What is an External Harddrive

If you are asking “what is an external hard drive?”, an external hard drive is the ultimate computer maintenance backup device. How much data it stores depends on how big the hard drive is inside the external case. If you find that there is not enough storage space you can simply remove the hard drive and replace it with a bigger one. Computer backup devices are a part of our lives now as people are accumulating more and more files. Gone are the days of tape backup devices, external drives are the in thing for now.

Most newer type external hard drives connect to the computer via a USB cable. Most computers have a front USB port and therefore make it easy to plug and play or use your external computer backup devices.

What does an external hard drive do?

Once connected to the computer, your hard drive backup device will show up in my computer as another hard disc drive. All you have to do is double click on the drive icon and you can paste or drop any file you like there. Now days people have a 500gb external hard drives or even larger, but the smaller ones are fine too. It all depends on how much space you personally need.

After connecting your external hard drive, go to the start menu, then computer, then you will see all the drives connected to the computer. C drive is usually your computers main hard drive so the device you just plugged in might be named D or F etc.

external hard driveexternal hard drive

The benefits of having an external hard drive

If you are wondering why you need an external hard drive, take note of these points below.

  1. It’s a portable device You can easily pick up your external hard drive, take it to a friends house, and connect it to their computer. Most computers have a USB port through which it can be connected.
  2. Safe Backup Device Because the external hard drive is not permanently connected to your computer, if your system crashes, the information and files on your external hard drive device will still be safe. There this is a great easy secure backup device.
  3. Easily upgradeable If you find that it does not have enough storage space for your backup files you can easily replace the hard drive with a bigger one. You cannot, as yet, upgrade a normal USB Flash drive.
  4. Can store a huge amount of Data and files For example if you had a 160gb external hard drive you could fit movies, backup your files such as music, photos, entire programs, and more on it.
  5. Will save your computer from getting clogged up with downloads and large files. If you find yourself downloading a lot of files it is always better to remove them from your computer to store somewhere else. This way your computers performance will not be effected by storing unnecessary files, data, and movies.
  6. You can format anytime.

See 5 kinds of computer backup storage.

What size external hard drive do you need?

If you just want to store documents, emails, small backup files, and photos then 20GB is enough for an external hard drive. However if you want to store in type of movie, video footage, large amounts of music, or even entire backups of your system, then you will need at least 100GB or more.

How much money does an external hard drive cost?

Nowadays you can buy a 2TB hard drive for about $79 and then you just have to buy an external hard drive enclosure which can be around $20 or $30. However there is no point buying them separately any more as they are just so damn cheap! For example you can get a Western Digital 2 TB external hard drive for under $100 and this includes everything you need. (may change) You can store or backup everything on your external hard drive. I cannot live without mine!!! It is a fantastic device…

Make sure you see my external hard drive buying guide to help you decide on what you need to buy.

What happens if the eternal hard drive fails to work and I lose my files?

OK this is not funny. It has happened to me. I had my 300GB external hard drive external hard drive sitting on a chair and knocked the cord and the whole thing gently slid off the chair. The hard drive was dead. It just tapped the floor. Anyway I was absolutely devastated and vowed this would not happen again. Now I have an external hard drive that backs up the other external hard drive. I know this sounds silly but imagine loosing 10 years of goodies that I had on that hard drive.. I would rather keep my files safe and have two computer backup devices.

It is very important that we all own an external hard drive to backup our precious files.

What is the Best External Harddrive?

Most external hard drives are pretty good. Of course I do recommend staying with the main well known brands as there is no rules or guidelines that hard drive manufacturers have to follow. Therefore reputation is the only thing they can lose.

But one of the best external harddrives is the WD harddrive (western digital as mentioned above) simply because it works for both Macs and PCs. This is a big factor to consider as many households have both types of computer systems.


  1. Charlie says


    I would not recommend cloud storage as I have had a very bad experience with it.
    A few months ago I put all my files on to iCloud to maximize running speeds on my computer. Unfortunately then iCloud did not show any of my files. Luckily I had my WD Portable Hard Drive hooked up and I restored my files via that.


  2. Tony Gow says

    I have a Seagate 1TB formatted in Fat32. I recently switched from PC to MAC and want to connect EHD to the MAC. When I do, I have only read permissions on the files and no ability to change. I am told that I need to reformat the EHD for MAC. In order to do this I transferred everything off the EHD to mac harddrive and pc harddrive for temp storage. However when I check the properties on the EHD it is telling me that I have 700G used. There are only about 5 seagate config files left. Is it counting MY Seagate (backup) file. If so, is it ok to reformat or should I somehow delete the backup? Thanks

  3. Peter "Sibo" Asige says

    I am surprised to find no reference to using a external hard drive as a bootable drive onto which one can install another poerating system. Right now I am using Win 7 ultimate but I have lots of softwarw that works better on Win XP sp2 -3. I came here to this site to find a clue to dual booting using a USB hard drive. No mention! I have always dual booted my systems but I bought a new laptop with Win 7 installed and I cannot place Win XP on a partition as it will overwrite the Win 7 boot. One must always put the newer OS on last. The solution of reformatting and installing first xp then win 7 is a no go as I haven’t a install disk. I would like to buy a 60GB or less external hard drive and boot from it. Too much to ask?

  4. Sean says

    I use quite a few external hard drives on my macs two are for time machine backups and i use 1.5 TB drives one desktop and one portable witch i use on my retna macbook pro with 768 SSD and i don’t want to fill it up with iTunes and those SSD are soldered onto the logic board not like the older macbook pros witch the hard drives are easy to upgrade and i have had the macbook pros hard drives crash on me and i have lost photos witch i was about to put onto the external hard drives and stay away from 7200 rpm laptop hard drives you are better off getting a 5400 rpm hard drive in a laptop or SSD and i have had one crash. The macbook pro came with a 500 GB 7200 rpm drive and swapped it for a 750 GB 7200 rpm and that crashed and i got a replacement for a 5400 rpm drive and it is still going. The 500 GB 7200 rpm drive i put it into the ps3 and it works very well but the desk top drives i get are 7200 rpm and i wouldn’t get a higher revving hard drives in external hard drives. Stay with 5400 rpm drive for laptops and portable and Desktop Hard drives stay with 7200 rpm.

  5. marjee mills says

    I am trying to retrieve some Ram memory, mine is at it’s limit. I bought an external hard drive to download my documents, music, picture and I have a
    lot of games (Big Fish). I tried to copy my files over to the ext. hard drive and did not gain any Ram memory. Am I doing something wrong or is there
    another step I need to do. Please help, not quite Computer literate in these things. Marjee Mills

    • Robert says

      RAM and gigabytes are two different things. RAM is how much memory your computer has to handle everyday tasks. Storage (gigabytes) lets you keep files on your computer.

      • Charlie (TechGuy) says


        Robert (above) is quite right ram and Gigabytes are two completely different things. Ram= processing power GB= storage space
        Think of ram as a car and GB as the garage ..


  6. victoria says


    I have a 2T and a 700 GB, both WD. I have a question though. The 2T is a back up of the 700, but my husband adds files to the 2T and I have added files to the 700, and now I want to make sure we have everything on the 2t and when I go to copy and paste the files it copies and pastes ALL the files, I would like it to find the new files that have been added and only add those, instead its going one by one copying and replacing everything, which takes forever. Is there a way I can get it to only and copy and paste the new files? I would hate to do this every week.(These are files I add at work and vary from word documents to pictures and music) (I have tried telling it to skip the folders that have the same name but if the folder has a new document it skips it too, I found out that if you skip the folder withe same it won’t copy new data in that folder) Help! Thanks! :)

    • Charlie says


      When you tried to ask the PC/Mac to skip the files that you have already saved did you click dont ask me again ? That would be your problem. You have to click skip for all the files that have already been transferred. I recommend you use a USB pen or memory card for file carrying as you can buy some with very large memories for no much money.


  7. Donal says

    Hi Mitz,
    I bough a 160gb external hard drive off ebay. I put all my photos onto it from my old laptop for backup, but my new lap top cannot open or read the hard drive.
    I brought it to work and I can see the photos on my PC but if I try to delete anything it says I dont have permission to do so!.
    An help will be really appreciated

    • says

      Hi there
      How did you put the photos on there? I guess you didn’t use the laptop for that? Anyway you can try giving the hard drive a new label..

      So make sure the EX HD is pluged in and on.

      1. Go to the start menu
      2. Right click on my computer
      3. Choose MANAGE
      4. Then find DISK MANAGEMENT
      5. You should see your ext hard drive under the list.
      6. Right click on it, and choose CHANGE DRIVE LETTER
      7. Choose something higher than the labels you have.

      For example if you have a hard drive that = C and a cd drive that = D then a card reader that could take up E,F,G.. Therefore change the EX HD to J or K just to be safe.

  8. Grant Collard says

    I bought a 3 TB WD External HD and I want to store not only photos and files on it but programs also. Ex. old tax programs a nd Photoshop programs. Is there any special way to download these programs onto the hard drive? Is there anything special that I have to do to the harddrive before I copy these programs. Last is this, I use windows vista and I need to know where in the computer to go to get to the programs to download them onto the extewrnal HD.

    • says

      You cannot get a copy of a program from the installed version. You need a exe file or install file that you get when you download a program from the internet. If you have installed a program from a cd then you can take an image of the cd to store it. Then you can burn the image to a disc when you need it.. Programs installed on the computer are scattered around the computer and cannot be taken out in one chunk.

  9. Rachel says

    I just bought an external harddrive to transfer my files,pics and music to from my laptop. Once I’ve transferred it all can I delete them from my laptop – I’m new to using this external harddrive and not to sure about how it all works.

  10. angel says

    Hi. :)
    Question: Right now I have a desktop and I don’t use it much except for my quickbooks. I’m looking into a laptop or even just a netbook so when I’m doing invoicing I’m not locked in my office where my PC is. Can quickboiks (the program itself) and all the data be stored on an external hard drive and accessed from any old netbook?

    • says

      To use the program on a netbook it would be better to install it and use the external hard drive for backup of the files for Quickbooks.

  11. Joseph says

    That’s really devastated, after you keep it for many years and it lose in a minute. Personally I regularly backup my files to make sure that whatever happens to my computer I can easily get it in my backup files.

  12. says

    I bought a 3TB from Amazon and the box is black and just big enough for the hard drive…Looks ok to me…I love the 3TB!!! :)

  13. says

    I currently have a few external hard drives. My 2 TB drive contains the master copy of all my data. My 1 TB portable hard drive contains a copy of the data that is on my larger external hard drive. I store my portable in another location to help keep my data safe. I am looking at buying a second portable drive to create a second copy of my data for even more protection.

    With the price of external hard drives, everyone should look at using one for backing up their data – especially if you don’t want to lose your data.

    • says

      Hi Paul
      Wow I love backups of backups….It is really important to backup your business files or any personal files for that matter..I really should do it more often. :)

  14. Dianne says

    Hi, thanks for a forum on back up drives, very handy. I wonder if anyone can answer a question that does not get me any hits on Google?
    I have a 7.47 GB external HD that I use for backing up my mail, app support, website bups, etc. (I use a bigger one for most other data).
    But here’s the weird thing: many files on the drive come out bigger than they were on the computer, so that even if I add up file sizes to fit under 7 GB, they won’t fit on the drive. I did a check file-by-file, and many of the files were up to 8 times bigger on the external drive!! Can anyone enlighten me why this is, and if I can do anything about it?

    • says

      I have never seen this one! I guess a 7GB hard drive sounds a bit old.. so your files are probably saved on a computer that uses the NTFS file system and the hard drive, being old uses Fat32. Maybe this is it but I am just guessing??

      Try saving your files on a newer hard drive.

      • dianne says

        Hi Mitz, I found out that yes, FAT32 needs extra space to store HFS files, but not all the files get bigger! I have not yet seen what the pattern is – some files get bigger and some don’t, and the % varies…. so I always just assume I have to shave a percent off what I think I’ll have on FAT32.

  15. Hasita says

    hi Mitz,
    I just went through your PPT to video tutorial on YouTube. It is excellent, I learnt quite a few things there, so thanks a ton!

    My q is reg. External HDs – a very basic silly q!
    I do not yet have an ext. HD, but when I purchase it, can it just directly be plugged in via the USB and start working on it? Do I first need to format it (I’m guessing definitely yes?!)
    Also, is partitioning it required? or preferred?
    How does one do that, if yes?
    thanks much,

    • says

      Hi Hasita
      The EX HD usually comes ready to use but in some cases you have to format. Partitioning is not required. Just create folders to store files in neatly. EX HD are very simple to use. You can simply plug it in and it will show up with your other drives in the start menu/computer/

  16. James says

    I have a WD 2TB external hard drive which I use mainly on my PC – because that is where I do the bulk of my work. But, I am thinking of getting a Seagate in the future, because they work on both Windows and Mac machines (pre-formatted).

    • says

      This is true James..My daughter bought the 3TB on Amazon (from the link in the left sidebar) and she is using it on her mac too.. That exact one works one both mac and PC.. and loads of room!! :)

  17. Eastman says

    I just purchased an 500gb external hard drive to store a program that is on my laptop that takes up 65 g of space. When I take the hard drive to another computer, it wants to download the program onto the new computer instead of letting me access the program. How can I change this so I can go to different computers and access this program without downloading it onto other computers?

    • says

      I am not sure, but it sounds like it is trying to autostart. I cannot tell to March because you have not mention what the program is.

      Without knowing I could still suggest that you petition your external hard drive and have the program on one petition. That way you can store files on the other.

      Again I’m not sure if this will help you, because I do not know if the program is trying to install when you plug the USB or when you click on the drive to open it.

  18. Ginger says

    I am planning to set up a WordPress.org blog and was wondering if I could download it to an external hard drive so I could access it from either of two Macs that I currently share with other family members.

  19. jennifer says

    Is it a ridiculous idea to get an external hard drive for a laptop? Everything I do is on my laptop and it is running slow and sometimes crashes for no reason. I would like to transfer my Itunes and my downloads to an external hard drive.

    • Mitz says

      I think you should have one. It is great for backup as well as cleaning out your laptop. Your laptop will run faster if it does not have files stored on it.