What are the advantages of using an external hard drive?

An external hard drive offers some key advantages over relying solely on your computer’s internal hard drive for storage and backup:

Extra storage space

External hard drives provide extra storage space for large files like photos, videos, music libraries, or even entire system backups. A typical external hard drive offers 500GB to 4TB of storage. This is a significant amount of additional space compared to most internal hard drives.

Portability and sharing

External hard drives are small and lightweight enough to be easily transported in a backpack or laptop case. This makes it easy to share files by bringing the drive to another computer. Professionals who work with large media files often use externals drives to conveniently transport work between home and office.

Data backup

One of the primary uses of external hard drives is for data backup. External drives provide a great way to archive important files and create system backups. If your main computer fails, you’ll have a copy of your data on the external drive. Backups are also essential protection against ransomware attacks which can encrypt files on the main hard drive.

Privacy and security

Sensitive financial documents, passwords, or other private data can be stored on an external hard drive and kept physically secure at home or in a safe deposit box. Keeping sensitive data off your main computer helps guard against theft if your computer is compromised.

Flexibility

External hard drives give you the flexibility to move data between compatible devices. You can easily swap between Mac and Windows computers by simply disconnecting the drive and reconnecting to the other computer.

Durability

External hard drives are physically separate from your computer which makes them more durable and long-lasting than internal drives. Internals drives are more vulnerable to failures due to onboard computer problems. Externals avoid this risk.

Speed

The latest external drives on the market feature fast USB 3.0, eSATA, or Thunderbolt connections. When used with compatible computers, these can provide very fast data transfer speeds for large files like HD video.

Single external vs. RAID array

For most home users, a single external hard drive with 1 to 4TB capacity is sufficient. But professionals working with extremely large files may want to use a RAID array. This combines two or more external drives to create a massive pooled capacity and/or built-in redundancy to protect files.

Buy more storage as needed

Storage needs grow over time as more files accumulate. With an external hard drive, you can simply buy a new larger drive later as your needs increase. This is an affordable way to “future-proof” your storage capabilities.

Top External Hard Drive Brands

Here are some of the leading options among external hard drive brands:

Brand Highlights
Western Digital Wide range of models from basic to high performance
Seagate Feature-loaded drives for gamers and creatives
Samsung Sleek drives with high reliability ratings
LaCie Fast Thunderbolt 3 models for pros

Interface types

External hard drives connect to computers using different types of interfaces or ports. The interface affects compatibility and maximum data transfer rate.

Interface Data Transfer Rate
USB 2.0 Up to 480 Mbps
USB 3.0/USB 3.1 Gen1 Up to 5 Gbps
USB 3.1 Gen2 Up to 10 Gbps
USB-C Up to 10 Gbps
Thunderbolt 3 Up to 40 Gbps
eSATA Up to 6 Gbps

Choosing the right external drive

Consider the following when shopping for an external hard drive:

  • Storage capacity based on your needs
  • Portability if you plan to carry it around
  • Interface type compatibility with your devices
  • Purpose (backup, extra storage, etc)
  • Single drive or RAID array for pros
  • Reputation and warranty of the manufacturer
  • Security features like encryption and passwords
  • Budget

Using with care

Despite their benefits, external hard drives still require care to ensure reliability and long life. Follow these tips:

  • Don’t disconnect the drive during file transfer
  • Eject and safely disconnect after each use
  • Keep it in a cool, dry location when not it use
  • Consider a carrying case for travel
  • Handle gently and avoid drops/impacts
  • Keep manufacturer’s instructions
  • Check warranty terms

Conclusion

Adding an external hard drive provides more storage capacity, portability, security, and flexibility to your digital workflow. As file sizes continue to increase, the extra space of externals makes them essential storage and backup tools for most computer users.