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An External Hard Disk is a typical 3.5 inch or 2.5 inch form factor HDD that is placed in disk enclosure designed to hold and power disk drives while providing a mechanism to allow them to communicate to one or more separate computers.

These drive enclosures provide power to the drives therein and convert the data sent across their native data bus into a format usable by an external connection on the computers to which it is connected. In some cases, the conversion is as trivial as carrying a signal between different connector types. In others, it is so complicated as to require a separate embedded system to retransmit data over connector and signal of a different standard.

Direct attach serial protocols

USB or FireWire connections are typically used to attach consumer class external hard drives to a computer. Unlike SCSI, eSATA, or SAS these require circuitry to convert the hard disk's native signal to the appropriate protocol. Parallel ATA and internal Serial ATA hard disks are frequently connected to such chassis because nearly all computers on the market today have USB or FireWire ports, and these chassis are inexpensive and easy to find.

Key benefits to using external disk enclosures

  • Adding additional storage space and media types to small form factor and laptop computers, as well as sealed embedded systems, such as digital video recorders.
  • Adding more drives to any given server or workstation than their chassis can hold.
  • Transferring data between non-networked computers, jokingly known as sneakernet.
  • Adding a backup source with a separate power supply from the connected computer.
  • Sharing the data on a drive in a network-aware enclosure.
  • Preventing the heat from a disk drive from increasing the heat inside an operating computer case.
  • Simple and cheap approach to hot swapping.
  • Recovering the data from a broken or damaged computer.
  • Lower the cost of removable storage by reusing hardware designed for internal use. [1]

Reference

1.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/External_hard_disk

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