Advantages and Disadvantages of External hard disk drives
External drives are arguably the biggest growth area in data storage of recent times. They offer the
possibility of a readily transportable repository for all a user’s valuable data, documents, photographs, music
and movies. Alternatively they can provide a destination for a user to backup their valued files to, in case the
data held on their internal storage is lost, or the internal storage fails. But are they lulling users into a false
sense of security?
They are being offered with ever increasing capacity and at ever decreasing prices. Many are advertised
using ‘pence per Gigabyte’ prices as a lure. However a few notes of caution arise from the recent spate of
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• Unlike the internal hard drive in your PC, which is held securely in a rarely moved case, external
drives are being carried about from place to place and as a result they get dropped, knocked,
crushed and subject to all manner of abuse and trauma.
• They have trailing power and/or data cables that only too easily serve to pull them over, drag them
off desks or otherwise expose them to further risk.
• Unlike the hard drive in your PC or Laptop, which is cooled by a fan, external drives seldom have
cooling fans and, in an effort to make them as small as possible, the hard drive(s) inside rarely
have much free air space around them. This can result in overheating with the attendant problems
• External drives are an excellent destination for backing up files, but this only truly safeguards your
data if the files are initially saved to an internal drive and then backed up to the external. If the
external becomes the default place for files to be saved to, the data is not being backed up, it is
simply being saved to a destination where it is more likely to be lost.
The hard drives found inside externals are no less likely to fail than an internal drive. Indeed where the
drives inside an external are invisible to the user and perhaps chosen to keep costs low, might they be more
likely to fail even without the extra risks highlighted above? Where external drives carry extended
warranties, this might seem reassuring, but remember, the warranty will only cover repair or replacement of
the drive, not the cost of recovering any valuable data stored on it.
So how can we safely take advantage of these devices?, the following precautions should help:
• If you are carrying your external from place to place, protect it and treat it like the family silver (the
data on it may be harder and more expensive to replace than the silver)
• When connecting it to your computer, position it safely and watch where the cables run to avoid
• Backup the data on the external, or use it as the backup. Backup regularly and religiously, the
gremlins know when you have that crucial file that you meant to backup, but had not quite got
round to it!
• When choosing an external, is the biggest capacity and/or cheapest necessarily the best?, would
perhaps a better quality smaller capacity external still be more than big enough?
• Is the smallest size the best?, or would a slightly larger one with a fan or at least some breathing
room for the drive inside be a better option?
Hopefully this has given you a few points to ponder, and hopefully you will not be reading this because you
have fallen foul of a failed / dropped / deleted external.
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