When choosing between an internal or external hard drive, it can help to consider the types of uses and needs you have for the drive. Internal devices often run faster and can be easier to use once they are installed into a computer. External drives, however, may be easier to use with multiple computers and can be more secure against potential data theft. Whether you should choose an internal or external hard drive depends largely on how you view the strengths and weaknesses of each device.
Data Access Speed
In general, an internal drive provides better speeds for accessing data and running software programs than an external one. This can depend a great deal on different models of hard drives, however, but a Solid State Drive (SSD), for example, inside of a computer tower typically offers faster speeds than an external device. If you are considering an internal or external hard drive, then you should compare speeds between different models and choose the fastest device you can afford.
Storage and Backup
One common strategy for maintaining a backup of a primary or "C:" drive is to use two matching internal hard drives. In this case the system keeps a real-time mirror of your C: drive on the second one, providing you with constant backup support. If the C: drive should fail, you simply remove it and make the secondary drive the new primary, adding a new drive in the secondary position.
You can also use a software utility program to capture an "image" of your C: drive so that you can rebuild it quickly on a new device. An image is essentially a copy of your hard drive, including configuration files and all other contents. Storing a image on an external drive is an excellent form of backup, since it does not take up room on your primary drive and can be updated regularly. This means that either an internal or external hard drive can backup your data, as long as you use the right setup.
Portability of Information
An external disk can be easily moved between computers in a home or office. Memory sticks are nice for moving smaller amounts of data, but do not always offer the same flexibility of having a portable hard drive with a lot of memory. While an internal hard drive can be moved from one computer to another, it requires opening up both cases and can involve changing settings on each computer to properly recognize it.
Privacy and Security
One of the best features of an external drive is that you do not have to have it accessible at all times. This makes it ideal for loading and using programs that you want kept secure and away from others or protected from malicious software. By keeping your finance programs, spreadsheets, and personal data on an external drive, you can leave it off when navigating the Internet and only turn it on when you need it. Additionally, you can take it with you when you go on vacation to use with a laptop, leave it at home locked away, or remove it when children or roommates use the computer.
Data on an internal hard drive can be password protected, but this often involves more effort than simply unplugging a device. These passwords may also be vulnerable to attacks and leave your information exposed for someone else. If you want either an internal or external hard drive for sensitive data, an external device is usually easier to protect.
Using One Device for the Other
One thing to consider, however, is that both devices are often interchangeable. An internal hard drive can be placed inside an "enclosure" that allows it to be easily plugged into an external port on a computer. Similarly, most external devices can be opened up, though this usually voids its warranty, and the hard drive within can often be installed directly inside of a computer. This means that a single device can function interchangeably as either an internal or external hard drive with just a little modification.