may earn a small commission from some purchases made through our site. However, any earnings do not affect how we review services. Learn more about our editorial integrity and research process.

use external hard drive for backup

Should I Use an External Hard Drive for Backup in 2024?

Mauricio PreussJackie Leavitt

Written by Mauricio Preuss (CEO & Co-Founder)

Reviewed by Jackie Leavitt (Chief Editor)

Last Updated: 2024-02-08T13:44:00+00:00

All our content is written fully by humans; we do not publish AI writing. Learn more here.

The only way to ensure no important files get lost is to create a backup of your hard disk; using an external hard drive for backup is one of the best protective measures one can take to secure their data.

Have you ever suffered data loss due to a virus or system failure? If so, you’re not alone. Losing important files is a frustrating experience, to say the least.

Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of times my system had to be reset because an update didn’t install correctly or hardware failed. There was a loss of documents and precious photos. To say that it was annoying is an understatement.

How Does It Work?

To create a backup of your files, simply connect an external hard drive to the computer by plugging it into a USB port. At this point, drag and drop the files you wish to protect or utilize a backup software utility. After the transfer is complete, just disconnect the drive and store it in a safe location.

We recommend that files be backed up daily so that copies are up to date. Using a software program such as CrashPlan or NovaBackup can help you with that, and limit the duplication of information; making the whole process flow smoothly. 

Pros & Cons of External Hard Drive for Backup


  • No ongoing costs
  • Relatively fast
  • Inexpensive
  • Large storage space


  • It will eventually fail
  • Has to be constantly connected
  • Can be easily lost
  • Generally insecure

Difference Between Storage & Backup

A backup is slightly different than simply using external disk storage. With storage, you are able, and expected, to access and modify data regularly. Users interested in freeing up space on their internal HDDs turn to external disk storage as a solution.

A backup, however, is not usually accessed regularly. Sometimes, depending on the type of program utilized, such as cold storage, files are kept in a read-only state; making it impossible for users to edit them on the backup drive.

The primary purpose of a backup is to provide you with a copy of files in the event of a total system failure, sort of like a library archive. With an external storage drive, you can manually or automatically relocate data to it.

Though backups are performed manually, they’re often left on auto-pilot; with the transfer software running in the background. The advantage of using software to backup data from a PC lies in scheduling; you can tell the software when to backup, down to the hour and minute.

The software takes care of backing up only the files which have experienced recent change, a process called incremental backup. Also, some programs create a boot-able clone of the entire operating system, which speeds up the restoration process in case of a hard disk meltdown.

Incremental Backups

When using an external hard drive for backup, you typically create incrementally updated copies. Which means, once the initial full backup is complete (and it can take time), only files that have been changed or newly created  (since the last run), are going to be saved.

By choosing to do an incremental backup, you save time and can set a schedule to transfer copies when the system is not in use. If you wish to create a backup of every single change made to every file, a continuous backup is possible.

For this, however, you need software that runs in the background constantly and the external drive has to be connected at all times.This can hog system resources making it run slower.

Bootable Clone

Having files backed is a good plan, it’s also a brilliant idea to have a boot-able clone (YouTube link) of your internal HDD. This particular backup copies all system files and has a boot sector.  In the event of a catastrophic system failure, plug this hard drive in and continue working.

You can use this drive to restore all files, including the operating system, to the new hard drive. Additionally, in a pinch, this drive can be used as a working drive until new hardware is installed.

As with regular backups, a boot-able clone is only as good as its most recent creation. If you do not update the external hard drive regularly, files may be missing from recovery. It is important that you run an update at least weekly to ensure all data is retained.

Drive Size Matters

The size of your external hard drive should depend on the type of backup created and how much information needs to be stored. Apparently, if there are several hundred or thousand files scheduled for backup, a relatively large drive is required.

If you’d prefer a boot-able disk,  just make sure its size is equivalent or greater than the current one. External hard drives are relatively inexpensive, a 1TB hard drive costs less than $100 and it offers enough space for the average user to store thousands of photos or documents.

For those concerned about fire or flood damage to a drive, there are waterproof and fireproof ones available, these do cost more but are worth the price, especially if you live in a high flood area or any dangerous environment.


While having an external hard drive is a good idea, there are a few downsides. An external drive is still hardware which means one day it will fail or get into a tough accident. In order to access files on the device, it has to be with you at all times.

Additionally, the person responsible for keeping it secure is you, to a tech savvy person this is a straightforward process — for the not so tech savvy, it’s not that easy. Finally, to ensure the device is up-to-date, it has to be plugged into a computer.

That means each time an update is necessary; the drive has to be retrieved and slotted into the USB port (or left attached at all times).


Should an external hard disk drive be used for backup? Absolutely yes, it’s an easy and cost-effective way to save all kinds of data. It offers peace of mind in the event of a system breakdown; ensuring nothing is lost forever. Of course, external hard drives should be used in conjunction with other methods of backup, such as an online backup service.

Make sure you check out our guide on how to backup an external hard drive, too.

Which will help ensure all your files are protected, in the event of a cataclysmic occurrence or external drive corruption. If you have any questions, tips and tricks on how external hard drive for backup can work in a unique situation, please leave a comment below.

↑ Top