Are external hard drives still worth it?

In the age of cloud storage and high-capacity internal drives, many wonder if external hard drives are still a worthwhile investment. There are pros and cons to consider when deciding between external drives versus other storage options.

Quick Answers

Here are some quick answers to common questions about external hard drives:

  • External hard drives can provide abundant extra storage space for files, photos, videos, backups, etc.
  • They allow you to easily expand storage capacity without modifying your computer.
  • External SSDs provide very fast file transfer speeds.
  • HDDs are more affordable per gigabyte than SSDs.
  • External drives are portable and can be used across multiple devices.
  • They can serve as a backup destination in case of computer failure or data loss.
  • Cloud services provide offsite backup but require an internet connection.
  • External drives may be more cost effective than cloud storage depending on storage needs.
  • Encrypted external drives provide added security for sensitive data.
  • Rugged external drives withstand drops, water, dust for traveling users.

The Case for External Hard Drives

There are some key advantages that make external hard drives still worth considering in many circumstances:

Abundant Extra Storage Space

External hard drives offer a quick and simple way to expand the storage capacity of your computer. For example, a 4TB external HDD can provide tons of extra space for:

  • Photos, videos, and music libraries
  • Game installations
  • Movie/TV show collections
  • System and file backups
  • Large work/creative project files

Rather than cracking open your computer to install higher capacity internal components, external storage gives you more flexibility. Desktop users in particular can benefit from plug-and-play expansion.

Easy Storage Expansion

Upgrading internal PC storage often requires cloning existing drives or reformatting and reinstalling operating systems. External drives sidestep this complexity. You can instantly add storage without altering your core system.

For laptop users, expanding internal storage may not even be an option at all. But adding an external HDD or SSD is trivial. Just plug in, format, and start transferring files.

Fast Transfer Speeds (Especially with SSDs)

While mechanical HDDs are relatively slow, external solid state drives offer blazing fast data transfer speeds. The fastest external SSDs can reach up to 2,000MB/s read and write, on par with many internal SSDs. This makes them perfect for:

  • Editing/processing large video and image files
  • Running programs and games
  • Quickly copying huge folders of data

So if speed is your main concern, an external SSD is a great choice.

More Affordable per Gigabyte Than SSDs

HDDs deliver more capacity for less money compared to SSDs. A 4TB external hard drive costs $80-120, while a 4TB SSD costs around $400-800. The tradeoff is slower transfer speeds. But for bulk storage of files that don’t need quick access, HDDs boast a better price-to-storage ratio.

Portability Across Devices

A major perk of external storage is easy portability. You can readily use a single external HDD or SSD across multiple PCs by just unplugging and replugging. This allows you to easily:

  • Access files from different computers
  • Transfer data between devices
  • Take your files on the go

For users with multiple desktops, laptops and tablets, portability is a key benefit of external drives.

Backup Destination

One of the most important uses for external drives is as a backup destination. You can periodically copy important files from your internal system drive to externals for safekeeping. This provides protection in case your computer fails or gets stolen or damaged. External drive backups help safeguard against data loss.

Backing up to the cloud provides offsite protection. But transferring lots of files over the internet is slower than copying locally. Large media files in particular are best backed up to external drives.

Added Physical Security for Sensitive Data

For added security, external drives can be kept physically secure when not connected to a computer. This makes them safer places to store sensitive files compared to computer internal drives. And encrypted external drives provide protection against unauthorized access if the drive gets lost or stolen.

Rugged Protection for Traveling Users

Rugged external HDDs and SSDs provide extra durability with shock absorption and water/dust resistance. Models like the LaCie Rugged RAID Shuttle withstand drops, crushing, vibration and extreme weather conditions. So traveling users like photographers, videographers and field researchers can depend on external drives in harsh environments.

The Case Against External Hard Drives

Despite the benefits above, there are also some downsides that can make external drives less appealing compared to alternatives like cloud storage and internal drives:

Extra Cost Over Internal Drives

Conventional internal HDDs and SSDs typically have a lower cost per gigabyte compared to external drives. You’re paying extra for the external housing, cables, controller, etc. So from a pure value-for-money perspective, internal storage has an advantage.

Limited Capacities Compared to Internal Drives

While external SSD capacities have been increasing, external HDDs currently max out at around 16TB. On the other hand, internal HDDs can now reach up to ~28TB per drive. For sheer volume, internal drives have larger limits.

Not as Fast as Internal SSDs

The fastest external SSDs have nearly caught up to internal SSD speeds. But high-end internal NVMe SSDs paired with PCIe 4.0/5.0 motherboards still offer faster data throughput than most external SSD options.

Requires Separate Power and Connectivity Cables

External drives require both power and data connectivity cables to function. This results in extra clutter and cords snaking around your workspace. Internal drives eliminate this hassle with just simple SATA or M.2 connections.

Not an Offsite Backup Solution

Unlike cloud storage services, external drives are physically located right next to your computer. So they won’t protect against fires, floods or theft that damage or destroy both devices. Offsite (aka cloud) backup is safer for truly crucial files.

Heads/Platters Can Still Fail on HDDs

While external HDDs are protected inside shock-absorbing enclosures, their internal mechanical parts likeheads and platters can still fail over time. SSDs are much less prone to physical degradation and failure.

Easy to Misplace/Lose if Portable

A downside of portability is that small external SSDs and HDDs can easily get lost or left behind somewhere if you’re not careful. The physical device itself must be kept track of in addition to your data.

Cloud Storage vs. External Drives: Which is Better?

So how do external hard drives compare to cloud storage solutions for backup and extra capacity needs? Here’s a quick rundown of their pros and cons:

External Hard Drives Cloud Storage
  • Faster file transfer speeds
  • Lower cost per gigabyte (HDDs)
  • Totally offline, not dependent on internet
  • More control over physical storage device
  • Access files from anywhere online
  • Data redundancy across servers
  • Automated offsite backups
  • Easy collaboration/sharing

As this comparison shows, external drives are better for large local storage needs and offline backups, while cloud services excel at online collaboration/access and automated offsite backups.

For many users, a combination of the two provides an ideal balance of capacity, performance, security, access and price.

Which External Drive Types Are Best?

If you do decide to invest in an external drive, which types deliver the best value and performance?


HDDs offer more storage capacity per dollar spent compared to SSDs. A 4TB portable hard drive costs around $100-130 while a 4TB SSD will run you around $400-800.

However, SSDs are much faster, more reliable, and more resistant to shocks/drops due to their lack of moving parts. So it’s a classic tradeoff between higher capacity and better performance/durability.

Desktop vs. Portable

Desktop external drives require a power connection but offer larger capacities for less money compared to portable drives. However, portable drives don’t need external power, are smaller, and have the flexibility of on-the-go use. If you won’t move the drive much and want max affordable capacity, a desktop drive is preferable. But for travel or use across multiple systems, choose a portable external.

Desktop HDDs

In terms of desktop external hard drives, some popular and well-reviewed options include:

  • Western Digital My Book Duo: RAID-optimized, up to 28TB storage
  • Seagate Expansion Desktop: Simple plug-and-play, up to 16TB
  • LaCie d2 Professional: Rugged with USB-C connectivity

Portable SSDs

Here are some top-rated portable SSD models in terms of value and performance:

  • Samsung T7 SSD: Blazing fast, sleek, and secure
  • SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD: Rugged/water resistant
  • Adata SE800 SSD: Great value for 1TB+ models

Rugged Portable HDDs

For extra shock/drop/dust protection in a portable form factor, rugged HDDs are ideal choices:

  • LaCie Rugged Mini: Small and durable
  • G-Technology ArmorATD: Rated to survive 1,000lb crush
  • IoSafe Rugged Portable: Fire and waterproof

The Verdict

At the end of the day, external hard drives and SSDs continue to provide unique benefits that make them worthwhile storage solutions in the face of cheap cloud services and expanding internal drive capacities.

For users that need:

  • Huge local storage (8TB+)
  • Speedy working storage
  • Offline backups
  • Physical security
  • Travel-ready storage

External drives are still very attractive and affordable options. Both HDDs and SSDs have viable use cases depending on budget and needs. For power users with critical data storage needs, external drives paired with comprehensive cloud backup provide ideal redundancy and versatility.


External hard drives and SSDs may seem outdated to some in the era of the cloud. But they still deliver tangible advantages that make them useful additions to a modern storage workflow.

For offline backups, expansive media libraries, large project working files, and travel, external storage remains hard to beat. HDDs and SSDs offer an easy way to multiply storage for a modest cost. And advances like lightweight chassis, high capacities, hardware encryption and ruggedization keep external drives relevant into the future.

So are external storage devices still worth it? Absolutely. For the right use cases, they provide reliable extra capacity that everyday computer users and prosumer creators can benefit from. External HDDs and SSDs will continue to play an integral role in well-rounded storage and backup solutions by complementing cloud services and internal drives.