Is it cheaper to buy an external hard drive?

With the ever-increasing need for more storage space to store photos, videos, documents and other files, many people wonder if it is cheaper to buy an external hard drive versus other storage options. In this article, we will compare the costs of buying an external hard drive versus paying for cloud storage subscriptions and internal hard drives.

The Cost of External Hard Drives

External hard drives provide a simple way to add additional storage capacity to your computer on demand. Prices vary based on:

  • Storage capacity – More storage equals higher cost. Common capacities are 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB and up.
  • Hard drive type – Traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) are cheaper per GB than solid state drives (SSDs).
  • Connectivity – Hard drives with USB 2.0 connections are cheaper than faster USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.2 Gen 2 connections.
  • Portability – Standard external hard drives are cheaper than ultra-portable, shockproof models.
  • Brand name – Drives from major brands like Western Digital and Seagate are more expensive than generic options.

To give an idea, here are some average costs for external hard drives from Amazon:

External Hard Drive Type Price Range
500GB Portable HDD $40 – $60
1TB Portable HDD $50 – $80
2TB Portable HDD $60 – $100
4TB Portable HDD $100 – $130
500GB SSD $70 – $100
1TB SSD $100 – $200
2TB SSD $200 – $400

So in general, an external hard drive with 1-2TB capacity from a name brand will cost between $50 and $100. The more data you need to store, the higher the cost.

The Cost of Cloud Storage

Rather than buying a physical device, you can also purchase cloud storage subscriptions that allow you to securely backup and access your files online. Some popular cloud storage providers include:

  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • Amazon Cloud Drive
  • Apple iCloud

Cloud storage costs are based on the amount of storage required per month. Basic plans start as low as $1 per month for 10-15GB of space. More robust plans with 1-2TB of space typically range from $10 to $20 per month.

Here are the monthly costs for some popular cloud storage services:

Service Storage Amount Monthly Cost
Dropbox Plus 2TB $11.99
Google One 2TB $9.99
Microsoft OneDrive 1TB $6.99
Amazon Cloud Drive 1TB $11.99
Apple iCloud 2TB $9.99

The advantage of cloud storage is you can access your files from anywhere. However, an ongoing subscription can get costly over time versus a one time external hard drive purchase.

The Cost of Internal Hard Drives

A third option is to add an internal hard drive to your desktop PC or laptop. This involves physically installing the hard drive into the computer’s hard drive bay and configuring the OS to recognize it.

Costs for internal hard drives depend on the same factors as externals – capacity, type (HDD vs SSD) and interface type. However, internal drives don’t require an external enclosure which lowers the cost slightly.

Here are some typical price ranges for internal hard drives:

Internal Hard Drive Type Price Range
500GB HDD $30 – $50
1TB HDD $40 – $60
2TB HDD $50 – $80
500GB SSD $60 – $80
1TB SSD $80 – $150
2TB SSD $170 – $300

The benefit of an internal drive is it’s a bit cheaper and doesn’t require any external cabling. But it’s not portable like a plug-and-play external drive.


So is it cheaper to buy an external hard drive? Here is a summary of the main points:

  • External hard drives are a one time purchase that provides portable, plug-and-play storage.
  • 1-2TB external hard drives cost between $50-$100 on average.
  • Cloud storage provides online backup but has recurring monthly costs starting around $10/month.
  • Internal hard drives don’t require an enclosure but aren’t portable.

In general, buying a 1-2TB external hard drive is one of the cheaper overall options for expanding your computer’s storage capacity. The up front cost is less than yearly cloud storage subscriptions. And external drives provide more flexibility than internal options.

If you don’t need massive amounts of storage (4TB+), going with an external HDD or SSD drive for $50-$100 is typically the most economical choice for quickly adding storage capacity. Just make sure to compare prices carefully, as costs can vary between brands, models and sales. Overall, external drives provide convenience and simplicity when upgrading your computer’s storage for a relatively low one-time cost.