Are powered external drives better?

Powered external drives are storage devices that connect to a computer externally using a cable interface like USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire. They require their own dedicated power source, usually through an AC adapter, to operate independently from the computer. This allows them to have larger storage capacities and higher performance compared to bus-powered portable drives.

According to PCMag, an external drive is “a stand-alone hard drive, solid state drive (SSD) or optical disc drive that plugs into the computer via USB or external SATA.” They function as extra storage space separate from the primary internal storage of a computer.

Types of Powered Drives

There are two main types of powered external drives: desktop external drives and portable external drives.

Desktop external drives typically require an external power source and need to be plugged into an outlet. They are designed to stay in one place on your desk and not be moved around frequently. Desktop drives come in larger capacities since they are usually 3.5″ hard drives inside an enclosure. Some popular desktop external drive models include the Western Digital MyBook Duo and Seagate Expansion Desktop.

Portable external drives are smaller, do not require a separate power source, and are powered through the USB or Thunderbolt cable. They use 2.5″ laptop hard drives inside so capacities are lower but they make up for it with their portable size. Some examples of portable external drives are the Seagate Backup Plus Slim and Western Digital My Passport.

Both desktop and portable external drives can be SSD or traditional spinning hard drives. SSDs have faster transfer speeds and more durability with no moving parts.


One of the main advantages of using a powered external hard drive is the potential for higher data transfer speeds compared to bus-powered drives. Powered drives with eSATA or Thunderbolt connectors can offer transfer rates up to 10 Gbps, while USB 3.0 maxes out around 5 Gbps [1]. The dedicated power supply provides extra juice for fast and stable data transfers.

In addition, powered external drives have the capacity for much larger storage space, typically 8TB or more. This allows you to store enormous media libraries, backups, or other large files. The ample space paired with fast transfer rates makes powered drives ideal for tasks like video editing or gaming where performance matters.

Because they don’t need to allocate power to both the enclosure and the drive, powered external hard drives generally have better overall performance in areas like read/write speeds. Their cooling fans also allow the drive to sustain high performance for longer periods.


One disadvantage of powered external drives is that they tend to be more expensive than portable external drives. Powered drives require their own power source, usually an AC adapter that must be plugged into an outlet. This adds to the overall cost compared to portable USB-powered drives that don’t need a separate power source (Source).

The need for an external power source also makes powered drives less portable. You can’t just pick up a powered drive and take it with you wherever you go like you can with a USB-powered portable drive. You’re tethered to an outlet whenever you want to use a powered drive, reducing its portability (Source).

Use Cases

Powered external drives have become increasingly popular for use in video editing, graphics design, and data backup applications where large amounts of storage, fast data transfer speeds, and portability are required. According to an article on HP Tech Takes (, external drives are commonly used in the following use cases:

Video editing – The large storage capacities and fast data transfer speeds of many powered external drives make them well-suited for storing and editing high-resolution video files. Portability is also a plus for editors who need to transfer files between locations.

Graphics design – Like video editing, graphics work involves large files that require substantial storage capacity and fast data access. Artists and designers often use external drives for storing libraries of high-resolution textures, 3D models, reference images, and for transferring files.

Data backup – External drives provide a convenient way to routinely back up large amounts of important data from a computer’s main internal drive. The drives can be powered down and stored safely when not in use, providing an extra layer of protection.


Powered external drives like USB-C SSDs offer fast speeds and high durability, but they come at a cost premium compared to some other storage options. Here are a few common alternatives to consider:

Standard USB hard drives and flash drives are more affordable and don’t require external power. However, they have slower transfer speeds and are still prone to failure from drops or shocks. USB 3.0+ speeds can still suffice for many users’ needs if reliability is less critical.

Cloud storage like Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud provides abundant capacity that syncs across devices. But recurring subscription fees add up over time, and internet connectivity is required to access data. Latency can also be an issue for active workloads.

Adding internal drives to a desktop PC or laptop can minimize cost for large capacity needs. This does require managing data across multiple devices though. Internal drive upgrades may also be limited for thin and light laptop designs.

Power and Connectivity

External hard drives require power to operate, which can come from a few sources. Bus-powered drives draw power directly through the USB or Thunderbolt cable connected to the computer (1). This is convenient as no extra power cable is needed, but may limit performance. Larger desktop external drives require an AC power adapter to supply adequate power (2).

External drives connect to computers through USB, Thunderbolt, FireWire, or eSATA cables. USB is the most common, supporting USB 3.0 for fastest data transfer speeds. Thunderbolt offers high performance connectivity. eSATA provides fast speeds but lacks power delivery. FireWire is older technology, being phased out of modern drives and computers (3).

Popular Models

When looking for a good powered external hard drive, there are several top brands and models to consider. Here are some of the most popular options:

Western Digital My Passport

Western Digital’s My Passport line comes in capacities from 1TB to 5TB, with prices ranging from $50 to $150. These portable hard drives connect via USB 3.0 and come in a variety of colors. The My Passport series offers strong encryption and backs up easily to Western Digital’s cloud service.

Samsung T5

The Samsung T5 SSD offers blazing fast read/write speeds up to 540 MB/s. It’s available in capacities from 500GB to 2TB, with prices from $80 to $280. Weighing just 51 grams, the T5 has a durable metal casing and connects via USB-C. It includes AES 256-bit hardware encryption.

Seagate Backup Plus Hub

Seagate’s Backup Plus Hub is available in 4TB to 10TB capacities for $100 to $260. This HDD drive has front-facing USB ports to connect additional devices. It comes formatted for Windows but can be reformatted for Mac. The Backup Plus Hub is a great option for desktop backup and storage expansion.

There are many excellent powered external drive options from quality brands. Look for the right mix of speed, capacity, portability, and security features for your needs and budget.


When it comes to storing sensitive data, security is paramount. Powered external hard drives offer robust encryption and physical protection to keep your data safe.

Many models like the ioSafe Solo G3 offer hardware encryption to prevent unauthorized access. The data is encrypted before leaving the drive, providing an extra layer of security. Some also allow you to set a password for access control.

In terms of physical security, some powered drives are designed to withstand extreme conditions. For example, the ioSafe Solo G3 is fireproof up to 1550°F for 30 minutes and waterproof up to 10 feet for 3 days. Rugged designs like this protect your data from physical damage.

With both hardware encryption and rugged, durable construction, powered external drives provide robust solutions for storing and protecting highly sensitive or confidential data.


In summary, powered external hard drives have several advantages over non-powered drives, but also some drawbacks to consider. The main benefits are faster transfer speeds, support for larger storage capacities, and the ability to quickly access and edit files without lag. However, they require their own power source, tend to be bulkier, and are generally more expensive than basic portable drives.

For users who need to frequently move large files or want a speedy backup drive, a powered external HDD is worth the investment. Professionals working in design, video editing, and other creative fields will get the most use out of the fast data transfer. But for basic backups and storage needs, a standard USB-powered portable drive is sufficient. Evaluate your specific use case and storage requirements before deciding between the two options.

Overall, powered external hard drives excel at quick file transfers and intensive workflows. But they come at a premium price and may provide unnecessary performance for casual users.