Cloud Storage or an External Hard Drive

If you keep running out of space on your computer or you’ve lost count of the many USB keys you use to save documents, it’s time to get a better storage solution for your files. The two most common ways of storing data are using an external hard drive or cloud storage. In this article, we’re going to compare the two to help you figure out which is best for you.

Using cloud storage or an external hard drive is standard practice for keeping data safe, secure and accessible, as well as freeing up space on a computer. At, we’ve reviewed a lot of cloud storage services, including familiar names such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and pCloud, as well as a variety of external hard drives.

We’re going to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and recommend which you should use.

Before we move on, though, people often confuse online storage and online backup, so understanding the difference is important when deciding whether to use cloud storage or an external hard drive. Both tools work by hosting files in the cloud, so you can access them from desktops or mobile devices that are connected to the internet.

That said, their general behavior determines their purpose even though the infrastructure may be the same. If what you want is a backup solution, you can use CloudBerry Backup to backup your files to an external hard drive. Read about it in our CloudBerry Backup review.

External Hard Drives vs. Cloud Storage: Which Should You Use?

Though an external hard drive is safe from hackers and stores everything in minutes, it’s susceptible to damage, theft and hard drive failure. That may push you toward using cloud storage, which uses the cloud to keep files safe at all times.

Below, we have put together a quick comparison table that lays out the pros and cons of each solution. We’ll go into the details in the next section.

 Cloud StorageExternal Hard Drive
Pros1. Low monthly payments
2. Universal access
3. Sync technology
4. Advanced encryption
1. Fast transfer speeds
2. Large storage capacity
3. One-time upfront cost
4. No recurring fees
5. Easy to use
Cons1. Recurring fees
2. Slower transfer speeds
3. Capped capacity
1. Susceptible to fire, theft & hard drive failure
2. Has to be carried everywhere for access to files

External Hard Drives: The Lure of Local Storage

External hard drives are cheaper than ever and only require a one-time upfront cost, so you can avoid the recurring bandwidth usage and subscription fees typical of cloud storage services. They also offer high storage capacities, ranging from 1TB to 15TB, and high transfer speeds, which is essential if you often move lots of big files.

Among the most popular manufacturers are Seagate and Western Digital, which offer lots of capacities and fast transfer speeds. 

If you want one that’s built for durability, the LaCie Rugged Mini is a great choice thanks to its distinctive rubber bumpers that protect it from water, dust, and medium-height drops. It’s storage capacity is limited, though.

Another good option is the Toshiba Canvio Basics, which is compact, has fast transfer speeds and a cool running temperature.

A physical solution may seem like a step backward, especially when cloud storage lets you save data online, but external hard drives are great value, easy to use and allow you to store large amounts of data at little cost. Plus, it takes less time to copy large files to a physical drive than it does to upload them to an online service. It’s also unlikely your files will be hacked.

The problem with external hard drives is that they operate on a single disk, which leaves them vulnerable to many of the same issues as your computer’s internal hard drive. Plus, they’re susceptible to theft and fire, so your files could be lost along with your computer.

Cloud Storage: A Silver Lining

Rather than storing your files and documents on an external hard drive, a cloud storage service, such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive, is a better option. 

Cloud storage solutions provide sync technology that automatically synchronizes your computer and your online account. They’re also reliable because you can access your files from anywhere on any device. Your files are protected from damage by natural disasters, events in your home and even theft, which external hard drives are susceptible to, as well.

Another benefit of cloud storage is that if you use a reputable service, it’ll ensure redundancy by storing your data on multiple servers. That way, if one server fails, you can still access your files with interruption. With external hard drives, you’d have to take it to a data retrieval specialist who may still not be able to recover your files.

The downside to cloud services is that most only offer a few gigabytes of storage for free, which only works if you have a small number of files you want to keep. Plus, the provider has control over how and where your data is stored once you upload your files. That’s why you must read their terms and privacy policy.

Cloud storage is also vulnerable to hackers, though more cloud storage apps are deploying advanced encryption standards. For example, cloud services ( review) and pCloud (pCloud review) encrypt user files before transferring them to their servers. Once uploaded, the files are encrypted and unreadable by anyone other than the user. That ensures they’re kept safe.

As with external hard drives, there’s a lot of competition in the cloud storage market, but you can shop for the deal that makes the most sense for you. We recommend reading our best cloud storage comparison piece, where we detail the key features to look for and the best options for each feature.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to have a good storage strategy that ensures your photos, videos and music are there for future use and that none of your documents disappear. External HD drives are easy to use, fast and affordable, but they’re just not that reliable.

A Backblaze study reported hard drive failure rates as high as 29.08 percent, which means those drives are good for up to about four years, after which you need another storage plan for your files.

Cloud storage may not be as fast or cheaper than external drives but it’s more reliable. Most services have dedicated apps for major operating systems. Plus, they offer sync technology and security and cater to additional data concerns, such as file recovery.

The bottom line is neither an external hard drive nor cloud storage is more effective than the other. It depends on the type of data you want to store, the storage capacity you need and how you want to access your data. 

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For businesses that need to store sensitive or proprietary information, external hard drives are the most secure option. They’re also more cost effective, especially when you have large amounts of data to store because they offer lower cost per gigabyte.

If your priorities are flexibility and convenience, cloud storage provides unfettered access to your files and data over any internet connection. It’s particularly important if you work remotely or routinely use or store data on different devices.

Both external hard drives and cloud storage services perform well in terms of storing data. We recommend using them in combination.

Do you have questions or comments? Drop us a line in the comment section below, and thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on “Should You Use Cloud Storage or an External Hard Drive in 2019?”

  1. Great article. It let me know why to use Cloud storage by people. just with your words,file sync is not necessity. In advantage,backup is important. why did we have so many sync product?

    1. First, I don’the fly back and forth between Europe and the u.s.
      I backup my data at home to 3 different medias.
      Do I really need the cloud??


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