How to Copy the Internal Hard Drive to an External Hard Drive

By Jack Gerard

External hard drives can be very useful as a means to back up important files or to simply make your files easily portable. If you have an external hard drive and wish to migrate your files onto it (or simply wish to make backup copies of everything), you'll be pleased to know that the process of copying the contents of your internal hard drive to an external drive is actually quite simple. The only thing that you will really need is a little bit of time, though the exact amount of time that it will take will depend both on how many files are being copied and what type of connections (USB, USB 2.0, IDE or SATA) both of the drives have.

Step 1

Plug your external hard drive into your computer. You will want to do this in the manner that offers the highest transfer rate, so use an external SATA port if available (and if the external hard drive has an SATA interface.) If connecting your external hard drive via USB, make sure that you plug it into a USB 2.0 port if available. Should you use a USB 1.0 or 1.1 port (which will cause a "This Device Can Perform Faster" message to pop up from your taskbar) the transfer will still work; it will just take significantly longer.

Step 2

Open an Explorer window (when using a Windows-based PC) by pressing the Start or Windows button, selecting the "Run..." option, and typing "Explorer" into the prompt that opens (you can also click the "My Computer" option if you have it enabled.) If you wish to copy the entire contents of the hard drive, select the drive that you want to copy; if you only wish to copy certain folders or files, open the drive and select those folders or files.A similar procedure can be done on a Mac, using Finder in place of Explorer. The main difference is that you need to make sure that you hold down the "Option" key while selecting files so as to prevent them from being moved instead of simply being copied.

Step 3

Drag your selections to the new drive that you have connected. You may be asked whether you wish to copy the files. Select "Yes." If you encounter any problems with copying specific files, make sure that they are not in use by an active program. You may have to close down the program if you continue to receive errors after telling the computer to retry.

Step 4

Watch the progress bar. It will not only show you the portion of the files that have been copied but also will give you an estimate of how long you can expect the transfer to take. Depending on how many files you are copying, the process can take anywhere from a few minutes to longer than an hour.

Tips & Warnings

  • Make sure that you don't unplug the external hard drive or turn off the computer until all of the files have finished copying in order to avoid data loss or corruption.