What is the data drive for?

A data drive is a portable data storage device that provides reliable, secure, and high-performance external access to data. Data drives primarily allow users and systems to store, back up, archive, and encrypt data outside of their computer’s internal drives.

Data drives have been widely used since the 1990s, when the first affordable portable USB flash drives became available (e.g. the IBM DiskOnKey drive released in 2000). Since then, data drives have grown in capacity and speed while shrinking in physical size. Today, common portable data drives include external hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and USB flash drives.

The main uses of data drives include:

  • Portable external storage – Store and transfer files, photos, videos, etc. between devices
  • System backup – Create full system backups to restore in case of computer failure
  • Data archive – Store data long-term in a durable format for future reference
  • Encryption – Protect sensitive data with password protection and encryption

Portable External Storage

One of the primary uses of an external hard drive is to allow easy transfer of data between computers. External hard drives connect via USB, Thunderbolt, FireWire or other connections, allowing you to plug into any computer and access the files. This makes transporting large amounts of data effortless compared to using discs or networked connections (HP).

Portable external hard drives are also commonly used for backup purposes. You can copy important files from your computer to store on the external drive. Should something happen to your computer, the data will remain intact on the external drive. Backing up to an external drive allows you to store more data than discs or cloud storage for the same cost (AccuShred).

The portability of external hard drives makes transporting large files easy compared to alternatives like networked connections or cloud storage. You can easily bring an external drive to another location and access files without an internet connection.

System Backup

One of the primary uses of an external data drive is to back up an entire system image (ConnectWise). This allows users to create a full snapshot of their system and settings, which can be restored in case of data loss or computer failure. System image backups capture the operating system, installed applications, settings, and files all in one image that can be easily restored. In the event of a total system crash or hardware failure, users can simply restore the full system image to get back up and running quickly.

System image backups provide a couple key advantages: they protect against data loss from system failures and make recovery very simple through full system restores. Rather than having to reinstall the OS, apps, and restore individual files from separate backups, the entire system can come back exactly as it was when the system image was created. This can be a real time-saver when recovering from major system crashes. If frequent incremental system image backups are created, users minimize the risk of losing recent changes or file additions between backup sessions.

Data Archive

Data archiving involves the long-term storage of inactive or rarely accessed data for compliance and preservation purposes. Organizations archive data to free up space on primary storage systems while still retaining access to historical records (Data Archiving: The Basics and 5 Best Practices).

Key benefits of data archiving include reducing storage costs, optimizing performance of production systems, and simplifying data management. By moving inactive data to dedicated archive storage, organizations can access archived files when needed while minimizing its impact on daily operations (What Is Data Archiving: Definition, Benefits & Best Practices).

Best practices for long-term data archiving include identifying data with retention requirements, establishing access policies, using specialized archive storage systems, and maintaining metadata to make retrieval efficient. Regularly archiving older, unused files preserves institutional memory while reducing storage overload.


One of the key benefits of using a data drive is the ability to encrypt your data for added security and protection. According to the Wikipedia article on the Data Encryption Standard, encryption transforms data into an unreadable format called cipher text. This prevents unauthorized access to sensitive data in cases like device theft or data breaches.

There are various encryption algorithms and key lengths that provide different levels of security. For example, the Data Encryption Standard (DES) uses 56-bit keys which is now considered insecure compared to modern standards like the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) that supports 128-bit and 256-bit encryption.

When choosing a data drive, look for hardware-based encryption capabilities and compatibility with advanced encryption algorithms like AES-256. This will provide robust protection for your data at rest and help comply with data security regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and more as covered in this GeeksforGeeks article on encryption standards.


One of the most important considerations for data drives is reliability and uptime. According to Backblaze statistics, the annualized failure rate for hard drives in Q2 2023 was 1.47%. However, failure rates can vary significantly by drive model and manufacturer. Backblaze has found that enterprise and NAS-optimized drives tend to be more reliable than consumer-grade drives.

To protect against drive failures causing data loss, redundant RAID configurations like RAID 1, 5, or 6 are commonly used. A RAID setup mirrors or stripes data across multiple disks, so if one fails the data can still be rebuilt from the remaining disks. Monitoring drive health statistics like SMART data can also provide early warnings of potential hardware issues.

For mission critical storage, implementing both redundancy and robust disk health monitoring is key to maximizing uptime and avoiding the possibility of catastrophic data loss due to multiple simultaneous drive failures.


External hard drives offer varied performance compared to internal hard drives. According to benchmarks on Hard Drive Benchmark Charts (https://www.harddrivebenchmark.net/), external SSDs can reach speeds of over 500 MB/s for sequential reads and writes. This is comparable to many internal SATA SSDs. Traditional external hard disk drives (HDDs) tend to be a bit slower than internal drives. For example, the Western Digital My Passport 4TB external HDD has a sequential read/write speed of 174 MB/s, while the Seagate Barracuda Compute 4TB internal HDD reaches speeds of up to 190 MB/s for reads and writes according to tests on SSD Tester (https://ssd-tester.com/external_ssd_test.php).

Overall, external SSDs can offer performance nearly on par with internal SATA SSDs. External HDDs may be slightly slower than internal drives, but still offer decent speeds. As Tech Gear Lab (https://www.techgearlab.com/topics/electronics/best-external-hard-drive) notes, for many users, the slight speed differences between external and internal drives are negligible for most use cases.


External hard drives offer easy plug and play connectivity thanks to USB, Thunderbolt, and other interface options. Most external drives connect via a simple cable and don’t require any additional power bricks or adapters. Once connected, they are recognized by the operating system automatically without requiring drivers or configuration. This makes external drives extremely convenient to use with any computer or device that supports the interface.

External hard drives are also designed to be highly portable and compact. For example, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C external SSD drive weighs just 3.9 oz. and measures 0.67 x 3.56 x 5.31 inches.[1] Such compact sizes make external drives easy to transport in a backpack, purse, or even a pocket. This high portability makes external storage convenient to take your data with you anywhere.

Cost Effectiveness

External hard drives provide a very cost effective way to add storage capacity compared to other options. Looking at 1TB external hard drives on Amazon, prices typically range from $40-$60. That comes out to around 4-6 cents per gigabyte of storage. Compared to solid state drives which are around 20-30 cents per gigabyte, external hard drives are much more affordable. They also beat out cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive which charge a monthly fee that can add up over time. Tape drives offer a lower cost per gigabyte but are inconvenient for everyday use.

For those needing multi-terabyte storage, external hard drives are extremely cost effective. A 4TB external hard drive costs around $90-120, equating to about 2-3 cents per gigabyte. Very few storage mediums can match this cost efficiency. As data storage needs continue to grow for consumers and businesses, external hard drives remain a budget-friendly way to add substantial capacity.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/External-Hard-Drives-1-TB/s?keywords=External+Hard+Drives&rh=n%3A595048%2Cp_n_feature_two_browse-bin%3A5446812011&c=ts&ts_id=595048


In summary, external hard drives serve important purposes for portable data storage, system backups, archiving data, encryption, reliability, performance, convenience, and cost savings compared to other storage solutions. Key trends show increasing capacities, faster transfer speeds, and more durable construction as external hard drive technology continues advancing. When selecting an external hard drive, the main considerations are storage needs, speed, portability, and budget.

Looking to the future, external hard drives will likely retain their usefulness for mass data storage and backups. Though cloud storage provides an alternative, many individuals and organizations still prefer locally stored data they fully own and control. However, solid state drives are replacing spinning hard disks for some external storage needs when performance trumps capacity. And connectivity standards like USB-C provide faster speeds.

For most home users, a portable external hard drive with 1-4TB capacity and USB 3.0+ interface offers an ideal blend of ample storage, fast transfers, and affordable price. Larger desktop models serve well as semi-permanent data repositories. And SSDs may suit users focused on resilience and speed over storage space. Anyone needing regular backups or extra capacity can benefit from adding an external drive.