Tech Tips

Do you need to use an external hard drive for backup?

Backing up your hard disk is an essential measure to prevent losing important data. You can use an external hard drive to create a backup and ensure that your files don’t get lost. Many people have experienced loss of data due to a system error, a virus or a simple mistake. It is not an uncommon experience, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating. In order to ensure that you don’t lose valuable files such as business documents or family photos, you need to backup the data. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits and downsides of backing up using an external hard drive.

Getting started

Before going through the reasons why you should consider or dismiss this backup method, let’s start by taking a look at the way it works. In order to backup your files, you just need to connect an external hard drive to your computer. To do this, you can plug the computer to the hard drive using a USB port. After that, you can simply drag and drop the files you want to save or use a backup software client. Once the transfer is completed, you just need to disconnect the drive and store it in a secure place. It is advisable to back up the data on a daily basis to make sure that the copies are not outdated. To make things easier, you can rely on an application like NovaBackup or CrashPlan.

Difference between storage and backup

Backing up is not exactly the same as using external disk storage. With storage, you can access and edit data on a regular basis. If you want to free up space on your internal HDDs, you can opt for external disk storage. A backup on the other hand, is not really meant to be accessed regularly. There are cases in which the files are saved in a read-only mode (for instance, in the case of cold storage), meaning that you won’t be able to modify them on the backup drive. The main goal of creating a backup is to have a copy of files in case of complete system failure. It serves as a library archive. When you use an external storage drive, it is possible to relocate data to it manually or automatically.

Although is possible to create backups manually, in general they are left on auto-pilot, while the software is running in the background. The best thing about using software to backup data from a computer is the scheduling. It is possible to tell the software when is the best time to backup, specifying the exact hour. The software will handle the backing up task, making sure that only the files that have been recently modified are backed up. This is known as incremental backup. It is also worth mentioning that there are programs that create a bootable clone of the entire operating system, speeding up the restoration process if a hard disk meltdown occurs.

Incremental Backups

When you use an external hard drive to back up your data, normally you create copies that are incrementally updated. This means that after the initial backup is completed, which can take a while, the only files that will be saved are those that have been modified or that were recently created (since the last run). When you select an incremental backup, you can save time and establish a schedule for the transfer of the copies. The transfer can be scheduled during a time when the system is not being used. If preferred, you can perform a backup of every file, using a continuous backup. However, this requires software that runs in the background constantly and the external drive has to be always connected, which can use up system resources, slowing it down.

Bootable Clone

It is a good idea to have files backed, but it is also good to have a bootable clone of your internal hard drive. This kind of backup copies all the system files and it has a boot sector. If a catastrophic system failure occurs, you can plug the hard drive and continue working. It is possible to use the drive to restore all the files, even the operating system to the new hard drive. In addition, the drive can be used as a working drive until you install new hardware. Just like with regular backups, the quality of a bootable depends on the latest creation. If the external hard drive is not updated regularly, you may miss some data from the recovery. You will need to make sure that an update is run on a weekly basis (at least), to make sure that all the files are saved.

Drive Size

The size of the external hard drive depends on the kind of backup created and how much data has to be stored. If there is a high amount of files scheduled for backup, it is likely that you need a large drive. In case you prefer a bootable disk, you need to make sure that the size is the same or bigger than the one you currently have. External hard drives are relatively affordable. You can get a 1TB hard drive for less than $100 and there is enough space for the average user to keep a large number of photos or documents. If you are worried about possible natural disasters or other events that could damage the drive, it is possible to find hard drives that can resist water and fire, although they cost more.


In general, having an external hard drive is a good option to consider, but not everything is perfect. Since a external drive is hardware, it is still vulnerable to failure and damage. Plus, you need to have the device with you at all times to be able to access the data it holds. Another thing to keep in mind is that you are responsible for the security of the hard drive. If you don’t have advanced technical skills, this can be a challenge. Last, but not least, it should be noted that the device has to plugged into a computer to make sure that it is up to date. Whenever an update is required, the drive needs to be retrieved and plugged into the USB port, or you would need to leave it attached all the time.

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