External Hard Drive (HDD) vs External SSD | Full Comparison

Whether you own a game console like PlayStation 4/5 whose games come in huge file sizes (some games have exceeded the 100 GB file size limit) or you are just a computer owner, the need for an external storage device is essential and inevitable. This is a matter of intuition to every serious user.

different types of external hard drives

What confuses a wide variety of people though is whether they should get an external hard drive or an external SSD instead. You cannot really know what suits you best unless you read a somewhat thorough comparison between external HDD and external SSD, and this article is dedicated to this purpose.

Purposes of External Storage Devices

different ways of using external hard drives
Whether it’s an external hard drive or an external SSD, the purposes of using these devices are simply identical. In a nutshell, you want an external storage device, whether it’s an HDD or an SSD for one or more of the following purposes:

  • Storing large data like DVD movies, high-definition media files, games, or any other data with huge file size. This helps mitigate the burden on the internal storage device of your game console or computer.
  • If you own a game console like PS4, PS5, or Xbox, you can install your games on an external hard drive and play them directly from there. This is very helpful for those who want to share their games with friends on their consoles.
  • Securing your data externally. That’s it if you have important data that you want to keep secure, one of the best ways to keep them is to store it externally inside an encrypted virtual drive. This will protect your data in case your computer is hacked or a virus has struck it.
  • Portability is one of the major advantages of external storage devices, especially if you have files you need to share with others on their systems. In fact, external SSDs surpass external hard drives in this.
  • Backing up your internal storage device. That’s it, it’s extremely advised to have a regular backup of your operating system and programs on a separate and external storage media, so if your computer fails for any reason, your data remain safe.

If you encounter any sort of issue using your external hard drive on PS5, please visit this guide that addresses the most common PS5 external hard drive issues.

Main Aspects of External Hard Drives

An external storage drive is a separate storage device that attaches to a computer, generally through a USB port. Though it does not replace the need for an internal drive, an external drive gives you more storage space for backup files, pictures, music, and more.

An external hard drive is basically a computer’s internal hard drive put inside an external enclosure and connects to other devices via an external connection.

The hard disk drive (sometimes abbreviated as a hard drive, HD, or HDD) is a non-volatile data storage device. It is usually installed internally in a computer, attached directly to the disk controller of the computer’s motherboard. It contains one or more platters, housed inside of an air-sealed casing. Data is written to the platters using a magnetic head, which moves rapidly over them as they spin.

External drives utilize what’s called a bridgeboard to handle communications between the USB/FireWire/Thunderbolt controller and the native SATA that the drive understands.

external hard drive uses USB bridge

A third-party Kingwin 2.5-inch drive enclosure with the bridge board and hard drive removed.

Types of External Hard Drive

There are two categories of external hard drives in which external hard drive types are classified:

  • Portable external hard drive, which is the most common type and utilizes a 2.5″ laptop hard drive and doesn’t require a power cord. It has a more compact design, and it’s a lightweight device and easy to carry.
  • Stationary (desktop) external hard drive, which utilizes a 3.5″ desktop hard drive and is much larger in storage capacity than a portable drive, and does require a separate power cord to feed it with power. It is bigger in physical size, heavier, and more stable than a portable external hard drive.

    The stationary external hard drive is a title that includes below it four types of external hard drives:

    • Classical stationary external hard drive: It’s just a traditional 3.5-inch hard drive put inside an external HDD enclosure and has its separate power cable.
    • Wireless External Hard Drive: Also called “WiFi external hard drive” which connects to your computer wirelessly via your WiFi connection. Its concept is just the same as wireless printer.
    • Hub External Hard drive: What makes this type of external hard drive is the multiple USB ports it has that allow users to connect more than one device to it.
    • Dual-layer external hard drive: Which is basically multiple hard drives put together into one external HDD enclosure and are linked together via RAID.

Note that if you’re a PlayStation user, only the classical stationary external HDD will work for you.

So, in a nutshell, you can find only two physical sizes of external hard drives on the market: the 2.5″ and 3.5″, as seen in the image below:

stationary external HDD and portable external HDD

Some of the great advantages of stationary external hard drives over portable ones are that they come in a much bigger storage capacity (more than 32 GB) and they can be much faster if the external HDD is a dual-layer drive (i.e. utilizes multiple hard drives in one box). Additionally, some stationary external hard drives have the ability to connect wirelessly to your computer, which is an advantage that you might not see in portable external hard drives. For all those reasons, we always advise gamers, if they don’t wish to pay for an external SSD, to get a stationary external hard drive for their gaming purposes.

External Hard Drive Pros & Cons

There are various advantages and disadvantages of using external hard drives that you have to learn before opting for one.

For PS5 consoles, we have published a separate article on the Pros & Cons of using external hard drives on PS5.

External Hard Drive Advantages

An external hard drive offers to users several appealing advantages that persuade a wide variety of users to obtain one. These advantages are:

  • It’s very easy and quick to use an external hard drive with your computer or game console. You only have to plug it in and wait for the system to recognize it, and you’re all set.
  • Laptop external hard drives are portable and lightweight which helps you take it anywhere in which you want a storage device ready to use.
  • You don’t have to upgrade your internal storage device for additional storage space.
  • External hard drives feature a great and ideal solution for backup purposes for their cheap price and large capacity.
  • Although not still as reliable as external SSDs, modern external hard drives can last for years with a much low failure rate if you know how to properly and safely use them and take care of them.
  • External hard drives speed and performance have observedly improved in the last few years. Therefore they feature a viable alternative to external SSDs for many users.

So, these are the major advantages you can get when having an external hard drive. What about the disadvantages?

External Hard Drive Disadvantages

Having all these appealing disadvantages doesn’t make external hard drive free of drawbacks, that are:

  • Portable external hard drives are prone to be lost or stolen because of their lightweight, small physical shape, and ease of handling.
  • As compared to external SSDs, external hard drives are more delicate and less resistant to damage caused by falling on the ground. Also, it’s less resistant to power surges/shorts and vibration.
  • Unlike USB flash drives, you always need a USB cable in order to connect an external hard drive to your system.
  • Unless it is a heavy-duty enterprise external hard drive, we don’t recommend using an average external HDD for resource-demanding tasks like video editing, playing heavy games, graphics designing, and so on.
  • External hard drives have a lower transfer rate as compared to external SSDs. That is why if you want a quick solution to transfer data between several systems, you may want to go for an external SSD instead.
  • Data stored in the external hard drive don’t last too long when the drive is not used for months. In fact, your data is subject to loss if you ignore your external hard drive and don’t use it for a long time, whereas external SSDs preserve data for too long even if it’s ignored for years.

Main Aspects of External Solid State Drive (SSD)

External SSD different types
As for an external SSD, the concept is similar to that of an external (HDD). It’s just an SSD that’s put inside an external enclosure and connects to computers, game consoles, or other devices externally usually via a USB connection.

As for an external SSD, the concept is similar to that of an external (HDD). It’s just an SSD that’s put inside an external enclosure and connects to computers, game consoles, or other devices externally usually via a USB connection.

Unlike an external hard drive, which stores data on spinning platters accessed by a moving magnetic head, an external solid-state drive uses a collection of “persistent” flash memory cells to save data. These are similar to the silicon that makes up a computer’s RAM, but they retain your data when electrical power is cut off.

External SSDs replace traditional external hard disk drives (HDDs) in computers and perform the same basic functions as an external hard drive. But external SSDs are significantly faster in comparison. With an external SSD, you’ll enjoy a much faster file transfer rate and noticeably shorter time to access and load your files stored on it.

Types of External SSD

external SSD types
As far as we know, there are only 4 types of branded external SSDs on the market, that are:

  • Classical External SSD: It’s a 2.5-inch, SATA-based external SSD. It looks very similar to portable external hard drives.
  • mSATA External SSD: As the name implies, it’s an external SSD based on an mSATA drive. The main difference between it and the former one is in physical size, as it is much smaller (almost half-size). As for speed and capacity, it is similar to the first type.
  • M.2 (NVMe) External SSD: This is the most powerful and highest-performance external SSD. It’s based on an M.2 SSD which offers lightning-fast transfer speed. As for its physical shape, it’s slim and long.
  • USB Flash Drive: You may wonder that the technology used in SSDs is almost the same as that used in flash drives. For this reason, we classified flash drives as an external SSD type. The real difference between it and other types is in the physical size and the way of use. Flash drives don’t require a USB cable to connect to systems, whereas external SSDs do.

External SSD Pros & Cons

Being the best external storage device in terms of several aspects doesn’t make external SSDs free from drawbacks. Let’s learn below the advantages and disadvantages of external SSDs.

External SSD Advantages

External SSDs have some great advantages that external hard drives don’t have, which are:

  • High data transfer speed that is up to 5x faster than a regular external hard drive. This makes an external SSD the best choice for users who work on moving/copying large files from a system to another.
  • More reliable and low failure rate than external hard drives. In other words, external SSDs last longer than external hard drives.
  • External SSDs keep stored data for too long without damage/corruption even if they’ve not been used for many months.
  • External SSDs consume less power and generate less heat than external hard drives.
  • Power Fluctuation Resistance: This is one of the best advantages of external SSDS. They are more power surge/short/outage proof than external HDDs in terms of losing data and undergoing physical failure/defectiveness.
  • Because they don’t employ moving parts, unlike external hard drives, if an external SSD is dropped by mistake on the ground, it’s less likely to be affected or get damaged.
  • An external SSD is the best choice for serious gamers, anime designers, video editors, and anyone who wants to use their external storage device in resource-demanding tasks in which external hard drives may fail or degrade due to their mechanical design.
  • External SSDs have their own microprocessor that helps speed up data processing, whereas external hard drives don’t have that.
  • External SSDs, in general, have a longer warranty than external HDDs.

External SSD Disadvantages

External SSDs don’t have real disadvantages as far as performance is concerned. The only major disadvantage as compared to external hard drives is the high price per GB. You can get an 8TB external hard drive for less than $250, whereas the same external SSD capacity will cost you more than $700, which is too costly for an external storage device.

Which one to choose? External HDD or External SSD?

Choosing between external SSD and External HDD
The answer to this question depends on how you want to use this external storage device and the level of your use of it. If you want external storage for backup purposes and lightweight-to-medium tasks, an external hard drive is your best choice. Otherwise, if you want it for heavy tasks, like gaming or video editing, an external SSD is definitely the best.

If you own a game console with an internal SSD, such as a PS5 or a PS4 with an SSD inside, we strongly recommend getting an SSD if you plan to play your games directly from it.

Conclusion

External SSDs and external HDDs are two great external storage devices that help users have additional storage capacity for their systems without having to upgrade/replace the internal storage.

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