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Should I store my data on an external hard drive?

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External HardDrive

Computer with external hard drive Recently we got a call from a distraught customer who had lost all of their data. They had stored it on an external hard disk, and 5 months after buying the hard disk, the disk drive stopped functioning. They ended up spending almost $1000 with a data recovery specialist to recover their lost data.

The question our customer asked us was – should they store data on external hard drives from now on?
Recently we have observed that laptop manufacturers are switching from traditional hard drives to SSD hard drives. These drives are faster, consume less power, and are smaller and lighter than regular hard drives. Unfortunately they are also more expensive. So we see laptops being sold with 40-120 Gb SSD hard drives where previously you could buy laptops with more than 200-300 Gb drives quite easily.

As a result, laptop manufacturers are recommending people store extra data on an external hard disk. While this is a sensible recommendation, there are some considerations to keep in mind.How you setup your computer is very important to your data security.

Your data is now in two places
If you store some data on your laptop drive, and some on an external drive, that means that your data is now stored in two places. This means that you now need to make decisions about how to store your data – what kind of data goes on your laptop? What goes on your external drive? Or maybe your data goes on the laptop, and the kids’ goes on the external drive?

Of course, whatever is on your laptop, you have access to  wherever you go. That’s the benefit of a portable computer. Except, now your data is not always with you. When you’re traveling on vacation, or at the office, you will suddenly realise that you don’t have that important document because it is on the external drive.

If you are going to go through with this two-drive approach, we recommend that you think through the way you want to store your data. Come to an agreement with all others who will be using this laptop, so that you all use the data the same way. As much as possible, try and keep all your data on the external hard disk, except for the information that you most likely will need when you are away from your home.

You could even aim to keep no data on your laptop and everything on your external hard drive. When you plan to be away, copy the documents you know you need on to your laptop, and when you come back, copy them back to your hard drive. You will need to be disciplined about this, otherwise over time things could get messy and you’ll end up having a mix of documents on both drives.

Finally, you could try using cloud-based services such as Drop-box or Box.Net. Both of these services allow you to store files on a hard disk, and have a copy of these stored online. You can then always get access to them as long as you have an internet connection.

Backing up is more complicated
Hopefully you have got a robust backup system in place. If you don’t, we recommend you read our article: How to backup your computer.

Now if you do indeed have a backup system in place, you now need to ensure that it caters for backing up both your laptop AND your external hard drive. Do not forget to back both up, otherwise you could be in for a nasty surprise.

You may have no choice
So maybe you don’t want to have to deal with two hard disks, and would prefer to do things the old-fashioned way? Well unfortunately, you may not have much choice in this matter. Consider:

  • We are storing more and more data electronically. Even if you had a bigger disk on your laptop, in time it will not be sufficient, and you will need to find a two-disk solution.
  • You can go for non-SSD hard drives, but then you’ve got a heavier, slower, and more power-hungry laptop. It may be better to put up with a two-disk solution and have a nicer laptop.

Need help figuring this out?
If you’ve read through this and still require some help – give us a call. We’d be happy to help you over the phone at no cost to you. Give our friendly techs a call on 1-855-704-1390, or request help at our website at

Don Davis

Web Developer and Senior Technician at Technical Support Today
Sagar is a Senior Technician and webdeveloper with Technical Support Today. He specialize in PHP and Open Source programming, HTML5, CSS, Javascript and web standards. When not programming or managing developements, he contribute in TST Blog.
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