Need More Storage? Expand with External Drives

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Face it. Emails, digital pictures, video clips, and other data can quickly fill up hundreds of gigabytes of space. As your remaining space dwindles to nothing, you have a decision to make in terms of how you’re going to expand capacity.

You could replace the drive entirely with a larger one, or you could turn to cloud-based data storage. Then, there is a third option—use external hard drives to grow beyond the limited capacity of your internal drive.

Of course, there are pros and cons to this approach, so let’s examine expanding storage with external drives more closely.

Adding external drive to expand capacity is quick and simple.

There are a number of advantages to expanding with external storage. For starters, there is no limit to your storage capacity. Well, technically each external hard drive you use will have a limited capacity, but any time you run out of space you can just add a new external drive and keep going.

Another benefit is that expanding storage is fast and simple with external drives. You may encounter rare instances of incompatibility or driver issues, but for the most part you just plug the external drive into your PC, your operating system detects it, and voila! You have more storage.

If you store a lot of large files--like high resolution photos and video clips--you will likely exceed the capacity of even the largest drives eventually. At that point, upgrading to a larger drive is no longer an option, and you would have to look at solutions like external drives or cloud storage to find additional capacity.

Depending on the alternatives you compare it to, price might fall in favor of external drives as well. An external hard drive generally costs more than an internal hard drive of equal capacity, but both are finite, one-time purchases. Compared to the ongoing costs of cloud storage, the investment in an external drive is cheaper in the long run.


The first two issues that come to mind when dealing with external drives are aesthetics and logistics. Aesthetics is a minor issue, but compared to upgrading to a larger internal drive, an external drive presents a more cluttered appearance. It adds an additional piece of equipment, and more cords to run around your workspace.

Logistics, on the other hand, can be interpreted a couple of ways, and either could become a significant issue. First, your PC has a finite number of USB, Thunderbolt, FireWire (IEEE 1394), or other ports. If you already have a mouse, keyboard, webcam, and other devices attached to your PC, there may not be any space left to attach an external drive. You can use a hub to add additional ports, but then you are adding yet another device and more cables to deal with.

The other issue of logistics doesn’t really impact desktop PCs, but becomes a serious issue for laptop users. If you rely on external storage to extend your capacity you have to either carry it around with you, or lose access to that data when you’re on the go. If you carry it with you, you need to be able to connect it, which detracts from the convenience and portability that you got the laptop for in the first place.

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