Oh sure, they all do the same thing at its core — store all your files, such as documents, photos, videos, music and games — but some of today's external hard drives go beyond the call of duty with advanced features ranging from wireless connectivity and extreme ruggedness to automatic back-up software and designer bodies.
Whether you're looking to pick up a new drive for work or play, or a bit of both, the following are a half-dozen of the newest — and most unique -- hard drives worthy of a spin.
While they might look like any other desktop hard drive, the Western Digital (WD) My Book Live (from $159.99 for 1TB) can be connected to your home network, allowing you to access these files anywhere in — or even outside of — the home.
Even if you're halfway across the world, PC or Mac users can securely access your files via a password-protected site (WD2go.com), while those on a smartphone or tablet can use free WD2go apps for Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry or Apple's iOS devices. An auto-sync feature means new or modified files added to My Book Live automatically sync to mobile devices.
You can also share files with others via a link, stream media (such as movies) and access content with no monthly fees. Plus, your data is stored in your home and not via a third-party cloud service.
If you and a few friends are relaxing in the backyard with your device of choice — perhaps an iPod touch, Android tablet, BlackBerry, iPad or Windows Phone device — three of you can stream different content — be it video, music or photos — all at the same time, thanks to the Seagate GoFlex Satellite ($199.99).
That's right, this portable and wireless hard drive can wirelessly beam media to any nearby device capable of joining the Wi-Fi network it creates, via a web browser or a free downloadable app.
Simply load up this 500GB hard drive with files, such as 300 HD movies -- by first connecting it to your Windows or Mac computer via USB -- then unplug and hit the sunshine.
A recent update for the hard drive expands its battery performance from 5 to 7 hours between charges and now allows users to stream content and access the Internet at the same time, if desired.
If you protecting your data is a top priority, you might opt for a rugged drive that can withstand extreme environments or accidental drops.
Calling the ioSafe Rugged Portable ($249.99 for 500GB) a "durable" drive would be a huge understatement. It could be submerged in water — and left for 3 days — driven over by an SUV or dropped at a height of up to 10 feet (or up to 20 feet for the SSD version), and your data will remain safe and sound.
No wonder the company calls this military-grade, titanium drive "like a black box for your data." It works with both PCs and Macs, and offers USB 3.0 or FireWire 800 connectivity.
Another key differentiator compared to most other hard drives: the ioSafe Rugged Portable ships with a "no-hassle" warranty — if the product stops working for any reason within the warranty period, it'll be replaced with no questions asked. On a related note, there's also a free one-time data recovery service offered (up to $5,000) to get your data back from accidental deletion, formats, corruption or disasters.
You likely acquire your media from many different sources, but you should be able to access it all between all of your devices.
Iomega's EZ Home Media Network Hard Drive (from $189 for 1TB) is a network storage solution with a built-in UPnP AV Media Server (DLNA certified) and iTunes server — therefore you can access your media on multiple wireless devices in the home.
After all, if you downloaded TV shows and movies to your laptop, you probably don't want to watch it on a small monitor — instead, why not stream it to your PlayStation 3, Blu-ray player or DLNA-compatible HDTV to watch it on a big-screen television. And if you're running out of memory on your iPod touch, iPhone, iPad or Android device, you can stream content off the EZ Home Media Network drive.
Of course, you can also share content between devices on the network, such as swapping documents between computers.
Just as computers have evolved from boring and bulky beige boxes, there's no reason why portable hard drives can't have style along with substance.
Case in point: The LaCie Porsche Design P'9220 mobile hard drive (from $109.99 for 500GB) is a collaboration between LaCie — a leading edge hard drive maker, recently acquired by Seagate — and one of the most renowned design firms in the world.
Aside from aesthetics, this sleek silver drive — built with 3 millimeters of aluminum -- also means it's durable and can protect your data from the bumps and grinds of everyday life.
The USB 3.0 drive works with both Macs and PCs. When not in use, the drive goes into an "Eco" mode, which lowers the power consumption by up to 40 percent — thus increasing the battery life of your laptop.
Bundled software includes an automatic backup too, optional password protection and a link to 10GB of free Wuala cloud storage.
Hard Drive for Dummies
Finally, the Clickfree line of hard drives have a unique feature: simply plug it into your PC and it'll automatically find and back-up your important files, such as documents, photos, videos, music and more.
As the name suggests, you don't need to click anything at all — unless you want to tweak the settings, such as only backing up certain types of files, such as photos.
The Clickfree C6 Easy Imaging drive ($129.99 for 1TB) goes one step further and lets you back-up your entire Windows PC and segregate the programs, files and operating system. If something happens to your computer -- such as contracting a nasty virus -- plug in the drive, reboot the computer and a feature called EasyFix kicks in to restore your computer back to a time before the files were compromised. Alternatively, plug the backed-up C6 into a new computer to transfer over all the files and programs.