Technology Explained

6 Reasons Why You Still Need External Drives in 2016

Dan Price 24-08-2016

In recent years, there’s been a huge explosion in the number of cloud-based storage solutions that are available.


Microsoft’s OneDrive now offers a mammoth 1 TB of space to Office 365 subscribers. People who buy a Chromebook One Million Reasons to Buy a Chromebook, Chromebooks Outsell Macs... [Tech News Digest] Google is bringing Android apps to Chrome OS, Chromebooks outsell Macs in the U.S., Gran Turismo Sport has a release date, help Google name Android N, and watch a nightmarish vision of our future. Read More  can receive 100 GB of Google Drive storage for two years. Dropbox users can bag themselves a free 16 GB through referrals. The list goes on.

With mobile devices also increasingly making use of these solutions 4 Ways to Sync and Upload Photos to Cloud Storage on Android Here are the best apps to automatically upload Android photos to the cloud so you never lose precious memories. Read More , do we even need traditional external hard-drives? Do they have a place in modern computing? Absolutely! Here are a few reasons why.

1. Data Backups

As any serious computer user should know, backing up your data is an essential part of good virtual housekeeping.

Accidents can – and do – happen. Errant coffee cups can be thrown over laptops, pets can knock computers off desks, power surges can blow fuses, computer hard drives can start malfunctioning… A lot can go wrong when you least expect it.

But why can’t you use cloud storage to back up your stuff? Well, you can, but there are some drawbacks.


The most significant concern is time. If you have tens of thousands of photos, videos, movies, and songs saved on your machine, it’s going to take hours to upload them all to an online service. It’s also going to eat up precious bandwidth, limiting what you can do while the process is running.

There are also data caps and costs to consider Why Do Data Caps Exist and How Can You Bypass Them? ISP and mobile data caps are frustrating, but why do they exist? Here's how to bypass your data cap and enjoy limitless internet. Read More . If your ISP imposes caps, you don’t want to use your entire allowance making sure you’ve got an extra copy of that time granny fell in the swimming pool – it’s much more fun using your data to watch films on Netflix instead How Much of the Internet's Bandwidth Does Netflix Use? Have you ever wondered how much of the Internet's total traffic is used to stream Netflix? Read More .

2. Data Rights

You might think this is a red herring. After all, it’s a commonly-repeated trope that you will always own the data that you put onto services like Google Drive.

In fact, it’s even right there in Google’s terms and conditions:


“You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.”

Sounds great. But what about this section?

“When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works, communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

Okay, so that’s a bit more suspicious. They conclude with this:

“This license continues even if you stop using our Services.”

That final quote is the kicker. As soon as you upload anything to Google’s servers, they can use it in various ways for an infinite amount of time.

Ultimately, this boils down to the misunderstanding between ownership and usage. Google cannot take your holiday snaps and claim they created them, but they can absolutely use them for other purposes (because you agree to it when you use the service).


3. Portability and Offline Access

The physical size of external hard drives has shrunk rapidly over the last decade and most common models are now no larger than the size of a wallet. That makes them perfect for throwing in your backpack and taking with you on your travels.


“Ah,” you might say, “but if I use Dropbox then I don’t need to worry about taking anything with me. No one can steal my data and I don’t have to worry about all those extra cables.”

That’s true, but what if you’re away from the Internet for a prolonged period? Perhaps you’re doing a gap year in the jungles of Brazil, maybe you’re on holiday in a place with shoddy Wi-Fi, or perhaps your own Wi-Fi connection in your house is less-than-reliable.


At the very least, it’s wise to have an external drive close by. You’ll always be able to access and/or back up your data if you do.

4. More Security

This point is two-fold.

Firstly, there is the issue of accessing your cloud storage on a public computer, which comes with a number of risks. Do you really want to access private data on a public computer?

You have no idea what malware, spyware, or keyloggers 5 Sites to Learn the History of Malware Experience malware from the pre-Internet age. These websites will let you dig through the history of the humble computer virus. Read More might be running in the background. People can “shoulder surf” by discreetly looking at your screen. Cookies and browsing history can be stored, you might forget to log out of your accounts, you might not delete any files you download.

The second and potentially more concerning problem is hacking How Secure Are Your Documents In Google Drive? Read More .

You could be the victim of a phishing attack After the Massive Tumblr Leak, It's Time to Talk about Phishing The vast majority of the 68 million hacked Tumblr accounts are perfect targets for phishing emails. But how do these emails work, how can they be stopped, and can you avoid phishing emails? Read More , someone could crack your password, or the company’s servers could be hacked. All of the scenarios can lead to a situation where your private and sensitive data (ID card copies, passport numbers, birth certificates, etc) are stolen and fall into the hands of cyber criminals.

The answer is simple: if you don’t want someone else to see it, don’t put it on the Internet, and that includes your data backups.

5. Lifetime Cost

Remember how Microsoft, Google, and Dropbox are giving away free cloud storage space like candy to kids? Well, if you don’t own a Chromebook or subscribe to Office 365, that storage space can be quite costly — especially if you want to be a heavy user.


At the time of writing, 1 TB of storage will set you back $119.88 per year on Google Drive and $99.99 per year on Dropbox. This recurring cost can really add up over time. In just 10 years, you’ll have spent upwards of $1,000 on nothing but access to storage space.

External hard drives, on the other hand, are much cheaper and the costs are dropping by the day 5 Simple Ways to Save Money on New Hard Drives We’ve already covered all the things you need to consider to buy the right hard drive. Now it's about saving as much money as you can. Read More . You can pick up a Seagate 1 TB drive for just $49.99 on Amazon and a 5 TB model is only $129.99. Naturally, they are both one-off costs; there is no recurring fee.

6. Reliability

What happens when your cloud provider’s services have problems? Even the great Google is not immune – earlier this month, thousands of users were left unable to access their Drive data after an outage. According to reports, 1.5 percent of users were affected.

If you were relying on cloud-stored data for a vital coursework presentation The Best Free PowerPoint Templates for Your Project Presentation How you present your project is at least as important as what you present because what your audience will remember is how you made them feel. Wow them with professional PowerPoint templates for project management. Read More , retrieving a hotel booking, or as part of your company’s business-critical workflow, that would’ve been an unmitigated disaster.


The other services are not immune either. Dropbox, Apple, and Microsoft have all been afflicted in the past.

You’d have no such problems with a traditional external hard drive. Just plug it into any computer and your data is a couple of clicks away. To be fair, you will have to worry about the actual drive itself dying at some point 5 Warning Signs Your SSD Is About to Break Down and Fail Worried your SSD will malfunction and break down and take all of your data with it? Look for these warning signs. Read More , but that’s much more in your control than connectivity outages.

Plus there’s always the risk of a cloud storage host shutting its doors, in which case you’d have to migrate all of that data elsewhere or leave it to be deleted once and for all.

Do You Still Rely on External Drives?

I’ve shown you six valid reasons for keeping an external hard drive as part of your computing routine, but I’m sure you can come up with plenty more.

Or perhaps my claims have fallen on deaf ears. Have you left your external drive to gather dust in the back of a cupboard along with your PlayStation 2 and Nokia 3210? Do any of my points concern you? Are you tempted to give your dusty data drives a new lease on life?

Whatever your situation, I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with your thoughts, opinions, and ideas in the comments box below.

Related topics: Cloud Storage, Data Backup, Hard Drive.

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  1. JoshuaPK
    September 18, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    If you want longevity, invest in a Blu-Ray burner and some M-Discs. M-Discs are engineered to last for hundreds of years; you can see videos online where they take the discs out of liquid nitrogen and dip them into boiling water without damage. An M-Disc in a safe deposit box is far more reliable than an external HDD or Cloud solution by several orders of magnitude.

  2. John Raymond
    September 13, 2016 at 5:28 am

    I'm with you, dude! Though some simpler minds than ours consider me some sort of Luddite, I will happily have all my data and operating system available in no time at all when the internet dies, burps, or just one site suffers some paroxysm. It's best to have copies off-site, too, just in case the place goes up in a blaze of glory. (But then there was an ad a few years ago advising to keep important papers at a friend's house. Someone eventually realized that the fire odds were about the same for the friend. ;-) But having copies at both places is genius.) If thee is anything people who understand how tech works actually know, it's that stuff breaks. It seems many people don't believe that. ("What do you mean you never got that text that told you I was leaving you?")
    Keep up the good work.

  3. Anonymous
    August 26, 2016 at 7:25 am

    First and foremost, I keep 3 copies of all data I don't want to lose. One on my main computer drive, one in cloud and the other on a 16Gb USB stick (I don't use that much data to warrant an HD). The likelihood of all three storages failing at the same time is negligible.

  4. Keith Smith
    August 25, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    I have 6 external drives - 24 TB in all - I really do not trust any form of Cloud storage -Not secure enough by a long shot -plus the recurring cost of said cloud storage.I'd rather invest in an External drive and know the my DATA is safe-in my hands and not in some corporate asshole's clutches.

  5. Daniel Windholz
    August 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    I do have 2 external drives totalling 1.5 Tb. That's were I put my drive image, backups of pictures, videos, documents, etc. I don't trust cloud storages, and I only use it for specific files and or pictures that I know I'll need them when on the road. I preferred to have full control of my data. Hence, I'm all for external drives.

  6. Anonymous
    August 24, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    While I do an image of my system drive to my second internal hard drive (full and increments), I move the last full (done once a month) to my external drive once a week (if I have to) just in case the second drive is not accessible.

    At that time, I also sync important folders on my second drive to the external one too - along with maintaining a portable apps folder there.

    I dislike relying on the cloud for emergencies. I use that for a few quick folder updates daily like new emails and new documents.

  7. Anonymous
    August 24, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Totally agree that a second drive (such as an external drive) is a great idea for backup's, etc.

    Like most everyone, my data is stored on my laptop. I keep a backup data set on my external drive, which is connected to my laptop only when backing up. I keep a second backup data set in the 'cloud' -- in case disaster strikes my house and destroys my laptop and the external drive sitting near it.

  8. Anonymous
    August 24, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    If it's so large that it doesn't fit on one of the flash drives I keep in my pocket (a 256GB thumb drive is $50 as of this writing), it's not going on a delicate portable drive either. File Servers and Network Attached Storage are things that exist for a reason.