt just a bought a Mac and it seems to have no optical drive. I’ve not been there to see the computer although I had the same reaction to the floppy drive disappearing and have not used them for years. But I switched to CD-Rs and now DVD-Rs for mostly backups. How do you buy software? Not everything can be done on flash and downloads. Is having broadband required for today’s Macs? Windows 8 was optional. Doesn’t anyone still worry about the main hard drive failure anymore? My PC is backed up on to DVDs including six recovery DVDs for Windows 8.

The scenario you described is now very, very common. In fact, none of the three Macs in this household have optical drives, and neither does my Microsoft Surface Pro running Windows 8.

But it’s not really a problem. I’ll explain why and what I do.

Read moreMy machine has no optical drive. What if I need one?

Why Am I Getting the “USB Inserted” Sound When I Haven’t Inserted Anything?


I have a Lenovo T-430 running Windows 7, 64-bit. Every time I start this machine I get the “USB inserted” sound, not once but twice. This is when there’s nothing connected to the laptop. Do you have any idea why this is happening and how I can track down what hardware is causing this and how do I fix it? It’s really no big deal but it is kind of annoying.

The good news here is aside from the annoyance of the sound, this probably isn’t anything to worry about. I have a couple of ideas.

Read moreWhy Am I Getting the “USB Inserted” Sound When I Haven’t Inserted Anything?

Why Do I Need to Unplug and Plug in my USB Device to Keep It Working?

I have a year and a half old Dell XPS Desktop running Windows 7 (which is kept updated) that has no PS2 ports. I have a monitor with a built-in USB hub (where the hub has its own power supply). I also have a PS2 keyboard and PS2 trackball, both of which I love and want very much to keep using. When I got this new Dell, I got a PS2-to-USB “Y”-adapter and plugged it into the monitor’s USB hub. Everything worked well for over a year – except that maybe once a week or two, they stopped responding with the computer wake up and I had to unplug and replug the USB plug.

This would solve the problem for another week or two. About a month ago, this issue suddenly became not just a daily problem, but even needed doing every five to ten minutes or so. The power supply to the monitor’s USB hub seems to be fine and the other USB functions seem to work fine as well. I’ve re-routed my PS2 USB cord directly to the computer’s USB port and this solved the five-to-ten minute problem, but I still need to unplug and replug the USB plug every day when I wake the computer up. And yes, I reboot regularly, which has had no effect or improvement on the issue. What do you think?

The problem that you’re experiencing is not uncommon. You tried a couple of things that I would normally recommend, but I can think of a few more that might help you in this scenario.

Read moreWhy Do I Need to Unplug and Plug in my USB Device to Keep It Working?

Can I Use an External Keyboard with My Laptop?

I just got a new Lenovo laptop and I’m having the darnedest time typing on it. I’m upgrading from a PC. I used to use this wonderful Windows ergonomic keyboard, which I loved and cherished. I had no issues or problems and I knew where everything was. With all of these newly built laptops now, I’m forced to keep my palms straight and elbows in. I can’t stand it. I constantly miss keys, touching the middle pad thingy. I’m constantly misspelling words, going back and backspacing words because I’ve hit the Enter key instead of the Shift key, cursing like mad. I’m going insane. Is there any way that I can just plug my old ergonomic keyboard back into the USB port, slap cardboard over the laptop keyboard, and go about my regular carefree life? Please say there’s a way!

I feel your pain. My dissatisfaction with the keyboard on my Microsoft Surface prevents me from using it more. It’s not a bad keyboard. I’m sure that it works well for most people. It’s just not particularly suited for my large hands and fat fingers.

Read moreCan I Use an External Keyboard with My Laptop?

Will a power loss cause data loss on SSDs?

If I buy an SSD hard drive to replace my dead mechanical hard drive, what are the drawbacks? I have no UPS. If the electricity goes out during writing, will the data be gone like a USB flash drive?

I’ll admit that the phrase “like a USB flash drive” in your question bothers me. It kind of implies that flash drives always lose their data on power loss and that simply is not true.

Sudden power loss will actually affect all three of the different devices (physical hard drives, a Solid State Drive, or a flash drive) in pretty much the same way.

There are three things that can happen when power is suddenly removed from your computer while you’re using your hard drive.

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Can my PC get a virus from my smartphone?

I wondered if a smartphone is infected with a virus. Is there a chance that the system (a PC or a laptop) could also get infected if a Windows-based malware/virus is present on the smartphone? Secondly, if a USB port is disabled in the system (PC or laptop), can there still be a virus attack on the system?

There are two questions here. Let me address the first one.

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