What Is A Portable Hard Drive?

Over the last few years, the amount of data that I’ve needed to store for my computer has gotten larger and larger. So I’ve been looking into alternative solutions to simply adding more hard drives into my computer case itself. One of those being an external storage device.

So what is a portable hard drive? A portable hard drive is a magnetic hard disk drive that plugs into a USB port on a computer. The hard drive is powered entirely through a USB connection and is used to store additional data or files in a portable device. Modern portable hard drives often rival normal hard drives in storage capacity.

Let’s look a little closer at portable hard drives, how they operate, as well as the risks and benefits of using them below.


Important Terms to Know About Portable Hard Drives

Before we delve too deep into the world of external storage, there is some terminology that is worth learning. You may not always see these words come up, but knowing about them will help you better understand the ins and outs of portable hard drives.

  • USB – Short for Universal Serial Bus. This is the industry standard for connecting external devices to your computer
  • FireWire – Also known as IEEE 1394. This was a connection cable similar to USB, but has generally fallen out of use in favor of much faster USB connections in recent years
  • eSATA – Short for External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. eSATA is a newer type of external connection that acts as a hybrid bridge between SATA and USB connections. Allowing both to be used in the same connection port. This allows a user to operate an internal hard drive externally with certain adapters
  • External Hard Drive/External Storage Device – Simply other terms used to refer to portable hard drives. There are a few other types of external storage other than hard drives, but they all have the same principle use

What Does a Portable Hard Drive Do

A portable hard drive is often also referred to as an external hard drive or an external storage device. Most external hard drives are mechanical, meaning they’re hard disk drives. If you’d like to know more about a hard disk drive and exactly how they operate, I wrote an article on hard drives here.

Unlike hard drives that sit inside your case, portable hard drives work a little differently. Their moving parts are still the same, but the ways you use them, and the reasons you use them, are going to be entirely different from a hard drive installed inside your computer.

There are some main reasons why you’d want to be using a portable hard drive:

  • Needing to store a lot of none critical files onto an external hard drive like pictures or text documents
  • Transferring a large number of files from one computer to another
  • Traveling for work and needing more storage capacity for your laptop
  • Backing up important system files in case your computer runs into issues
  • Not wanting to physically open your computer to install a new hard drive

An external drive will give you much more flexibility with data storage if you find yourself on the move a lot. They make amazing companions to laptops as well, offering you more secure storage space for files you may not necessarily want to use up all your critical laptop space with.


How Does a Portable Hard Drive Work

Most portable storage devices will work with a simple USB connection that is provided with the hard drive when you purchase it. Others may use FireWire or eSATA but all of them will connect to your computer via some sort of external wire. These connection cables not only allow you to transfer data between the portable hard drive and your computer, but they also power the storage device as well!

Once your computer is on and you plug in your external hard drive, the device should boot up automatically. Modern operating systems will bring up a window without you having to click on anything. With this window open, you can click and drag files that you would like to copy onto the external drive.

Note: Dragging a file into the portable hard drive window does not move the file off your main computer. It only creates a copy on the external hard drive. If no longer want the file on your main computer hard drive, you will have to manually delete it.

Once you’ve finished transferring the files you want onto the external storage device, you simply unplug it from the computer. This will power down the device and the window on your computer should close automatically. At this point, you’re done. You’ve successfully stored your files externally!


What are the Benefits of Using a Portable Hard Drive

With file sizes of programs, games, music, video, and images growing larger all the time, the need for more and more space to store them continues to be a need for most PC users. With this in mind, there are some clear benefits to using external hard drives:

  • External hard drives are lightweight and portable
  • They have comparable storage capacity to internal hard drives
  • They can be used for travel
  • More easily replaced than an internal hard drive
  • No installation necessary. Plug it in and you’re good to go
  • They’re usually quite small and take up very little space in any environment

What are the Risks of Using a Portable Hard Drive

While there are certainly a lot of amazing uses and reason to use portable hard drives, it’s important to keep in mind that they come with some risks. As with all computer components, some things must be kept in mind:

  • Their small size makes them easy to lose
  • Because you’re usually moving them around, they can be dropped, which can easily damage the drive
  • Portable hard drives aren’t secure, anyone can plug it in and have access to your files if they get a hold of it
  • Since they aren’t inside the case, external hard drives are exposed to the elements
  • Portable hard drives are vulnerable to liquids being spilled on them in the event of an accident


Saving it for Later (Conclusion)

Although portable hard drives are not in the forefront of computer conversations these days, I believe they’re still an important piece of hardware. They can be used to easily supplement a growing need for more storage capacity of the average PC user while avoiding some of the headaches that come with installing an internal hard drive inside your computer case.

In the future, I’m sure will see these external storage devices continue to improve alongside their more standard internal hard drive cousins. More storage capacity, faster speeds, and sturdier designs. Most importantly, I’m sure we’ll see their prices become more competitive as well.

If you’re considering the idea of getting a portable hard drive, I would say there’s no better time to do it. There’s very little risk in using one as long as some common sense precautions are made to keep the device safe and secure.

If you have any questions or comments on portable hard drives, don’t hesitate to leave them below and I will make an effort to get back to you directly!


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