What is the Difference Between Internal & External Hard Drives?

By Noel Shankel

Internal hard drives and external hard drives share a lot of similar features, but that doesn't mean that differences do not exist. While all computers are built with an internal hard drive, you must decide if purchasing an external hard drive is worth your money. External drives can add protection to your computer's internal drive, which may be reason enough to purchase one.

The Main Difference

The main difference between an internal hard drive and an external hard drive is location. While internal hard drives are built-in to your desktop computer or laptop, external drives are not. All computers need an internal drive to operate. Within the drive, files, data and media are stored. While you can physically remove a computer's internal drive, there is really no point to unless you wanted to replace it with a more powerful drive. External drives are portable and -- with the right cables -- can be connected to numerous computers, allowing you to take your files, data or media with you at all times.

The Back-Up

The purpose of an internal drive differs from the purpose of an external drive. Internal drives are designed to store all of your data, files and media within your computer. However, these files can become corrupted by a virus, or accidentally deleted. The purpose of an external drive is to add extra protection to your computer's internal drive in case corruption takes place. You can place all data onto an external drive -- if it has enough free space -- for extra protection. While both devices can store the same data, only the external drive is safe against computer malfunctions.

Installing

If you wish to replace either your desktop computer hard drive or laptop hard drive, the process can be rather complicated if you do not know what you're doing. Computers and laptops are built differently, and the amount of time and specific steps it takes to replace an internal hard drive can vary depending on the model you own. On the other hand, an external drive is rather easy to install. Simply attach the external drive using a USB cable to an empty port on your computer. Once connected, your computer should recognize the external drive automatically.

Speed

Your computer's internal drive is designed to operate much faster than an external drive. The internal drive is connected to your computer through an advanced technology attachment bus. Basically, this connects your hard drive directly to the motherboard of your computer. This allows data to be transferred at a faster rate compared to external drives, which are connected through USB cables. The faster data can be transferred, the faster you can download and upload the files you desire.