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For the purpose of carrying stuff (on a two week+ trip), I indend to buy an external HDD to be able to backup stuff onto it.

Haven't spend too much time on this, just picked the best selling one off of Amazon - My Passport Ultra from Western Digital since it was relatively small. But then I noticed some extenal hard drives go as rugged (packed in rubber cushing and ... things). So I'm wondering, assuming I won't be tossing the bag around and swinging it across the room, are regular extenal hard drives (in a neopren case, just to be sure) solid enough to be carried around (just regular carrying on "trains, planes and automobiles")?

What are your experiences with them?

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To address the "rugged" moniker, this is generally in reference to extra padding/protection externally on the drive enclosure, the actual drive itself is no more rugged than another. –  Shizam Mar 25 at 22:58
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You should also keep the risk of how and where you are moving around in mind. I was once on a bike trip, crashed into a car (relatively fast) and landed on my backpack. External hdd broken. Would that have happened with an SSD? I don't know. –  PlasmaHH Mar 26 at 11:54
    
@PlasmaHH - Okey, that is, we must admit, a relatively extreme case. In those situations I'm generally more worried about my head anyway. –  ldigas Mar 26 at 13:04
    
@ldigas: Replace the car and bike by a stone and your clumsyness ;) We don't really know where you go, and what dangers are there, so this is really just meant as a reminder to think about what your risks are, and how they relate to the value of your HDDs content. –  PlasmaHH Mar 26 at 13:27
    
@PlasmaHH - As much as I'd like it to be indestructable, one must practice reason. Using arguments like the above could easily lead to absurd demands. Like using the value of your data to make a "must survive a 7 stories fall" requirement, since some of us work on the 9th floor. –  ldigas Mar 26 at 16:35

5 Answers 5

Hard drives are generally pretty durable unless they are on. The problem with hard drives is that the drive must spin at high speed and in very close proximity to a read/write head. Since spinning creates gyroscopic forces, moving the drive while it is running can result in what is known as a platter collision. The read/write head impacts the platter and destroys it.

When off however, as long as they are protected from extremes in temperature and humidity, they are quite durable.

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Pretty much what I was going to say, +1. Basically treat the drive when off like you would your camera, and all should be fine. When on, try not to jostle it much. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 25 at 19:57

Most hard-drive survive, otherwise no one would travel with a laptop! There is always an off chance that it will break due to turbulence, unexpected bumps, etc. A rugged drive reduces the probability but that does not guaranty it will not fail.

A much better solution is to get an SSD. They are incredibly durable compared to traditional disk drives and have very little risk of failure due to transportation. There is of course still the possibility of loss due to electronic failure or theft but so it is with a HDD. This means you need a backup in all cases. Originals can be kept in memory card if you have enough space or you can get a second SSD or make duplicates on optical disks. That is my favorite method because they have no value and are not target of thieves. They can still get robbed if you keep them with other valuable stuff, so I just burn twice and mail myself a copy which has never been lost in the mail.

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Hugely agree w/a SSD being a better solution, especially if we're just talking about enough for a single adventure, not backing up your entire collection. –  Shizam Mar 25 at 22:59

There are two main sizes of external hard disk drive: 2.5" and 3.5".

The 2.5" models are significantly less susceptible to damage due to shock and vibration/movement. These are the smaller models that plug in (usually) with just one cable and could fit in a pocket.

The 3.5" models are often described as "desktop" drives and require separate mains power, are heavier, and may even stand up vertically on your desk. These are significantly more susceptible to damage by shock and movement, and are really only designed to sit still on top of your desk.

In order to illustrate this comparison I present you the stats for a typical 2.5" and 3.5" bare drive:

Hitachi Travelstar 1TB 2.5 inch

  Maximum operating shock 400G (2ms)
  Maximum non-operating shock 1000G (1ms)

Hitachi Desktar 4TB 3.5 inch

  Maximum operating shock 70G (2ms)
  Maximum non-operating shock 300G (1ms)

Most drives will tolerate extreme temperatures (-40 to +60 celcius) while not plugged in, and relative humidity up to 95%.

So, the 2.5 inch drives are rugged enough to be carried around in luggage, and if they are inside the luggage they can probably even survive drops.

When flying don't check them, carry them on, but that goes for any equipment both because of the risk of loss and because of handling.

The main thing, really, is to always have a backup of the same data when possible - preferably on another drive in a different location. Remember that ANY hard drive, even mounted in a totally vibration-free temperature-controlled environment, can fail at ANY time.

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Could you post links to the origin of the stats? Thank you, this is a wonderful post. –  dotancohen Mar 26 at 9:35

In general the hard drive should be fine as long as you're not throwing it around. The My Passport Ultra would be similar to what you find in a typical laptop i.e. a 2.5 inch drive.

A few years ago I used to carry a photo backup hard drive around with me when I went anywhere. It had a screen, slots for SD/CF cards and a standard 2.5 inch hard drive. I even upgraded the drive in there with one I just bought online. It lasted me long enough for CF and SD cards to be cheap enough for me to have a few of them and no longer need the drive.

The drives have also improved a lot since then. They have a lot of technology to protect the data nowadays like accelerometers that detect sudden movements and automatically park the drive head so it doesn't crash. That said, if you're really looking for safety, you should go with an SSD.

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This drive should be fine. I "lost" a hard drive once on a flight. I did not have it in the cabin luggage and it was out of order when I tried using it again. But that was ages ago and a drive to be built in.

Nowadays you should be fine, especially with those that are designed for accompaying notebooks etc.

SSDs are much safer though.

For this and lots of other reasons I would never again put a disk drive in the check-in luggage. Cabin luggage only.

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