Can I replace my laptop’s failing internal drive with an external drive?

Terri C September 8, 2013
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It’s just a matter of time.  I’ve known it for a while now, but its definitely getting worse – quickly. no surprise really.  My question is can i buy an external hard drive and transfer everything over to it – OS also – or do i have to purchase an internal one?  It’s a Dell Latitude d420 with XP Pro on it. Also the little bit of shopping i have done [on 1tb] seems to all say usb3.0.  I have 2.0 are these mostly backward compatible or do i have to get 2.0?  I always thought that the 3.0 had a different plug.  So maybe that’s hardware too?

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  1. David C
    September 10, 2013 at 11:17 am

    You can clone Windows 7 to the SSD, but it is greatly preferable to do a clean install the first time to the SSD, with your bios set to AHCI sata mode. If you don't use your optical drive much, there are converters that allow you to use your optical bay for a secondary HDD for storage.

  2. Oron J
    September 10, 2013 at 10:39 am

    You CAN use an external hard drive, but this is not a foolproof solution. First of all, the computer's speed will probably take a hit, since, although USB 2.0 is theoretically high enough, in practice most USB devices (both on the computer and the hard disc side) tend to slow it down. Also, USB uses a lot of CPU cycles and your laptop, which is fairly slow to begin with, will slow down further.
    Thirdly, some USB drives, particularly modern ones, require more power than a USB port can provide. They shouldn't, and on paper everything will be OK, but it may happen nonetheless, and the only way to find out is to try it and see...
    I do understand that you are not keen to replace the hard disc, particularly as it's an 1.8" drive which is relatively rare and expensive, and possibly not easily replaceable on your laptop. So, how about using a fast USB 2.0 *flash drive* you can get and using that instead? It would stick out less from the laptop, (probably) use less power than an HDD and may even be faster!

  3. Bruce E
    September 9, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    With the cables provided with all of the USB 3.0 external drives I have seen, it will work with your USB 2.0 ports on your laptop. Even though the drives are USB 3.0, since you are using 2.0 ports on your laptop, your transfer rates will only happen at the slower USB 2.0 speeds.

    If you really wish to use the external drive alone and forego replacing the internal drive, you can do so, but be aware that the speed at which your computer operates will be reduced because the performance offered by the external drive over USB is much slower than an internal drive. It isn't that the external drive is too slow to be used like this, it is just that you will not get optimal performance from the laptop in this configuration.

    All in all, you are much better off getting a new internal drive for your computer as there will be fewer potential complications, especially when you consider that your external hard drive will have to be plugged in somewhere reducing the mobility that using a laptop would normally provide.

  4. Rama M
    September 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

    if you are ready to use the external harddrive completely for the laptop . then screw off and take the HD from External and use it in Laptop ..

    • Terri C
      September 9, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      my effort here is to not have to take my laptop apart, ive been told by others that an external drive is to slow to use as my primary drive,would that be different installed in my netbook,than if its external?

  5. Alan W
    September 9, 2013 at 6:25 am

    This link explains how to get your machine to boot from an external drive.
    http://pcsupport.about.com/od/tipstricks/ht/bootusbflash.htm
    USB 3.0 is backwards compatible, the plug is just a different colour thats all.

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