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How to Choose Between an Internal and External Hard Drive

by Steve Brown
Published August 14, 2009 | Updated June 30, 2015

When you're looking to add a new hard drive to your computer, you have the choice of adding an internal hard drive or an external hard drive. Internal hard drives are installed inside your computer, and external hard drives are connected to your computer via USB or Firewire or some similar connection. External hard drives typically have their own case, called an enclosure; this enclosure is what allows the hard drive to connect to your computer's USB or Firewire ports. If you were to open the enclosure, you would probably find a hard drive identical to a typical internal hard drive.

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  1. You may be wondering why, if internal and external hard drives are so similar, you would go with one over the other.

    The short answer is to choose what's most convenient for you. First off, consider that an internal hard drive will need to be installed inside your computer's case; if you're comfortable working inside your computer, then this is no big deal, but the majority of computer users would probably prefer to avoid this. External hard drives, on the other hand, are simple to get up and running; you simply connect it to your computer via an available USB or Firewire interface and let your plug-and-play operating system recognize it. (Non plug-and-play operating systems may require some extra effort.) External hard drives normally come pre-formatted; however, if your hard drive has not been formatted, then you only need perform the fairly simple, albeit potentially time-consuming, step of formatting it. (Formatting is almost entirely handled by your operating system; you simply tell your computer to format the drive, and it does the work.)

  2. Because of the different ways that internal and external hard drives connect to your computer, users may see differences in performance.

    However, since USB 2.0 and Firewire are both capable of very high-speed communication, the typical user may never notice a difference in speed between an external hard drive connected via one of these interfaces and an internal ATA hard drive. Granted, there are higher-performance ways to connect hard drives to computers, both internally and externally, but these methods sometimes require additional hardware and nearly always demand some in-depth know-how.

  3. Finally, consider the convenience of an external hard drive.

    If you want to pick up your hard drive and take it somewhere with you, you'll definitely want to choose an external hard drive. This simply wouldn't be practical with an internal hard drive. This also makes external hard drives an excellent choice for sharing files and storage space between multiple computers, taking large files to work or to a friend's place, and so on.

  4. In conclusion, the choice between an internal and an external hard drive boils down to the question of what's most convenient to you.

    If you like the idea of a more portable hard drive, then an external hard drive may be a great choice for you. If it's more convenient for you to install a hard drive inside the case instead of using a USB or Firewire interface, then an internal hard drive is probably what you're looking for.