What Is an External Hard Drive?
If you aren’t familiar with what a hard drive is, check out our previous article What Is a Hard Drive?.
Every computer needs a hard drive to store the operating system information, programs and other peices of user input. Most hard drives are internal — built into the body of the computer — but since our personal computing needs have outgrown the basic hard drive installed on most computers, the external hard drive has become popular.
Why Do I Need an External Hard Drive?
An external hard drive is very useful. For starters, it is portable and can be used to move large chunks of data from one computer to the next. External hard drives also let the user “back up” important information off the internal hard drive. Since internal hard drives are exposed to all kinds of pressures and danger (from viruses to hard drive crash) it is smart to keep certain files in an external location. Your sensitive financial documents, big chunks of music or image files, movies, or even a backup of the entire contents of your internal hard drive can be stored securely on an external hard drive.
What Are Some Threats to Internal Hard Drives?
The Internet exposes our computers to security threats all the time — Trojan horses, spyware, or good old-fashioned computer viruses are so rampant it is basically impossible to protect your computer from them.
Firewalls and anti-virus programs can’t catch everything, and this kind of danger isn’t the only threat to your information. There are all kinds of ways your data can be lost — family members accidentally erasing old tax files, or physical damage to a computer from any number of causes can put your data at risk.
It isn’t just danger that threatens the hard drive — the sheer size of most people’s data requirements can put a hard drive through a serious test. We all have massive music collections or any other number of huge files that can slow down our drives.
Since an external hard drive sits outside the main computer, users can store information safely. The external hard drive is connected to the computer using a specific kind of high-speed cable that allows data to move on and off all the time. This cable allows the external hard drive to “talk” to the computer so that you can access your data instantly. The two most common kinds of cords are USB or Firewire.
Other Benefits of Portable External Hard Drives
Since external hard drives are portable and work just like any plug-and-play device, any computer with USB or Firewire ports will recognize the external hard drive as a storage device, and instantly assign it an identity. You can access your external drive as easily as you access your internal one.
Another benefit to external hard drives — multiple family members or computer users can store their own drives separate from other users, to protect sensitive documents or just to keep some of the burden off the internal drive.
With the cost of portable external hard drives dropping, some people own multiples external drives and use them as needed. You don’t have to plug them all in all the time — just attach them to your computer as needed. It is common to see one external hard drive for multimedia, one for data backup, one for work files, etc.
The external hard drive is as much a part of modern computing as the internal hard drive. An external hard drive won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and the time and effort it saves you (not to mention the data) are well worth the price.
This article is part of a series we’re doing on computer basics. The other posts in this series are:
- What Is Wireless Internet Access?
- What Is Computer Software?
- What Is a Hard Drive?
- What Is a Software Patch?