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Storage media guide: External SSD, USB stick and SD card

As part of the digitalisation of almost all areas of life, the importance of storage media has increased over the past decades, as have their capacity and speed. Whereas floppy disks with a capacity of 1.44 MB and less were still the standard well into the 1990s, today internal and external SSDs and hard disks, memory cards, USB sticks and more are vying for the user's favour.


From the punched cards of the 19th century to the external Thunderbolt SSD with maximum performance - the history of storage media is long and development has by no means stopped.


In the following buying guide, we will show you what you should look for when buying storage media and which is the right storage device for your needs. Because one thing is certain: physical and electronic storage media are the digital memory of our lives. Pictures, photos, documents and other files need a safe place to be stored.


What are internal and external storage media?

Internal storage media include all media that are permanently installed in your desktop PC or laptop. This includes internal SSDs in 2.5” and M.2 form factor and internal hard disks (2.5” and 3.5”), even though these magnetic and mechanical data storage devices are becoming increasingly rare, at least in modern PCs.


External storage media, on the other hand, refers to all media that you connect externally to your notebook or computer - and thus all portable or mobile storage media. These include older, optical storage media such as CD-ROMs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs as well as external flash storage media such as SSDs, USB sticks or SD cards or external hard drives with high storage capacity.


What types of storage media do you need?

Before buying, it is important to briefly compare the most important types of storage media as well as their advantages and disadvantages. This is the only way to find the right solution for your needs.


External hard drives

Mass storage devices such as external hard drives still offer the largest storage capacity. However, due to their size and weight, at least 3.5-inch models are more suitable for local data storage than for taking with you: 8, 12 or even 16 TB and more are not uncommon. External 2.5-inch hard drives are smaller and lighter, but also offer less space for digital data.


The external storage medium is quickly connected to the laptop or desktop PC via the USB port. Although mechanical hard drives are relatively slow and also sensitive to shocks or dropping, they still provide you with the largest storage volume at the lowest price.


External SSDs

As a high-end solution among portable storage media, external SSDs (Solid State Drives) are the fastest solution for data backup and data transport. Although the largest models can sometimes hold 4 TB or more of data, they are very costly. For private use, size classes between 512 MB and 2 TB with a good price-performance ratio are ideal.


Most external SSDs are very light and fit easily into your trouser pocket or jacket pocket. Only some high-end models with read and write speeds of more than 3500 MB/s use a large enclosure as a heat sink to continuously provide maximum performance.


Note that external SSDs can have both – USB 3.2 Type-A or Type-C connector. Some of the fastest models, on the other hand, even require a Thunderbolt port.

Due to their very high read and write speeds, external SSDs are also suitable as an external drive for your gaming desktop PC or gaming laptop. This way, you always have your extensive Steam or GOG library with you and can use it in several locations or on different devices without having to download it again and again.


USB sticks

USB sticks are cheap, fast, particularly small and yet robust. Larger models nevertheless offer more than enough space with up to 256 or 512 GB of storage capacity. This makes them the perfect portable storage media for taking the most important or frequently used files with you – including PowerPoint presentations, pictures, music and more.


If the read and write speed of the USB stick is important to you, pay attention to the manufacturer's specifications and choose a modern stick that supports at least USB 3.0. Memory sticks not only come with a type A connector, but often with the smaller type C connector.


While very low-priced USB sticks on sale at discounters sometimes offer write speeds of less than 10 MB/s, high-end USB sticks can write faster than many hard disks and sometimes at several hundred MB/s.


Memory cards

The most common types of memory cards are SD or micro SD cards. Full-size SD cards are used in many digital cameras and allow you to quickly transfer photos to a laptop. The much smaller microSD cards are often used as an internal storage upgrade for your smartphone, tablet or 2-in-1.


They are only of limited use as external storage media because of their thin and less sturdy design. The best way to take them with you is to use a transport case, which is included with many SD cards. Memory cards use flash memory just like USB sticks or SSDs. Here, too, there are many different speed classes, from cheap but slow models to blazingly fast SDXC cards, some of which write almost at SSD speed level.


Alternative memory card formats from the professional sector include COMPACTFLASH (CFAST), and digital photographers are also increasingly opting for the CFexpress memory card standard. These storage media sometimes read and write at over 1500 MB/s and significantly faster than regular SD cards.


How long do storage media last?

All the storage media presented in this article will give your data a safe home for many years. For models with NAND flash memory, the more often you write data, the faster it will wear out. With the exception of certain models designed for continuous use, USB sticks and SD cards are great for transporting data between two locations, but not for continuous writing.


This is why, with the exception of the special models mentioned, an SD card is usually not the best solution as an internal storage medium for your Raspberry Pi. It wears out much faster than external hard disks or SSDs when used continuously. This also applies to USB sticks that are used to install a portable operating system, as there are frequent write accesses here.


Portable operating systems are incredibly practical for carrying a fully set-up work or data recovery environment with you everywhere, but USB sticks are only somewhat suitable for continuous use with a lot of write operations.


External SSDs and especially mechanical hard disks with high storage capacity are particularly well qualified as backup storage media for data protection. This applies at least to private use and assumes a usage period of between 5 and 10 years. When it comes to buying storage media for long-term archiving, completely different formats such as magnetic tapes outstand with a life expectancy of between 30 and 50 years.


Online storage media: NAS system or cloud storage?

A useful addition to conventional, local and portable storage media is a NAS or cloud storage to access your data from a local network or from anywhere via the internet.


Whether you entrust your documents and photos to a public cloud provider such as Google, Microsoft or Dropbox or prefer to set up your own private cloud with a NAS system is up to you. This way, your data can ideally be accessed from almost anywhere - at least as long as you have a stable internet connection.


The best additional features for storage media

Some manufacturers equip their storage media with additional interesting features. We would like to briefly present some of those special features that you should keep in mind when buying:

  • Not all storage media need to be connected to your desktop PC or laptop via a cable and an internal or external slot. Some external SSDs and hard drives support the establishment of a wireless connection to store data on them.
  • Some USB sticks and SD cards are also Wi-Fi-capable: This means, for example, that you can transfer the photos stored on them from the memory card of a digital camera without having to connect a USB cable or remove the card. USB sticks with this capability use an integrated battery to enable wireless connection and data transfer.
  • Some special secure storage media allow the data stored on them to be encrypted. Decryption is particularly convenient via an integrated fingerprint reader or a keypad for entering PINs and passwords


Is data encryption important for storage media?

When it comes to the security of personal data such as private photos or documents, it is advisable to encrypt external storage media. Because as practical as the small, portable data storage devices are: Without encryption, a potential thief will have full and unhindered access to all the contents stored on them.


At least under Windows 11 Professional or Windows 10 Professional, you can easily encrypt your external hard drive, SSD or USB stick using Bitlocker. Alternatively, you can use a free open source tool such as VeraCrypt for all Windows or Linux systems.


A third option: Many manufacturers of storage media equip them ex works with their own built-in 256-bit AES encryption. This can often be activated via the software provided with the storage device.

GEMA fees on storage media?

The right to make private copies allows you to copy copyrighted data such as music or films onto storage media, as long as the original files are not copy-protected. Manufacturers already pay flat-rate copyright levies on their products.


You do not have to worry about an additional GEMA fee or fees for other copyright organisations for your USB stick or hard drive. The amount of the fee to be paid by the manufacturer depends on the storage medium and its capacity.


Buy the best storage media at bestware

In the accessories section of bestware you can buy a large selection of storage media from a wide range of price-performance classes. Here you will not only find super-fast, external high-end SSDs with robust magnesium or aluminium enclosures or in a particularly small format for your pocket. The storage media on offer also include a wide selection of USB sticks and SD cards from all capacity classes.

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