Is portable or external hard drive better?

Quick Answer

Both portable and external hard drives have advantages and disadvantages. Portable hard drives are small, lightweight and easy to carry around. They can connect via USB and don’t require a separate power source. However, they typically have less storage capacity than external drives. External hard drives usually offer more storage space but are larger and require a power adapter. For most users, a portable hard drive is a good choice for backups, extra storage and transferring files between devices. Those who need abundant extra storage may prefer an external hard drive.

What is a portable hard drive?

A portable hard drive, also known as a pocket hard drive or mini hard drive, is a small external storage device. Portable hard drives are lightweight and compact, typically about 2 inches wide and less than 0.75 inches thick. They are powered through the USB cable when connected to a computer or other device. This makes portable drives very easy to transport and use on the go without extra accessories.

The storage capacity of portable external hard drives ranges from about 1TB to 5TB. Lower capacity drives are more affordable, while higher capacity models offer abundant storage for large files like photos, videos and games. Data transfer speeds vary between models but USB 3.0 drives offer the fastest speeds. Some portable drives also feature rugged, shockproof construction to better withstand travel and accidental drops.

Advantages of Portable Hard Drives

– Compact size makes them highly portable
– Powered through USB so no extra power adapter needed
– Often feature rugged construction for durability
– Offer ample storage capacity for most users
– Fast USB 3.0 data transfer speeds on many models
– Typically less expensive than desktop external drives

Disadvantages of Portable Hard Drives

– Lower capacities than many external desktop hard drives
– Small size means they can be easier to misplace
– Less physically secure than external drives due to small size
– Not ideal for frequent handling of very large files like high res video

What is an External Hard Drive?

An external hard drive is a storage device located outside of a computer that is connected through a USB cable or wireless connection. This differs from an internal hard drive which is installed inside the computer case.

There are two main types of external hard drives:

– Desktop external hard drives
– Portable external hard drives

Desktop external hard drives are designed to stay in one place on a desk and are not very portable. They are larger than portable drives, requiring a power adapter to operate. Desktop external drives typically range from 1TB to 10TB for home users and small businesses. Larger capacity enterprise models are available. The main advantage of a desktop external drive is the large storage capacity. But the size makes portability difficult.

Advantages of External Hard Drives

– Offer larger storage capacity than portable drives
– Ideal for backup needs or storing large media files
– Don’t use up space within a laptop or desktop PC case
– Allow data to be accessed by multiple computers
– Available in wireless models for easier connectivity

Disadvantages of External Hard Drives

– Require external power source and cables
– Larger physical size reduces portability
– Typically more expensive than portable hard drives
– Not built for travel like portable models
– Desktop models not ideal for on-the-go use

Portable vs External Hard Drive: Key Differences

There are some key differences between portable and desktop external hard drives:

Power Source – Portable drives are USB powered. Desktop drives require an AC power adapter.

Size & Weight – Portable drives are smaller and lighter. Desktop drives are larger and heavier.

Storage Capacity – Desktop drives offer more storage, typically from 3TB to 10TB. Portable drives range from 1TB to 5TB.

Convenience – Portable drives are very easy to transport and don’t need extra cables. Desktop drives remain stationary on a desk.

Durability – Portable drives often have rugged casings. Desktop drives are more prone to damage from drops or shocks.

Price – Portable drives are less expensive on average compared to desktop models with similar capacities.

So in summary, portable hard drives emphasize compact size and don’t require external power, while desktop models focus on maximum storage capacity.

When should you use a portable hard drive vs an external model?

Here are some general guidelines on when to choose a portable over an external hard drive:

Use a portable hard drive when:

– You want a lightweight storage option to carry with a laptop
– You need to share files between computers
– You need to add extra storage capacity to your laptop
– You want an affordable backup drive for a single computer
– You won’t regularly access extremely large media files

Use an external desktop hard drive when:

– You have a desktop PC and need more storage than its internal drive offers
– You have a very large media library (photos, videos, etc)
– You want to backup multiple computers or large amounts of data
– You need external storage for a home server
– You will use it as primary storage for a gaming PC
– You need the highest possible capacity and don’t need portability

For most average users who just want extra storage space for backup or transferring files between devices, a portable drive usually makes the most sense. The portable form factor helps keep costs down as well compared to desktop models. But gamers or media creators with huge storage needs may want the large multi-terabyte capacities of an external desktop hard drive.

Internal vs External vs Portable Hard Drives

There are some key similarities and differences between internal hard drives, external hard drives and portable hard drives in terms of their design and capabilities:

Internal Hard Drive

– Installed inside desktop PC or laptop
– Offers storage capacity for that computer only
– Speeds limited by computer connection (SATA or PCIe)
– Not very portable or transferable

External Desktop Hard Drive

– Located outside of PC case in a separate enclosure
– Requires external power supply
– Designed for stationary use, not very portable
– Offers abundant multi-terabyte storage capacity
– Can add storage for any computer with USB connection

Portable Hard Drive

– Small lightweight and portable exterior case
– Bus powered via USB cable, no external power needed
– Capacities typically 500GB to 5TB
– Easy to transport and add storage to any USB capable device
– Durability varies between models – some very rugged designs

So internal hard drives offer internal storage, external drives provide desktop bound but abundant capacities, while portable hard drives emphasize compact transportable size.

Choosing Between Portable or Desktop External Hard Drives

If you’ve decided you need an external hard drive, how do you choose between portable and desktop models? Here are some tips:

– Consider your physical space – Can you make room for a desktop drive? Portable drives take up minimal room.

– Think about portability needs – If you will take the drive on the go opt for a portable HDD. Desktops stay put.

– Look at your capacity requirements – If you need abundant multi-TB storage go desktop. Portable maxes out around 5TB.

– Check your power situation – Portable drives get power over USB while desktop needs an outlet.

– Factor in pricing – Portable drives are generally less expensive for lower capacities. Big desktop drives still cost more.

– Look at connectivity options – Both use USB but wireless portable models offer more flexibility.

– Consider backups – Portable drives provide backup for a single computer. Desktops can back up multiple devices.

– Assess durability needs – Rugged portable models better withstand shocks and drops. Desktops drives require more careful handling.

So give some thought to size constraints, portability requirements, capacity needs and your budget. That will help determine if a compact but lower capacity portable hard drive, or a bulkier but bigger desktop drive better fits your situation.

Comparing Popular Portable Hard Drive Models

Here is a comparison of some of the most popular portable hard drive models in terms of features and performance:

Model Capacity Connectivity Data Transfer Speed Price
WD My Passport 1TB – 5TB USB 3.2 Gen 1 Up to 1,050 MB/s $50 – $150
Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB – 5TB USB 3.0 Up to 120 MB/s $60 – $160
SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD 500GB – 4TB USB 3.2 Gen 2 Up to 1,050 MB/s $100 – $700
Samsung T5 Portable SSD 500GB – 2TB USB 3.2 Gen 2 Up to 1,050 MB/s $100 – $350
LaCie Rugged Mini HDD 1TB – 5TB USB 3.0 Up to 130 MB/s $75 – $170

The WD My Passport line offers good value for money with competitive speeds and wide capacity options. The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD is a good high performance choice. LaCie’s Rugged Mini is a durable shockproof option. The Seagate Backup Plus Slim provides affordable storage on a budget. And the Samsung T5 SSD is compact and fast.

Comparing Popular Desktop External Hard Drive Models

Here is a comparison of some top-rated desktop external hard drive models based on key specs and performance:

Model Capacity Connectivity Data Transfer Speed Cache Price
WD My Book Duo 4TB – 28TB USB 3.1 Gen 1 Up to 360 MB/s 256 MB $300 – $1,000
WD Elements Desktop 3TB – 14TB USB 3.0 Up to 480 Mb/s 256 MB $95 – $300
Seagate Expansion Desktop 3TB – 14TB USB 3.0 Up to 160 MB/s 64 MB $90 – $250
LaCie d2 Professional 4TB – 14TB USB 3.1 Gen 1 Up to 240 MB/s 256 MB $200 – $500
G-Technology G-DRIVE 4TB – 18TB USB 3.1 Gen 1 Up to 195 MB/s 128 MB $150 – $600

The WD My Book Duo offers huge RAID enabled dual drive capacity. WD Elements Desktop provides reliable storage on a budget. The LaCie d2 Professional balances performance and generous space. Seagate’s Expansion Desktop is a low-cost basic option. And the G-Technology G-DRIVE looks great and runs fast.


In the portable vs external hard drive debate, both offer pros and cons. Portable drives are compact, don’t need external power, offer good capacities for most people, and work well for backups, file transfer and expanding laptop storage. Desktop external hard drives boast bigger capacities, supporting up to 10TB or more, but are bulkier and need power adapters.

For on-the-go use and basic extra storage, a portable hard drive is usually the best bet for average consumers. Their plug-and-play USB connectivity makes setup simple. But creative professionals who want maximum capacities for huge photo and video libraries may want to look into a desktop external HDD instead. This provides abundant multi-terabyte storage to vastly expand the capacities of desktop PCs and home servers.