What is an external hard drive? One of the best ways to protect your important files, explained

WD 2TB My Passport Ultra for Mac Silver Portable External Hard Drive
External hard drives are a great way to protect your data.

  • An external hard drive is a piece of equipment that can be connected to your computer to increase its storage space.
  • Unlike the hard drive that’s installed in your computer, an external hard drive is portable and can also be used to store files from multiple devices.
  • External hard drives are easy to use, convenient, and an incredibly safe way to backup your most important files.
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Storage space on a computer is valuable, but it’s not infinite. The hard drive that’s inside your computer can only fit so much data before it fills up.

As a solution, many users have turned to cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox. But if you’re looking for a more concrete way to manage your files, you might want to invest in an external hard drive.

External hard drives are a great way to free up storage space and safely backup your files. Here’s what you should know about them.

External hard drives, explained

An external hard drive is a device, usually around the size of a book, that you can store any file or app on. If you’ve ever used a USB flash drive, external hard drives are essentially the same thing, but bigger and with more storage space.

The difference between an external hard drive and the hard drive in your computer is that an external drive is portable – you can disconnect it at any time and move it around, without losing the data inside.

Seagate portable hard drive
You can move an external hard drive without having to take the computer.

External hard drives connect to your computer with a USB cord, and you can copy files to them like you would any other folder. Like flash drives, you can plug your external hard drive into any computer, and transfer your files freely.

External hard drives can be used as supplemental storage – in other words, as an addition to the storage already on your computer. For example, if you have a large amount of high-definition photos and videos that are slowing your computer down, you can store them on your external hard drive instead.

External hard drives are also great for moving files between computers, regardless of their operating system. If you have an album on your PC that you want to share with your friend who has a Mac, you can save it on your external hard drive, plug the drive into your friend’s computer, and then transfer it to them within a matter of minutes.¬†

Most external hard drives can hold at least one terabyte (1 TB) of data – this equals 1000 gigabytes (GB), or 1,000,000 megabytes (MB). To put it into perspective, the most expensive iPhone on the market right now only holds 512 GB – just about half a terabyte. And the average photo taken by a smartphone is around 2 MB.

An external hard drive can hold documents, various forms of media, software, and applications. Essentially, if you have a file on your computer, it can be copied to an external hard drive.

PC computer external hard drive HDD
External hard drives come in various colors and sizes.

Many external hard drives also come with their own apps to help you better manage your data.

External hard drives vs cloud storage

As noted, many users have started using cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and others. The advantage that cloud storage has is convenience – you can access your files from any computer without special hardware.

But the advantage that external hard drives have is that you’ll always have access to your data, even if you lose internet access, and even if you can’t remember your account password.

Any cloud storage website is at risk of cyber attacks and wonky servers. An external hard drive sitting on your desk, however, isn’t.

In addition, with an external hard drive you don’t have to pay the recurring account fees that you might have to pay for using a cloud service. Most popular external hard drives range in price from $30 to $100, but you only have to pay once.

solid state drive SSD laptop
Hard drives are portable, but somewhat fragile.

External hard drives do come with their own risks, though. If the external hard drive is damaged, it can wipe out your files. And leaving a physical hard drive around means that anyone can pick up and take your data.

But if you’re looking for a way to store big files for a long time, an external hard drive might be your best bet.

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