Choosing an External Hard Drive vs. Online Backup Service

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Whether your files are for personal or business use, having a back-up system is absolutely essential. Let’s start by asking an important question: which method of backup should you choose?

There are two main ways to back up your files:

1. External Hard Drives.

2. Online Back-up Services.

Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. Look at each, and then evaluate which is best for you. There are four main areas to consider: costs, time, convenience and security.

Upfront and On-going Costs

Buying an external drive is initially the most expensive way to back up your files. You are likely to need to purchase software and ensure that you have an appropriate USB port. Try to be careful not to purchase too much disk space. It will cost more and is a waste if you never use it.

If you opt for online file storage, you’ll still have upfront costs but this is significantly lower than an external drive. However, do bear in mind that online storage has an on-going cost, which is usually a monthly fee. Typical storage costs about $5.00 a month, giving you at least five gigabytes of online storage, and in many cases, more. Do shop around, however, as prices can vary between service providers.



There can be a significant difference in the time taken to back up files, depending on whether you are transferring files online or using an external drive. Your internet bandwidth will affect the speed of an online file backup. You will need plenty of bandwidth to transfer large files in a timely fashion.

Setting up your storage is also a consideration. Online file storage is easy to set up with almost immediate access. With an external storage device, however, you will have to first purchase then install the device before files can be transferred.


Convenience and Ease of Use

With an external drive, the set up itself is usually quite straightforward. In addition, external drives are continually becoming more compact and have a higher storage capacity.

To use online backup, you must have a fast connection speed with broadband to cope with the amount of data being transferred. However, online sharing and transfer of files is generally very easy. Most online storage websites have a user-friendly interface to make the process simple. You also have the added advantage of being able to share your computer’s files with other devices such as a Smartphone. In addition to this, online file storage makes it possible for several users to collaborate on a project at any one time.


Security Issues

There are security issues with both systems. However, given that online file storage services use encryption methods identical to those employed by banks and large corporations, they are generally considered the safer option.

External hard drives are normally small enough to carry around with you. Therefore, you know where your data is at all times. However, there is always a risk of losing your device, or exposing it to some kind of physical damage. It is also possible that others could access your data, in the event of theft.

With online file storage, your data is safe from damage, theft and loss. All services use a high level of encryption, so the likelihood of a breach of your data occurring is extremely small. The only real event that would cause you to lose access to your data would be if you experienced difficulties with your internet connection, and this is generally only temporary.

Making the Choice Between External Hard Drives and Online Backup Services

If the choice is still a difficult one, it might help you to know that many people opt to use both systems simultaneously. To help you weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each backup method, below is a summary of the positive and negative factors discussed above:

Online File Storage – Pros

  • low upfront costs
  • immediate transfer of files
  • easy to use
  • data safe from hardware damage
  • transfer files to accessories such as a Smartphone
  • file sharing possibilities


  • need fast internet speed
  • need internet access to retrieve your data
  • connection problems may prevent retrieval of data


External Hard Drives – Pros

  • fast transfer of files
  • carry data device with you
  • no need for internet access
  • no on-going costs


  • higher upfront costs
  • risk of loss
  • data at risk from computer/drive damage
  • danger from viruses
  • privacy might be compromised
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Updated: April 24, 2012 — 2:22 pm