Should I buy an internal or external hard drive?

When choosing between an internal or external hard drive, it can be helpful to consider the types of uses and needs you have for the drive. Internal devices generally run faster and can be easier to use once installed on a computer. External drives, however, can be easier to use with multiple computers and can be more secure against potential data theft. Choosing an internal or external hard drive largely depends on how you view the strengths and weaknesses of each device.

An external hard drive.

Data access speed

In general, an internal drive offers better speeds for accessing data and running software programs than an external drive. This can greatly depend on different models of hard drives, however, but a Solid State Drive (SSD), for example, inside a computer tower typically offers faster speeds than an external device. If you are considering an internal or external hard drive, you should compare speeds between different models and choose the fastest device you can.

An internal hard drive.

Storage and backup

A common strategy for keeping a backup of a primary or “C:” drive is to use two corresponding internal hard drives. In this case, the system maintains a real-time mirror of your C: drive on the second drive, providing constant backup support. If the C: drive fails, just remove it and make the secondary drive the new primary, adding a new drive in the secondary position.

An internal hard drive with the case removed.

You can also use a software utility program to capture an “image” of your C: drive so you can quickly rebuild it on a new device. An image is essentially a copy of your hard drive, including configuration files and all other content. Storing an image on an external drive is a great form of backup as it takes up no space on the main drive and can be updated regularly. That means an internal or external hard drive can back up your data as long as you use the right configuration.

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An internal SSD hard drive.

Information Portability

An external disk can be easily moved between computers in a home or office. Memory cards are good for moving small amounts of data, but they don’t always offer the same flexibility as a portable hard drive with lots of memory. Although an internal hard drive can be moved from one computer to another, it is necessary to open both cases and may involve changing the settings on each computer to correctly recognize it.

An external hard drive can be easily moved between multiple computers.

privacy and security

One of the best features of an external drive is that you don’t have to have it handy all the time. This makes it ideal for loading and using programs that you want to keep safe and away from others or safe from malicious software. By keeping your finance programs, spreadsheets, and personal data on an external drive, you can turn it off when browsing the Internet and turn it on only when you need to. Plus, you can take it with you when you go on vacation to use it with a laptop, leave it locked at home, or remove it when kids or roommates use the computer.

Data on an internal hard drive can be password protected, but this often involves more effort than simply unplugging a device. These passwords may also be vulnerable to attacks and leave your information exposed to someone else. If you want either an internal or external hard drive for sensitive data, an external device is usually easier to protect.

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Using One Device for the Other

One thing to consider, however, is that both devices are often interchangeable. An internal hard drive can be placed inside an “enclosure” that allows it to be easily plugged into an external port on a computer. Similarly, most external devices can be opened up, although this usually voids its warranty, and the hard drive within can often be installed directly inside a computer. This means that a single device can function interchangeably as either an internal or external hard drive with just a little modification.

External harddrives can be connected to computers with USB cables.

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