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Use firewire for external drives (or even better esata). Make sure to turn off the indexing system for these drives and make sure there is no page file on these drives. Never use USB if at all possible and always make sure they are plugged into a backup power supply. If you see a great deal for an external usb only drive, forget it. Unless it's usb3 of course. The best externals are the sata drives and their respective esata enclosures.
 

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I keep all my music on one wd500 sata external plugged into a cheap $30 esata pci card. Nice sata controller cards can cost $250 easy and I no longer have a mobo that supports sata natively. I normally keep a minimum of 20% free space on all drives but have been having issues with my music drive locking up the pc after I turn it on and the pc tries to read it. I haven't lost any data but decided to put all the folders (~100+) from the root of the drive into an 'ALL' folder instead of at the root. This has definitely helped in the locking up problem but I'm down to 12% free space too.
Always leave around 20% free for 'breathing' room.
I have a brand new sata3 320gig WD drive with all videos on it (maybe 10 gigs free). I initially wanted it for a boot disc but this old dell mobo didn't want to boot to it easily and I needed the space for data.
My c drive, an ide, has 104 gigs free. I use portable aps as much as possible and store nothing on the OS disc. I also back it up weeklyish using acronis true image.
I had so many pictures/wallpaper that I had to migrate the data from a 120 gig to a 250 gig -eesh.
 

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No, not if you handle then properly. Obviously if the thing is dated your better off upgrading to the newest hardware (sata3) or even ssd than waiting for the controller to crash. They will not last forever unless you never turn them on of course. I've lost only one (all my mp3's) from trying to remove the page file that was on it. Oh well
 
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